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Amsterdam street food delicacy: Herring

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Last updated April 23, 2024
Amsterdam street food herring
A portion of herring the way it usually is served in Amsterdam — sliced in motes, with some diced onions and sliced pickles on the side

When in Amsterdam you must try haring (herring)

Without a doubt, the Dutch street food most frowned upon by tourists, expats, and immigrants, is herring — a popular and healthy snack.

Among other things, herring lowers your bad cholesterol, and it is a good source of vitamin D. 1

But above all, people eat herring because it tastes great!

Herring is not raw fish

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, but that is not the case. 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.2

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 absolute best when it is prepared right then and there, which is one reason why you usually can watch your order being prepared.

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

How to eat herring

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

You can also opt for herring on a white bun.

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.

Speaking of which, many herring lovers eat the fish without onions and pickles.

What herring tastes like

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.

Informative video about herring and what herring tastes like

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 than that the fish is too thin, and later it is too fat.

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

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

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.

What makes it “New Herring” (Hollandse Nieuwe)?

How to find a top herring stall in Amsterdam

Look for a fishmonger cart with plenty of customers, preferably locals. In the center of town some carts attract more tourists than locals. Usually there is a good reason for that. Mind you, if a place attracts more 4 or 5 star reviews from tourists than from locals, you may want to find another herring cart.

Also: preparing the herring — that is removing the skin, tail, and the largest bones — takes time. A busy herring stall may have a few cleaned up herrings on hand, but we prefer to see the fish being prepared upon ordering.

If in doubt, head for Stubbe’s Haring (On the bridge across Singel canal, at the start of Haarlemmerstraat), Kras Haring (Kattenburgerplein, across from the National Maritime Museum), or Vishandel Albert Cuyp (yes, the famous street market). This will set the standard by which you can evaluate other herring mongers.

How much does a herring cost in Amsterdam?

Nowadays, the price of herring can be anything from about € 3,50 to about € 4,00 — slightly more for new herring. Herring on a bun may set you back ± € 5,50.

Hollandse Nieuwe: ‘New Dutch Herring’ 2024 Season

What about “Old Herring”?

You can herring year-round. The locals do, and so should you. In other words, you don’t have to wait until the New Herring (Hollandse Nieuwe) arrives in order to enjoy this treat.

Amsterdam Food Tours

A fun way to get to know Amsterdam is by discovering what the locals eat.

Show up hungry for the 3.5-Hour Food Tasting Tour of the lively Jordaan district, or any of the other tours:

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  1. Herring is healthy due in part to a high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids. It is a good source of vitamin D and selenium.
  2. The herring is gutted except for its pancreas. The enzymes in the pancreas cause the herring to mature and develop the great taste it is known and loved for. The gutted herring is salted and placed in a barrel. The salt withdraws moisture, and the herring become salty. The subsequent 24-hour freezing process prevents parasites.
  3. EU TSG Certification and EU PGI Certification

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