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Food | Travel

Copenhagen’s Torvehallerne Market draws tourists and locals

Vendors at the Torvehallerne Market offer all sorts food, from cupcakes to traditional Danish open-face sandwiches (right).

Christin Nelson for The Boston Globe

Vendors at the Torvehallerne Market offer all sorts food, from cupcakes to traditional Danish open-face sandwiches.

COPENHAGEN — A brawny fishmonger, wearing a long apron that was white at one point, grins as he heaves a whole glistening fish onto the scales. “What would you like today?” he calls to a queue of waiting customers, and the next one steps out of a neat line to place her order.

A stall selling traditional Danish open-face sandwiches.

Christin Nelson for The Boston Globe

A stall selling traditional Danish open-face sandwiches.

In this setting, the Torvehallerne Market, a treasure trove of foodstuffs and the first of its kind in Copenhagen, the question is fitting. About 80 indoor stalls offer wares from Denmark and from around the world; vendors invite passersby into their stalls to buy ripe Brie cheeses, housemade jams and mustards, tins of goose fat, ox-meat sausages, fragrant bouquets of flowers, and dark chocolate cupcakes crowned with a good inch of frosting, among other goods. The 10-month-old market is located in Israels Plads, a large square in the city center.

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For nearly 70 years, Israels Plads was home to a thriving food market, where dozens of vendors sold vegetables and assorted Danish delicacies out of their cars or from horse-drawn wagons. But in 1958, the market moved outside the city, and Israels Plads ultimately became a gas station and parking lot.

Architect Hans Peter Hagens lived in the neighborhood for 20 years and disliked the square’s transition from lively social center to cultural void. “When this gas station was there, the whole plaza was very dark at night,” says Hagens. That eventually led to problems. He envisioned a new indoor market for Israels Plads, with electricity and water in all the stalls, and a heating system that would encourage visitors even in the middle of Copenhagen’s frigid winters. Hagens petitioned the municipality with his proposal in 1997.

What finally emerged, after a 14-year process rife with political and financial obstacles, is Torvehallerne, a bustling marketplace that consists of two market halls, filled with natural light, glass and steel framework sweeping high overhead. In nicer months, about 80 outdoor stalls fill the rest of the square. Hagens, the project’s lead architect, found inspiration in marketplaces in many cities, such as the glass-covered La Boqueria in Barcelona and the fish market on the Grand Canal in Venice. His research took him across continents, from China to Cuba to Morocco. “When you start up a project like this you can get so fascinated,” says Hagen. “Every time I was out of Denmark, I was looking up markets.”

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Torvehallerne is a vibrant scene. Office workers from surrounding neighborhoods swoop in on bicycles for their lunch hour, while small children squeal and point at the big-eyed fish staring back from their place on the ice. Tattooed 20-somethings stroll down the aisles next to families looking for the makings of dinner. According to Charlotte Kjeldbjerg Kristensen, the market’s activities coordinator, Torvehallerne sees about 90,000 visitors a week.

A few seats encourage lunchtime shoppers to grab a plate of fish and chips or a sandwich, along with a glass of beer from nearby microbrewery Mikkeller. Lars Hilfling, who works full-time as an architect, is one of three founders of Hallernes Smorrebrod, a stall selling the traditional Danish open-face sandwiches. “Our menu is based on the high-quality ingredients which we get from the other stalls,” Hilfling says. “Every morning our employees walk through the market and buy fresh meat, fish, and vegetables for the menu of the day. If we run out of ingredients during the day, we just have to walk a few steps.”

For Susanne Boye Nielsen, CEO of bakery and bottega Il Fornaio, a stall in Torvehallerne represents an opportunity to experiment. After seven years on the waiting list, Il Fornaio opened a stall for its popular line of breads, previously sold in supermarkets. This new retail location allows the company to showcase Italian imports like olive oil, pesto, and Mediterranean salt to complement their housemade baked goods. The stall also serves Italian-style sandwiches to order. “This is an opportunity for us to come out with all the products we would love to show the world,” Boye Nielsen says.

So far, the response from vendors and shoppers has been overwhelmingly positive. “The people in Copenhagen have really taken this market into themselves,” says Boye Nielsen. “It’s become part of their ritual.”

Torvehallerne Market, Frederiksborggade 21, Copenhagen, Denmark.

Cristin Nelson can be reached at cristin.nelson@gmail.com.
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