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Amsterdam delicacy: Herring

Without a doubt, the Dutch food most frowned upon by tourists, expats, and immigrants, is herring — a popular, and healthy, snack. (Among other things, herring lowers your bad cholesterol).

Traditionally, herring is eaten by grabbing it by the tail, throwing one’s head back, and — while gently lowering the fish — biting off tasty morsels.

This pose has caused many tourists to assume that the fish is eaten raw. However, herring is partially gutted on board of the fishing vessel (or sometimes upon arrival at the port) Then it is salted, and next it is frozen for a minimum of two days. This process affects the fish’s taste and tenderness.

The fish is further cleaned and prepared at stalls (Haringkar) or fish stores — usually at the time a customer orders one. It is at its very best when it is prepared right then and there, which is one reason why you usually can watch your order being prepared.

Herring cart

Stubbe’s Haring, famous for its quality herring, located on the bridge across Singel — just steps from Central Station

You’ll note that in most cities the fish is not eaten the traditional way. Rather, many people prefer to have the herring served cut in bite-sized piece on a piece of silver-backed paper, along with finely diced onions and some sliced pickles. A toothpick serves as a utensil.

By the way, herring may taste saltier the further you travel east in the Netherlands. This hails back to the time when supplies took longer to travel from the harbors to the customers. Salted and frozen for a longer time, it came out tasting differently — and through the years customers have gotten used to their local flavors.

And the taste? Hard to describe. Suffice it to say that for most people herring is love at first bite. If you like sushi, you’ll love this delicacy.

It’s not easy to find a Dutch person who doesn’t like herring — and even harder to find one who doesn’t enjoy talking a tourist into trying one.

Hollandse Nieuwe: ‘New Dutch Herring’

Herring fishing occurs year-round, but the fat content (and thus the taste) of the fish varies with the season.

The best herring is called Hollandse nieuwe (Holland new), indicating that it has been caught between the middle of May and the end of June. Earlier the fish is too thin, and later it is too fat.

By law, Hollandse Nieuwe must have at least 16% fat. There are a number of other requirements — including the fact that the herring must have been frozen for at least 2 days in order to kill possible parasites.

On the last Saturday in May, herring boats sail out from the harbors of Scheveningen and IJmuiden to start the hunt for the year’s new herring catch. The first vessel to return with the much-praised Hollandse Nieuwe wins this prestigious contest. The first barrel of new herring is auctioned, usually fetching a handsome price.
– Source: Dutch Delight: Typically Dutch Food

New Herring
Herring may be sold as “Hollandse Nieuwe” if and when the herring has a fat percentage of at least 16%, and has been gutted, salted, and filleted according to traditional Dutch custom. It also must have been caught between the start of the season at the beginning of June and until the end of September.

Before an officially sanctioned day at the start of June (a different day each year) no herring may be sold as Hollandse Nieuwe. Any fishmonger (or anyone else, for that matter) who does so anyway can be fined €10.800.

Herring is a treat any time, but Hollandse Nieuwe ensures that the fish is at its tastiest.

That said, ask herring lovers were to find the best suppliers. Several newspapers — the Dutch Algemeen Dagblad (AD) in particular — publish yearly taste tests, and not all herring carts (or shops) are as impressive as the top ones.

The price of haring can be anything from about € 2,50 to about € 3,50.

Look for a fishmonger cart that is busy, and where you can see the the fish being prepared upon ordering.

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This post was last updated: Apr. 1, 2014