A LUTEfisk with my name on it

Being in Minnesota, and having heard of Lutefisk, I felt it would be a shame to leave without trying it.

Lutefisk, which literally means lye fish in Norwegian, is made from white fish like cod. The fish is dried, and then re-hydrated via a series of soakings in water and lye until either it ceases to resemble a fish at all or the preparer is dead from asphyxiation. When it is time to cook the lutefisk it is launched via trebuchet into a pot of boiling water for about five minutes, and then tested on helpless, darling little baby bunnies to ensure readiness.

Some say Lutefisk appeared during the Viking age but the first written documentation comes from the 16th century, stating, "Inga, du datter av helvete gyt! Hva er den tingen på tabellen? Fao mitt sverd før det dreper oss all!" which means, "Inga, you raging witch from Nifleheim, what in the name of Thor's mighty hammer is that disgusting thing you've just put on the table? Get those hubcaps off your chest, quit trying to pretend like the horns growing out of your devil skull are just part of a helmet, and get my sword before that vile concoction, straight out of Ragnarök, kills us all!"

I had asked the concierge at my hotel to find me a place that served lutefisk, and the concierge had come through, giving me the address for Paul Pearson's Edina Restaurant. It was my plan to check out of the hotel and have a lutefisk lunch before driving back to Madison, Wisconsin to complete my business there. One wonders where the sudden optimism came from.

On an overca
st Sunday I drove to 50th St. and to the Edina neighborhood, a shopping district, where I saw the sign for the restaurant, ahead. "Experience Lutefisk" it said. Not "Enjoy..." Not "Have a heaping helping of..." Not "We Love..." Old Paul was just getting right up in everybody's grill and telling them that they were in for an experience.

Pearson's Restaurant had been around since the Viking era it's own self, as had most of the patrons and wait staff. The decor, however, was from somewhere in the 1970's. Wood paneling, chandeliers, a fireplace. Rather cozy in a kitsch kind of way.

It was clear that the clientele had just come from some fire and brimstone Lutheran sermon. They were all dressed in their Sunday best and having a little lunch before heading home and drinking themselves to oblivion with flagons of mead.

The hostess showed me to a booth and left a glass of water. I could see that all the waitresses were experienced, grizzled old veterans with sharp eyes and sharper tongues.

My waitress, Betty, came walking up with another glass of water. "Golly, I guess I'm pretty thirsty." I quipped.

"You'll take it and like it." Betty replied, walking away.

She returned quickly, however, and took my order. For some reason I felt obligated to blurt that I was a tourist on a lark, trying lutefisk as a curiosity, as if that wasn't perfectly obvious already since I was the youngest person in the place and clearly a stranger. Betty gave me a cold stare and I wilted. Betty was brooking no nonsense.

"Did I hear you order Lutefisk?" A gentleman with white hair and beard, wearing the uniform of the day — blue blazer with shirt and tie, and grey pants — was looking at me from his booth across the aisle.

"That's right." I said. The gentleman whipped out a business card. Jim "Nordblad" Harris, it said, Webmaster and Lutfisk
Locator. There was a web address — Lutefisk Lover’s Lifeline. Purely by chance I had encountered the Diogenes of lutefisk! Seeking out the lye fish wherever it could be found. How lucky could I get?

"Nordblad" was no pedant either, trying to explain, in minute detail, the how's and why's of lutefisk, but he did point out that an underdone lutefisk would be like a lump of goo and an overdone one would just fall apart. By his own admission "Nordblad" was a lutefisk lover, not a lutefisk expert. He explained that the best lutefisk could be had in the churches around those parts. I told "Nordblad" that the same could be said of Pennsylvania if one was looking for authentic pierogies. When I told "Nordblad" my name he asked it's origin. When I told him it was Ukranian he got very excited.

"Oh! Stephanie, the secretary in our office, is Ukranian. She'll get such a kick when I tell her I met a Ukranian eating lutefisk."

"Yeah." I thought. "You can tell Consuela or Maria, who cleans your office, that I eat tacos and burritos, too."

Of course, "Nordblad" had ordered the lutefisk, as well, and I watched as he ate quietly and methodically, a thoughtful look on his face. When he was done he declared it not the best and not the worst. I told him I couldn't ask for more than that.

Betty brought my own little
slice of heaven. There it sat, glistening and wobbly, little green flecks of parsely on top. It looked more like a jellyfish than a lutefisk. I got out my camera.

