By John and Sally Macdonald
Special to The Seattle Times Thursday, May 9, 2002
Oh, I'm glad it's time for lu-te-fisk again, Even though it makes the house smell like an old pig pen,I'm glad it's time for lu-te-fisk again.— Stan Boreson song
Well, veteran Northwest entertainer Stan Boreson and squeamish friends notwithstanding, what would one expect from a country that straddles the Arctic Circle, where fresh produce isn't exactly a year-round commodity, and whose 4 million people have three dozen ways to describe features of glacial ice?
The conversation soon degenerated to a dare: Bet you can't find something Norwegians eat that tastes good, isn't white and doesn't smell up the kitchen.
And so we found ourselves in Poulsbo, the most typically Norwegian of Washington communities, asking about lutefisk, lefse and other pale dishes from the motherland.
Residents were finalizing plans for Viking Fest, their version of old-home week, when they celebrate the adoption of Norway's constitution May 17, 1814, give a nod to Viking ancestors and raise money for scholarships for deserving high-school graduates. The celebration is May 17-19 in the waterfront area along Liberty Bay, where Norwegian immigrants founded the town.
Poulsbo was founded when Jorgen Eliason, his sister Rakel and his 6-year-old son E.J. settled at the head of the bay. They were attracted no doubt by the look of the place — the sparkling water reaches deep into the rich farmland like the fjords of home.
Pale food, everywhere
It was still a little early for lunch when we arrived at Poulsbo's Front Street, the main shopping area with its faux old-world storefronts and Scandinavian-import shops. So we stopped at Sluy's Poulsbo Bakery. There, among a sweet array of smiley-face cookies and gooey breakfast treats, was a tray of lefse.
Lefse is to Norway what tortillas are to Mexico — plate-sized griddle cakes made, in this case, of potato dough. White, though not smelly, we smirked. Although, if you do as the Norwegians sometimes do and add a little sugar and cinnamon, lefse takes on a definite brownish cast and a delightfully sweet taste.
Our next stop was the Marina Market in the next block north. "Sure, we have all kinds of Norwegian stuff here," said owner Jonathan Rowe from behind the counter where he was restocking the candy.
"We have romme grot over here. It's packaged sour-cream porridge that you can fix at home. The herring in sour cream is in the refrigerator case."
Let's see now. That's white lefse, white porridge and herring in white sauce. It wasn't looking good for the non-white food groups.
"The lutefisk TV dinners are over there in the freezer case," Rowe offered. They cost $8.99
Lutefisk is definitely white. And it's the smelliest dish in the Norwegian repertoire. It's dried codfish that's been soaked in a lye solution made of birch ashes.
If you bought lutefisk "fresh" (and that's a relative term) as opposed to frozen — you'd put it in a cheesecloth bag and reconstitute it by soaking it in boiling water. Then you'd smother it with white sauce or butter and serve it with boiled potatoes. A very pale menu.
Rowe's TV dinner had color, though: in one corner was a little pile of green peas. We bought a couple of the TV dinners and headed over to the Sons of Norway Hall, just off Front Street on King Olav V Vei.
Every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. the sons serve a Norwegian lunch to the public for $7. They call it Kaffe Stua, which translates to something like coffee house.