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November 28, 2014

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Columnist Tom Gorman: Asking ‘as the Sons of Norway plan their annual lutefisk dinner: Oh cod, why?’

Tom Gorman's column runs Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at [email protected] or at (702) 259-2310.

The Vegas Viking Lodge of Sons of Norway is holding its eighth annual lutefisk and meatball dinner next month.

From what I know about the fish, they could serve leftover lutefisk from the first seven years and nobody would know the difference.

I've never tasted lutefisk. It is air-dried cod that is prepared with lye -- which, yes, makes the fish poisonous until the lye is washed off.

You can understand, then, why I have no desire to try lutefisk. Even if it had a redeeming taste, I don't know the people in charge of washing off the lye, so how can I trust them?

I'm told that lutefisk smells bad and tastes worse. It is, at best, an acquired taste. It appears on the plate as a gelatinous blob; if you shake the plate, the fish shakes with it.

Oh cod, how lovely.

Based on my arm's-length research, the stuff belongs on "Fear Factor" or "Survivor." There should be a big reward for eating it, something more important than just cultural tradition dating back to the Vikings. If you eat it, you should win a million dollars or get to stay on the island for another week.

"You either love it or hate it. There is no in-between," said Hans Ahren, who is Swedish but happens to love lutefisk.

Hans owns Scandinavian Styles, a gift shop on the south end of Eastern Avenue, and he sells lutefisk that is frozen in shrink-wrap. That might be when lutefisk is at its best.

"When my wife is out of the house," Hans said, "I'll cook some up for me and the dog."

(Maybe my dog, who is French, is just a snob, but he prefers beefsteak.)

I'm writing this column because a buddy of mine is promoting the lutefisk dinner and leaned on me for help. I told him I'd do it if I didn't have to go to the actual event.

And you can't blame me. This is how he described the importance of the dinner: "No one can truly claim to be Norwegian until he or she eats this disgusting-smelling fish." (Thankfully, I only claim to be from the Midwest, home of cows.)

So here's the plug: the dinner will be held on Saturday, Feb. 4, at the Boulder City Elks Lodge on Nevada Highway in Boulder City. (If you don't know the address, just follow the smell.)

There will be a 3 p.m. seating (so, I suppose, you can drink afterward and wash the taste out of your mouth), and at 6 p.m. (so you can drink in advance and steel yourself for the meal).

Each seating can accommodate 200 people. Last year, the dinner was almost sold out. They ordered 200 pounds of lutefisk (topped with butter or white cream sauce) and 1,500 homemade meatballs served with gravy. My hunch is people come for the lutefisk but stay for the meatballs.

The rest of the menu includes boiled potatoes, peas and carrots, lefse (a potato-based flat bread), coffee and iced tea, krumkake and other Norwegian cookies.

Tickets must be purchased by Jan. 23. You get them by sending a self-addressed, stamped envelope with a check (payable to Sons of Norway) to Gwen Knighton, 10412 Beachwalk Place, Las Vegas, NV 89144. The cost is $17 per adult and $5 for children 11 and under. Indicate your seating time preference, names of those attending and a contact telephone number (perhaps to reach next of kin).

Some Norwegians, by the way, eat lutefisk year-round. These people, I'm told, long ago lost their taste buds.

There is tremendous lore surrounding lutefisk, including this song, which can be sung to the tune of 'O Tannenbaum. I only wish I knew the name of the author.

Lutefisk ... O lutefisk ... You have a special flavor Lutefisk ... O lutefisk ... All good Norwegians savor. That slimy slab we know so well ... Identified by ghastly smell

Lutefisk ... O lutefisk ... Our loyalty won't waver.

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