The Dreaded Lutefisk

One of the most common questions we get asked about living in Norway is, “What is the weirdest thing you’ve eaten there?” I think there’s just something about foreign countries that invokes images of strange and exotic foods and people have some strange desire to hear about it and get grossed out.

Norway definitely has some pretty strange foods compared to the US. A lot of it’s weirdness stems from the bygone necessity of preservation back in the old days. I tell you, Norwegians came up with the most creative ways to preserve and reconstitute food I have ever seen. There’s this salmon called “gravlaks” which literally translates to “grave salmon”. Traditionally, it was salted, buried in the ground, and left to ferment until it became super pungent and strong tasting. Yum.

Another one that is pretty common here in Southwestern Norway is lutefisk. Lutefisk is cod that has been hung out in the open air and dried for months like so:

Photograph by Peter Prokosch
The dried fish is then soaked in water and then in lye for a week until its structural proteins dissolve and it becomes a sort of fish-jelly (lutefisk directly translates to “lye fish”). Since now the fish is caustic from soaking in the lye, it is soaked again for another week in cold water to make it edible. THEN it is boiled or pan-fried until translucent and served with mustard, potatoes, and mushy peas. Seriously, who comes up with this stuff?? I want to go back in time to meet the first guy who thought, “Hey, what if I soaked my dried cod in toxic lye? Think it would be delicious?”


For some reason, lutefisk is a pretty traditional Christmas dish in this part of Norway. We’ve been hearing about it for years so we decided that this year was the year we were going to give it a try. Some good friends of ours really like it and eat it every Christmas, so we went with them to City Bistro which supposedly serves the best-prepared lutefisk in town. We figured if we were going to try reconstituted fish jelly, we might as well do it right. Apparently, it’s reputation is sound because you have to reserve a table for lutefisk in advance and when we tried a few weeks before Christmas they were fully booked until January! So we had a post-Christmas lutefisk celebration this year.

We were too apprehensive to order the full main-course lutefisk so we split the appetizer version. Our friends thought it was hilarious to watch “the Americans” try it for the first time.
But you know what? We actually really liked it! We were very surprised based on the horror stories we’ve heard, and we can only attribute it to the fact that we supposedly had the best-prepared lutefisk in town. But it was seriously enjoyable to eat and when we were served our main courses (catch-of-the-day and reindeer) we regretted that we only ordered the lutefisk appetizer. I think we’ll definitely be making this an annual Hill Christmas tradition!
And now we have a really good answer to the “what’s the weirdest thing you’ve eated in Norway” question :) Next on our list is smalahove (Google image it if you dare!)



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