When I was still married, my wife accepted an invitation to a pre-Christimas lutefisk dinner for us, from a lady of Norwegian extraction with whom she worked. At the time, I had heard of lutefisk, but knew little about it.
“It’s cod,” my wife told me, “prepared a special way.”
I like fish. I like cod. But when I think “cod,” in my mind’s eye I see English style beer-battered cod-filets on a plate, golden brown, with a lot of steak fries. Tartar sauce and coleslaw on the side.
Therefore I, in my naiveté, was looking forward to the lutefisk dinner….
Nothing but the bald truth could have prepared me for the reality. When I walked into the Sons of Norway hall, I was hit in the face by a wall of smell, which was suitable for an invocation of Shakespeare:
“The rankest compounds of villainous smell that ever offended nostril.”
On the way to be seated with the couple who invited us (and attempting to supress the gathering bile and a sense of impending doom), I noted that some people were partaking of Swedish meatballs. Good, I thought, with a sense of relief – an alternative!
Unfortunately, the stocks of Swedish meatballs were completely depleted (for obvious reasons), so there was no choice but trying to make a good showing. An old geezer bearing a cooking dish filled with steaming, stinking fish jello appeared at the table, depositing it before us. Laughing, he said, “Enjoy it! It hasn’t got any bones!” (the process of soaking the fish in lye apparently dissolves most of the bones).
Bread, cream sauce, and boiled potatoes likewise were brought, and at last we were prepared to begin our unholy repast.
Imagine preparing to eat something that every fiber of your being tells you is not fit for human consumption. Something you would not recognize as food if someone dropped it on the street. Not an apple, not broccoli, not cake, not lunchmeat, not gardenburger, not anything “prosaic.”
This was a “delicacy.” This was…lutefisk.
I tried. I really did. First bite: something dead off the beach, still warm from lying in the sun, drenched in yeast infection. Slid down my throat, invoking an immediate gag reflex, which I somehow managed to hide. Glancing to one side, I became aware of an old man, so brown and wrinkled from age and the elements that he looked like an apple-head doll. Stowing the fish-slop away like it was ambrosia.
“I don’t think I can eat this,” I whispered to the wife. But she didn’t have a problem with it, and couldn’t comprehend my angst.
I tried adding pepper, salt, more cream sauce, etc. Nothing helped. Finally, I just added a bunch more boiled potatoes to the mess and kind of mixed it around, keeping track of where the potatoes were, and ate those, feigning the normal process of eating.
On the way home, I stopped at the grocery store and bought a six pack of ice-cream bars. Back home I gave one to the wife, and then ate the other five myself, one after another. Finally, I brushed my teeth and gargled with listerine, full-strength, several times in a row.
Somehow, still, the essence of the foul stuff lingered in my nostrils. I think it was a couple days before I felt normal again.