I asked at the information booth about THE new food at the Minnesota State Fair: Crispy Lutefisk Steamed Buns. Judging from the knowing “here’s another one” look on the volunteer’s face, I figured that the word was out and fair goers were going for the lutefisk a lot. Indeed, there were 173,724 people in attendance that Sunday, and I was sure that all but five of them were there to try the lutefisk!
Jane Legwold and I made our way through the crowds of strollers and backpacks and people waiting in long lines for Pronto Pups. (An average of nearly 30,000 Pronto Pups are sold daily at the fair.) We finally reached Shanghai Henri’s, where the Crispy Lutefisk Steamed Buns entree was sold. Now, the lines were nothing like Pronto Pup lines, but business was brisk. The guys waiting on me said they sold out of the “lutee” the day before, and things were hopping already at 11 a.m. In fact, the orders of “two lutees and a 20 oz.” (of beer) were in the air when I waited for my order. (Was the beer for washing down the food or for bracing for the lutefisk?)
I received my four buns, each cuddling a slice of baked lutefisk. The lutefisk was not boiled and jelly-like, which took off the table one of the typical complaints about lutefisk. Also, there was no fishy odor, another plus. The fish was covered with a delicious sweet hoisin sauce, then baked and topped with sesame seeds. Beneath the lutefisk was a blend of cabbage, carrots, cilantro and yum yum sauce.
I was about ready to eat my first bite, but I paused. It was the same kind of pause that happens before you push off on a zip line. A nearby man had been watching me. He laughed and shouted, “What are you waiting for?”
I smiled and said, “I’m collecting my thoughts.” I could have meant I was collecting my thoughts before I put together a prayer for strength and tolerance.
In a word, it was tasty. The hoisin over the fish and the vegetables dominated, but I could still detect enough of the lutefisk flavor to tell that it was indeed lutefisk. The bun was OK but a bit filling, but all in all the dish was good and very creative.
A man sat nearby with his daughter, I assumed, and appeared to be enjoying his lutefisk. His unsmiling daughter gave him sideways glances as if to say, “Dad, don’t do that in public.” She smiled when I asked her about what she thought of lutefisk and said she doesn’t eat it. The dad said he liked it and was impressed that for $14.25 there was a lot of food in the serving.
I asked another man what he thought of the lutefisk. “You know, I have not had lutefisk in 10 years,” he said, chuckling. “When I saw this was a new food at the state fair, I had to come and give it a try. I like it.”
There was relief in the responses, not only that the lutefisk was fun and tasty … but that the tasters had lived to tell about it.