There is something about Scandinavians that makes them partial to really
smelly fish. The iconic lutefisk known to many a church supper and
Christmas dinner has made many a non-Scandinavian blanch and their nose
hairs curl from the odor. Lutefisk is not the smelliest fish on earth.
That honor may well go to the Norwegian delicacy known as rakfisk.
Lutefisk is made from aged, air-dried whitefish (usually cod) and preserved in lye. To prepare the lutefisk for eating it must go through a lengthy process of being soaked and rinsed in cold water that can take around two weeks to remove the lye. Silver utensils must never be used in the cooking, serving, or eating process for they will be permanently ruined. It is no wonder that the food has a unique reputation and that even Scandinavians will sport buttons and bumper stickers that announce "Lutefisk -- just say NO!"
Rakfisk on the other hand is made of trout or char that is salted and fermented for a couple of months up to a year. At that point the fish is eaten without cooking -- a sort of Norwegian sushi. The delicacy is purported to be odiferous enough to make your nose hairs seek asylum in your ears. Stinky cheeses are refreshingly pleasant in comparison.
According to the current trend, you pop a bit of the fish and then follow it with a sizeable portion of aquavit. It may be that the popularity of the rakfisk is more of an excuse to drink. It could also be that enough aquavit and you don't notice the smell so much anymore.
Both kinds of fish come to the world courtesy of poverty-stricken times in a part of the world where food must be stored for a very long, very cold winter. It is likely that the desperation of avoiding starvation in the depths of winter that made the stench a bit more bearable.
For Scandinavians and Scandinavian-Americans alike, a great deal of enjoyment is derived from making jokes of the fish (and sometimes other traditional foods). Humorists such as Garrison Keillor have gotten a lot of mileage out of the food, claiming, among many other things, that it is "not edible by normal people."
What can you expect from a people whose favorite form of bread can be mistaken for a napkin by those who've never seen lefse before?