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Trying, and Failing, to Love Lutefisk


Google maps may be a great tool, but you don't necessarily need it or any map at all to explore the world. Commentator Aaron Freeman loves to use dinner parties as a way to check out foreign cultures. With a quick trip to one of the many ethnic grocery stores in Chicago, he can begin a journey to spicy India or steamy Morocco or to somewhere where the weather is colder and the food is, well, not exactly as he expected.


I passed the lutefisk test. We decided to have a Scandanavian-themed dinner party. I figured it was time to check out the chitlins of Scandinavia, the gefilte fish of the Fins, the haggis of the frozen north, lutefisk. Lutefisk is made by taking dried fish, usually cod, then reviving it in a solution of potash water and lye. I drove to Chicago's Scandinavian neighborhood, Andersonville, and stepped into Wickstrom's Gourmet Foods. It's a little bit of Stockholm in the inner-city.

First, I did some browsing, grabbed a bottle of Glogg, a sort of Scandinavian hot sangria, a jar of lingenberries, picked up some herrings in wine sauce, but I was on a mission from Oden(ph). I walked up to a gray-haired Nordic-looking guy with a big smile and a name tag that said Ingomar(ph). I asked in my best Swedish accent `You all got some lutefisk?' `Yah,' said Ingomar, `we got excellent lutefisk. Fresh, too.' Now fresh is an ironic term for fish that might well have been caught the last time the Minnesota Vikings won the Super Bowl, but there in the rear of the store floating in an aluminum tub of water was the lutefisk. It looked the ghost of a fish, deathly pale, suspended in water with white wisps drifting off its alabaster corpse. My thought, `This fish don't need a chef. It needs an exorcist.'

Back home I explained to our guests that the treat of the evening was rotted fish soaked in poison. They were amazed. Now I was prepared for a flavor that would inspire me to turn into an ancient Nordic warrior, a berserker. I was ready for an urge to get naked and attack Norway or at least a strong desire to manufacture sensible cars. But, in truth, the lutefisk tasted like ghost fish, as in nothing at all. But for the mustard sauce, there was no flavor. It was gooey white rice but not so spicy. The Japanese say you add seven days to your life each time you try a new food. But for the sheer overcoming of terror and disgust, I think my guests and I deserve at least an extra two weeks of living for sampling lutefisk.

NORRIS: Aaron Freeman, writer and performer. He lives in Chicago, and tomorrow night, he's trying out the cuisine of the Philippines.

ROBERT SIEGEL (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Aaron Freeman