The free town of Christiania in Copenhagen is a resilient bastion of hippie life, a thorn in the side of politicians, and a place like no other. The old military base—which was squatted in 1971 and proclaimed an autonomous enclave within the city—is one of Copenhagen's biggest tourist attractions, known for its ingenious DIY houses, cargo bikes, weed stalls, police raids, and the ongoing bid to "normalise" a place that is like kryptonite to normality. But you should also know Christiania for its food, for glorious vegetarian cooking, "dream cake", open-faced sandwiches at the boozer, and 3 AM falafel.
Sunshine Bakery "Danish pastry was a bit new to me," says Bijaya. "After all, I only ate brown rice." He moved from Nepal to Copenhagen 20 years ago and began working at Sunshine Bakery in the middle of Christiania's dope-dealing Pusher Street. The bakery started in the mid-1970s and has been open pretty much 24/7 ever since, flanked on either side by stalls selling pre-rolled joints and blocks of hash. Bijaya and his friends from Nepal run the place but the selection is vintage Danish, including the snegl (snail), a swirly, cinnamon-laced pastry which is perfectly crisp on the edges and dense with butter and sugar in the centre. There are romkugler (rum balls), leftover pastries blended into a sticky paste with jam, rum and cocoa powder; and drømmekage (dream cake), a coconut-caramel-topped sponge cake which bounces back into shape when you poke it with your fingers. We wash all this down with non-carbonated Sun Cola (try leaving an open can of Coke on the kitchen counter for a week or so and you get the idea) and warm Cocio chocolate milk. Many locals drop by for a bargain cup of coffee (5 kr/$1), but some tourists have higher ambitions. "There are lots of people—sometimes 100 a day—who come up and ask for magic cookies and space cakes," says Bijaya. "We don't have anything with hashish. I tell them, 'Go eat hash cookies and afterwards you can come here and eat our cookies.'"
Morgenstedet The light blue paint and peace sign on the brick wall might be fading, but "the morning place"—which opens at lunchtime—still serves some of the best vegetarian food you'll find in Copenhagen. Butternut squash and peanut stew has a nice kick of cayenne pepper and comes with brown rice and a salad of romanesco broccoli, carrots, and sesame; on the side is a generous helping of light, creamy hummus and an indulgent salad of coconut, apple, and red cabbage. The food, about 95 percent organic produce, is cooked on an antique stove, served from the counter, and the guests chip in by clearing the plates.
The people who work here describe Morgenstedet as a "vegetarian dining club" run by a consensus-driven collective. "Our focus is not just financial," says Philip, who serves us, "but also to spread the word about vegetarian food. So there are lots of very passionate people involved." Benches in the courtyard are the ideal spot when weather allows, or you can huddle up inside by the bookshelf where magazines are organized into categories: Society & Politics, Environment & Ecology, Food & Health. Some locals get grumpy about the prices, but at 100kr ($16) for a main course with salad, this is good value when you compare it with the world outside the commune walls.
Open Tuesday-Sunday midday-9pm
Grønsagen They were selling petroleum, salted herring, and soups when the first incarnation of this place opened up more than 40 years ago. These days Grønsagen is Christiania's greengrocer and lunchtime buffet where you dine amid shelves stacked with organic produce from independent farmers. The buffet spread is less green than the name would suggest and includes lasagna, meatballs, and braised dishes. On a chilly November morning there was skipperlabskovs, a hearty northern European fisherman's stew with braised veal, onion, and potatoes, and with a name that sounds like a drunk nursery rhyme.
That dish and the perfectly seasoned meatballs channeled the very best of rustic Danish grandma cooking. "Salt and pepper—and finely-chopped onions—are the most important meatball ingredients," says Kenn, an artist and brewer who also cooks at Grønsagen. "And when you fry them you need plenty of butter." The buffet is priced by the weight (30kr/$5 per 200g), there is dinner on Mondays (75 kr/$13), and Fridays see the occasional flamenco- or Japanese-themed night. Located a joint's throw from Pusher Street, there is a diverse crowd of locals and tourists. Even on quiet days, Kenn finds joy in the human soundtrack. "When there are just a few people eating, I like to listen to the grunts of satisfaction and the smacking of lips. That's the greatest compliment a chef can get."
Open every day
Woodstock Enter the old military barracks at lunchtime, and you are met by a thick cloud of smoke, Marvin Gaye on the stereƒo, and a clientele which shows little sign of ever venturing back outside into the real world. Woodstock is Christiania's original boozer, a charmingly gritty place that not even Tarantino could have dreamt up in a Betamax-fueled dream. The drunk and dazed need refueling, so Woodstock serves breakfast at 9 AM before moving onto classic open-faced sandwiches at lunch. A guy in a black trilby and gold chains was trying to run off with a piece of rye bread and pork belly when the bartender caught him red-handed.
We paid (15kr / $2.5) and grabbed a seat outside on the benches while our neighbours skinned up. The choice of smørrebrød was a tried and tested combination: buttered rye bread topped with rolled pork belly, raw onion, and a big slice of jellied stock. Only a fool would ask about the provenance of the pig or the slightly decrepit lettuce leaf which had passed out on top of the butter, but this sandwich was fatty, crispy, and tasty. Christiania has its own beer but we opted for a Super Nova (20kr/$3.5), a pilsner with an IPA attitude which was brewed by our friend Kenn from Grønsagen. There was hoppy intensity and a freshness which the label described as "cosmic."
Open every day from 9am-5am
Falafel We've been here before, and our claim that this Christiania stall makes the best falafel in Copenhagen prompted ferocious debate. That's the beauty of falafel discourse—rooting for your favorite is like logging on to Mumsnet and saying the other kids are fat mingers. Anyway, to each their own, but we are still charmed by this place, which has been around for 32 years and where the falafel is made in an authentic, gas-lit deep-frying pot. The Palestinian family running the place has stuck by its recipe—chickpeas, onion, garlic, parsley, and those secret spices they won't disclose—and it turns out spaceship-shaped pillows of falafel that are crisp on the outside and fluffy and fragrant inside. There is nothing remarkable about the pre-fab pita breads, sauces, or lettuce, but they could serve it up on dry pumpernickel, for all I care, and it would still be delicious.
Spiseloppen Who needs restaurant muzak when doom metal legends Trouble are sound-checking on the floor below? We went to Christiania's prime restaurant spot—said to include Helena Christensen among its regulars—and had throbbing bass and distortion guitars for an amuse bouche. It was delicious. Spiseloppen, right above the concert venue Loppen, is housed in a building that was once home to a flea-market and where they stored ammunition in the military past. The spacious warehouse room with its tight wooden beams is perfectly time-capsuled from the late 70s in shades of brown and orange, and the tables are set with flowers and candles; most of the local Christianites keep to one side of the room, where the tables are painted red with the free town's trademark yellow dots. The menu changes daily, and with French, Indian, and Danish chefs working that evening we ended up with a diplomatic compromise on the plate: a papadum stood upright in a dollop of guacamole. Kind of fun, but also kind of odd since it was served alongside a perfectly cooked tenderloin steak with wild mushroom sauce (250kr/$40). It would make sense to drop the inclusiveness and "normalise" dishes like this, but perhaps the madcap freestyling is the whole point. If you want things to conform you probably shouldn't have walked through the gate that welcomes you to Christiania—and welcomes you back into the European Union when you leave.
Open Tuesday-Saturday 5pm-10pm, Sunday 5pm-9pm
This article previously appeared on MUNCHIES in November 2014.