Eating Traditional Dutch herring (haring in Dutch) is one of the Netherlands’ most well-known traditions. And the chances are that if you have been to the Netherlands and walked around any town or city, you will have walked past a Dutch herring stand, as they really are everywhere. But tourists, visitors and ex-pats alike often turn their noses up at this unusual Dutch snack with its slimy, fishy taste. So what exactly do the locals find so enticing about the Dutch fish dish? And why has it become such a Dutch cultural icon? Read on to find out everything you want to know about the Dutch herring tradition.
A Quick History of Herring in the Netherlands
The Dutch have been eating and exporting herring since the Middle Ages. Herring tend to favour shallow coastlines and are easy to catch, so fishermen in the Middle Ages would catch large quantities, and began to smoke, salt and preserve their catches in barrels, to be exported across Europe and beyond.
Since then, fishing has been a mainstay of the Dutch economy, and herring has been one of their vital commodities – with the Dutch herring fleets totalling an impressive 770 ships by the first decade of the 17th century. Some even claim that the Dutch “golden age” (a period of wealth, culture and art) could never have happened without herring. From the 14th century onwards, Dutch herring has been preserved in a specific brine with vinegar, herbs and spices, all of which are used to keep the fish fresh and tasty.
Is Dutch Herring Raw
Although the Dutch call it raw herring, Dutch herring is not raw; it is soused. But how do you souse a herring? Well, to start the process, once a herring is fished it is usually gibbed. This means that the gills, gullet, heart and intestines are removed. Next, it is frozen for a minimum of two days, and finally, it is salted. After that, you have soused herring – which is what they serve in the Netherlands today.
where to eat herring in amsterdam?
To eat herring in a quintessentially Dutch way, you are supposed to hold the herring by its tail, dangle it above your mouth and then lower it in. But if you are looking for a slightly easier method, most herring is now served sliced, in small slices, with pickles and onions – and a toothpick. Pickles and onions were traditionally served with the herring to cover up the flavour of slightly old fish, back in the days when it was harder to preserve. This is also why, the further east you go, and the further from the sea, the saltier your herring will taste.
If you really want to disguise the flavour of the herring, or want to eat something more filling, you can choose to try a broodje haring, which is herring in a bread roll. This might, however, garner some judgemental looks from the locals!
Herring season Netherlands?
Dutch herring is eaten all year round, much of it imported by Dutch companies from Danish waters. But the Dutch herring season really kicks off in late May or early June, when the Nieuwe Haring is brought in. This is typically celebrated on Vlaggetjesdag (Flag Day) – a festival in seaside towns such as Scheveningen, to celebrate the herring auction.
But what is the difference between Dutch herring and Nieuwe Haring? Herring can be called nieuwe haring if it contains at least 16% fat and is washed, straight from fishing. This is typically caught between the months of May and September.
Where Can You Eat Dutch Herring?
Dutch herring is traditionally a street food, and you can find little market stalls dotted across most towns and cities in the Netherlands. Some of these serve only Dutch herring, whilst other stands serve other traditional Dutch fish dishes, such as kibbeling or lekkerbek. If you want to try some of the best herring in the country, look no further than the AD haring test. Every year, between 2002 to 2017, the Algemeen Dagblad (AD) would announce the herring shop that sold the most delicious herring in the country.
A repeat winner of this award was Simonis Vis who took the top title three times. Simonis Vis, based in the Hague and Scheveningen, has existed since 1880 and has seen four generations follow the family tradition of fishmongering. If you aren’t sure where to try your first taste of Dutch herring, then this is a great choice. You can even sit in their harbour cafe and watch the herring boats come back from a busy day’s fishing.
But if you aren’t in the Hague, then there is no need to worry! You are sure to stumble on a stall selling herring. The only question that remains is whether you will tip your head back and eat it in the old-school Dutch way, or whether you will opt for the safer option and use a toothpick!