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A Fishy History: the Wisconsin Friday Fish Fry

There is no denying that Friday Night Fish Fry is as much a part of Wisconsin culture as chili is to Texas or Barbeque is to South Carolina. In hushed voices one might even say it rivals our famous cheese. But where did this tradition come from? Why are we, a state that is 1,000 miles from the nearest ocean, the keepers of the best Fish Frys? Well, the answer is rooted in two parts, the Catholic church and the 21st Amendment.

Due to the Lenten season, and the belief that Jesus was crucified on a Friday, Good Friday, Catholic believers were instructed to abstain from eating warm blooded meat in observance. However, since cold blooded was still okay, fish was on the menu! This is thought to have started back in medieval times, and came to Wisconsin through Irish, German, and Polish, Catholic immigrants.

Fast forward to the 20s and 30s in the age of prohibition. Taverns around Wisconsin were looking for a cheap and easy way to keep the doors open (and quite possibly sell some pints under the table). Fish was plentiful and affordable, and you don’t need a culinary degree to learn to fry something!

Wisconsin Friday Fish Fry comes in all varieties and are available year round. Many places serve locally sourced fish, like Northern, Walleye, and Perch, but most places you will find the traditional Cod, with sides like coleslaw, french fries, and rye bread. Whether you like your fish deep fried or baked, beer battered or unseasoned, you’ll find your flavor at most Wisconsin taverns and restaurants on Friday nights throughout the year, but it still remains quite popular in the Lenten season.

So, come take part in a Wisconsin tradition, and the next time you are here try our famous Friday Night Fish Fry! And if you are looking for another Wisconsin culinary tradition, every tourist needs to try a deep fried cheese curd. Seriously, it’s what keeps you non-Wisconsin folks coming back!

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