When I was young and visiting Holland with my oma, or grandma — who emigrated from the low countries to North America after World War II — our first stop was always the herring stand. My grandpa would stand by, pinching his nose, as my grandma ordered a couple of these small fish topped with chopped raw onions, which she ate with a toothpick decorated with a paper Dutch flag. I don’t know if my affinity with herring was instant, but it certainly solidified over the years. Herring’s particular salty, mildly fishy taste screams Holland, so you should not let a trip pass without trying it.
How are herring preserved?
A herring is a small, silvery fish that swims abundantly in the northern waters of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. To preserve herring in Holland, all but the pancreas is gutted from the fish. The enzymes in the pancreas help preserve the herring, and not as much salt is required to take out the moisture during the brining process. Herring is an excellent source of healthy Omega-3 fatty acids.
How did herring form part of Holland’s history?
Fish has always been an important part of Dutch cooking, which makes perfect sense since the country is so near the water. And so when a Dutchman invented the pancreatic process for preserving these small fish, it was readily absorbed into the Dutch way of life, especially for the fishermen at that time who spent months on their boats. As they sailed, they would gut and brine the herring as the fish were caught, allowing the fishermen to remain well-fed at sea for long periods of time. There are some people who say that raw herring was partly responsible for Holland’s Golden Age in the 1600s – a period rich in art and invention – as the constant supply of food allowed the adventurers to keep sailing.
Where to eat herring in Holland?
Walking around almost any city or town in Holland, you’ll come across pictures of a Dutch girl holding a herring high above her mouth, indicating this is where you can buy herring. Some street stands specialize only in herring, and these are known as Haringhandels. Other street stands cook up a wide variety of fish: try some fried lekkerbekjes or kibbeling too. You can often pick up herring (along with smoked eel and other delicacies) at the fishmongers’ shops, which is your best option if you’re staying in a small town.
How to eat herring?
One quintessentially Dutch way to eat a raw herring is like the Dutch girl on the signs: hold the fish by the tail high above your head and lower it into your mouth. But though these fish are small, they’re not that small, so most Amsterdammers eat their herring sliced and topped with chopped onions or pickles, using a toothpick decorated with a Dutch flag. Another more filling way to eat herring is sandwiched in a bread roll: a so-called broodje haring.
When to eat a herring?
“Any time!” would be a valid answer! But there is a best time to eat herring, and that’s when the Hollandse nieuwe haring hits all the haringhandels. The nieuwe haring is the first catch of the year, and is generally available in early June. If you’re visiting at this time, you surely won’t miss it, as the nieuwe haring is front-page material.
Where to eat herring in Amsterdam?
There are many haringhandels all around Holland’s capital, and many fish shops that sell herring too. One notable street stall is Stubbe’s Haring, whose address is Singel T.O. 8. The Stubbe family has been selling herring and other fish from this location near Central Station and the Singel canal since 1903. For another option, go to the Albert Cuyp Market in the De Pijp district – the market stalls sell lots of Dutch specialties, including plenty of choices when it comes to where to buy your herring. Alternatively, join our Jordaan Food Tour and try herring for yourself from Meer dan Vis!
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