Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Lutfisk

Photo credit: receptfavoriter.se

Sunday night was the annual lutfisk dinner at the American Swedish Institute.  I served meatballs during the third and final seating, and as always this was my favorite evening of the year.

Funny thing about the people I interviewed for my thesis. Nearly all of them made a lutfisk joke. It has become a source of bravado and pride, and we welcome the jokes because, in my opinion, it is a way to stand out from the other (mostly) homogeneous white Minnesotans. It makes us ethnically "unique." Of course, take a look around your local church basement or even ASI and you will see the occasional person of color wolfing down an extra large portion of cod, splashed with melted butter or cream sauce and a side of peas. That is the beauty of a shared immigrant experience.

Last week someone asked if I like lutfisk.  I don't think about whether I like it.  I eat it because it is tradition, a way to bond with the older people I eat with, because my people did it for generations.  It is the ritual that turns me on. 

Would you like it?  Maybe not. But you would appreciate the ritual.  We volunteers sit together in the Kaffestugga after service, enjoying our plates heaped with lutfisk, meatballs, potatoes, and cream sauce.  I listen to their conversations about days gone by, bemoaning their children's dislike of the feast, toasting dead loved ones with shots of icy aquavit, and teasing the young folks like me about participating in a dying tradition.  And for a brief moment I can feel my grandpa smiling down on me.  It is like communion. Or maybe more like the Spanish Day of the Dead feast except we don't leave an empty chair or plate of food for the spirits. That would be wasteful to a practical Swede.

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