"Oh look, he's taking a picture of his lutefisk!" The blue hair in the next booth was watching me.

"That's right, you crone." I said to myself. "If I kick from this thing I've got evidence, and I'm framing you for it."

"Nordblad" was waiting for my Ukrainian reaction, but first I needed his advice. Betty had given me three little cups. One obviously contained melted butter, but I didn't know what the other two were. "Nordblad" said the one was cream sauce and the other dill sauce. Apparently one simply did not eat lutefisk plain. This did not bode well. He suggested I take a sample of each and see which I wanted to go with. The cream sauce was no great shakes so I went with the dill.

I applied the dill sauce liberally and took my first bite. I didn't need a knife to cut it. There was almost no taste. I could barely taste the dill sauce. The lutefisk might have just killed all of my taste-buds, instantly. The only thing left was texture, and the texture was... the texture was... jello. Jello! Tasteless jello! Tasteless jello with the occasional little fish bone in it! Fish bones shaped like all these exclamation points! Where was Bill Cosby with his gunky goo goo now?

While I was eating, "Nordblad" told the old Ole and Lars joke about how Ole had skunks under his house and he asked Lars how to get the skunks out of there. Lars suggested he put lutefisk under his house. Later, Lars asked Ole if putting lutefisk under his house had gotten rid of the skunks. Ole replied that it had, but now he couldn't get rid of the Swedes! Ba da BOOM!

So, now I had to man up for "Nordblad". "Oh yeah, that's not bad. I would try this again." I told him.

"Nordblad" (I just love saying "Nordblad") was pleased. He got up to leave and we shook hands goodbye. "Oh, I just can't wait to tell Stephanie at the office." he said in parting.

Now it was just me and the effing lutefisk, and I was running out of corn and potatoes. But I had to be a man, dang it, and see it all the way through. I wasn't going to let some Norwegian so-and-so who had actually been a Viking once he was so old show me up! No sir! Betty could be watching!

With no one to talk to I started thinking about what I was eating. I had been honest with "Nordblad" before. I really had thought I could eat this horrendous thing again. But now... now I was eating a tasteless blob. I was eating Vaseline. Some whale out in the ocean somewhere had cleared its throat and hawked up a giant whale loogie and they were passing that off as some kind of delicacy! No wonder they still hunt whales in Norway! It all makes sense!

I was still shoveling corn and potatoes into my mouth with the lutefisk. I was trying to hold off on the dinner roll, saving it as a last resort. I dumped the cup of melted butter on the lutefisk. I squeezed both lemon slices to the lemon equivalent of diamond, I wanted every drop of juice so badly. In desperation I asked Betty for a swedish meatball. When Betty came back with the swedish meatball the battle-axe who had laughed at me taking a picture of my lunch barked out at Betty, "Heinz-57!"

"Get that thanks in there and I'll get it for ya." barked back Betty. I was starting to like Betty.

The swedish meatball, with its salty gravy only made things worse. It was only accenting the tasteless grey horror glittering wetly before me. Only a few more bites. Oh, I wish this was a Subway sandwich. Oh, I wish this was a slice of pepperoni pizza. They knew I was from out of town! They knew this was my first time; that I was a lutefisk virgin, all innocent and trusting! They didn't give me a sample with a toothpick (or a harpoon) in it. They didn't give me the children's portion, which would have been advertised in the menu with a happy smiling codfish with a viking helmet on it's head that you could color using the dead rotting corpse colored crayon! No! They gave me a glop the size of my head!

One more bite. Swallow it! Swallow the whale snot! It was down! I grabbed the dinner roll, already heavily buttered and shoved it in my pie hole. I scrubbed at my tongue, using the roll as a towel.

Betty showed up again. Had she brought an ambulance? No, she was asking me if I wanted dessert. "YES!! I mean, yes, I'd like some apple pie."

Oh, that was good apple pie. Delicious apple pie, with cinnamon, and maybe some ginger. My taste-buds were working again!

My meal finished, I stood up and staggered for the cashier. The restaurant was mostly empty; the senior citizens of Minneapolis had gone back to their rest homes. No one was there to see my shame. I paid my bill and wandered out into the grey, overcast daylight. I got into my tin-plated, clattery POS Kia Sentra rental car and drove east, Minnesota in my rear view mirror. When I crossed the border, I looked for a McDonald's.