“Well, we tried the lutefisk trick and the raccoons went away, but now we have got a family of Norwegians living under our house.”
Nothing, aside from perhaps language, ties us to our culture more than food. In an instant, food can bring back the comforts of childhood. It’s soothing and can stimulate a flood a memories like nothing else.
In my family, around the holiday season, we were inundated with goodies, many of them Norwegian treats that we rarely ate at other times of the year: lefse, rosettes, krumkake, fattigman, almond rice pudding… foods, at which the mere mention, make me salivate. These treats strengthened our bond with the other Scandinavian brethren in the area with whom we made much merriment as Christmas neared and during the days of festing that followed. But of all that bonds Norwegians, nothing bonds us more, than lutefisk. It is one of those dishes that every single Norsk has a strong reaction too. Whether we love it or hate it, we do so with passion. In my family, it was not on the menu, although I have kin who rave about it, and perhaps the emphasis should be on the word, “rave.” Personally, I side with a Norwegian friend who put it like this, “Lutefisk is not food we actually eat, it’s a test to see if outsiders really, really want to marry into our family. How much do you love my child? Eat this lye soaked fish to prove it.”
For those of you who have never heard of lutefisk, you did not just misunderstand. It is indeed lye soaked fish or more precisely, dried cod soaked in lye and then boiled. That’s right, sodium hydroxide, you know the stuff you use to clean drains, which will burn you chemically if you come in contact with it, and will explode when in contact with aluminum. It is also a major ingredient in soap. So what does this delicacy actually taste like? Well, when all is said and done, the fish has a translucent jelly like appearance and doesn’t taste much of anything. It certainly isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever eaten, although I do question its safety. The taste mainly comes from what you eat with lutefisk. Usually it’s drenched (and I mean flooded) in melted butter, and then often additionally topped with bacon. Boiled potatoes and stewed peas usually also make an honoured appearance beside this delicacy.
For those of you still morbidly curious or intrigued, check out the following videos.