Aftenposten, News from Norway
Jonathan Tisdall
Friday 27 December 2002

Lutefisk Splits US Families

The unusual Norwegian delicacy lutefisk – dried cod soaked in water and potash lye – is an acquired taste that tends to frighten off the uninitiated. In the USA, Norway’s descendants find devotion to the dish often causes strife.

A Christmas Day feature in The New York Times told the tale of Allen Vevang (61), who had to make a solo trip to a restaurant to take his annual lutefisk dinner. Vevang called the occasion his Christmas present to himself and the lonely circumstances are unavoidable because his Germanic wife Charlotte cannot stand the smell of the stuff.

Olsen Fish Company of Minneapolis handles about half of North America’s lutefisk sales, and imports their stock from Norway. Roger Dorff, former head of the company, says the biggest fans of the stuff are gradually dying out, but there is still more lutefisk eaten across the Atlantic than in Norway.

Times journalist Blaine Harden describes the aroma of the Norwegian favorite as a combination of overripe fish and industrial soap, and argues that it is a source of family division during the holiday season.

But not all of the press lutefisk gets in the New World around Christmastime is bad, thought it is admittedly very hard to find an article that doesn’t poke some fun at the gelatinous fish dish.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Susan Paynter reports that there is a renaissance of interest and enthusiasm for the dish in the region. She quotes Ozzie Kvithammer of Scandinavian Specialties as saying the bad smell associated with the dish is a “bald-faced lie’, although Kvithammer himself only eats the dish once a year out of respect to tradition.

Minnesota’s Red Wing Republican Eagle newspaper hints that the secret to becoming a lutefisk lover is to love one, and marrying a Norwegian is their recipe for acquiring a taste for the dish.

The paper interviews German John Hinsch, who enthusiasm for the dish has grown to the point where he competes in lutefisk-eating contests, thanks to gradual exposure to the delicacy via his Norwegian-Swedish wife Jan Hilan.

The Hinsches also believe the fish has no smell, and travel regularly to take part in lutefisk dinners. Nevertheless, the future of the tradition is not completely secure – the dish does not make an appearance at Christmas since their two children won’t touch it.

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