Eating Dutch herring (“Hollandse Nieuwe” Haring)

Eating Dutch herring, the Dutch way

The Dutch herring was a huge surprise for me when I arrived in the Netherlands. My entire life I was eating marinated herring in the form of roll mops, taking it for granted that this was the only way.

So you can imagine when I ate the headless raw herring for the first time, it was quite an experience for me. The onion bites were sticking to the slimy surface of the fish as I was picking it up by the tail and the fat savory taste started inundating my mouth, while with the head back, I was trying to imitate the best I could my Dutch boyfriend. “Lekker, he’?” (“Delicious, right?”) I heard his voice.

Dutch Herring ("Hollandse Nieuwe" Haring)

Dutch Herring (“Hollandse Nieuwe” Haring). Photo credit: Dutch Fish Marketing Board

And indeed, it tasted awesome! 🙂 Now I love this fish so much that I would take a herring over an ice cream or any outdoor snack, any day.

Eating herring in the Netherlands is a popular tradition both for inhabitants as well as for tourists. And for those of you who don’t know too much about this topic, I will cover below the main aspects. So let’s begin!

What is the Dutch herring?

It’s a silvery fish that is most abundant in the coastal waters and the Dutch are taking it far from the North Sea. The Raw Dutch Herring it’s a typical Dutch snack and it can be bought at street-side herring fish stalls.

Dutch Herring ("Hollandse Nieuwe" Haring): Fresh herring conserved with salt and eaten with raw onions

Dutch Herring (“Hollandse Nieuwe” Haring): Fresh herring conserved with salt and eaten with raw onions

A short trip to 's Hertogenbosch | Fresh fish for sale. Photo credit: David van Mill

A short trip to ‘s Hertogenbosch | Fresh fish for sale. Photo credit: David van Mill

When is the best time to eat herring in the Netherlands?

It’s a seasonal (springtime) delicacy; every year between end of May and beginning of July the official season for herring (haringseizoen) starts.

At this moment the fish is called Hollandse Nieuwe (Dutch New) and reports about its taste and content in fat are released, for everybody to know how the quality of the new harvest is. The first barrel of Hollandse Nieuwe is traditionally sold at auction for charity.

Photo credit: thingsdutchpeopledo.com

Nieuwe haring – De mannen van de Zee! Photo credit: thingsdutchpeopledo.com

You must know that a good new herring is better tasting than the most exquisite sashimi or any other raw fish – it’s so juicy and scrumptious! So if you like sushi, Dutch herring is the next step, you should seriously consider it when in Holland!

Being such an important tradition, every year Hollandse nieuwe is celebrated in festivals such as the Vlaardingen Herring Festival and Vlaggetjesdag (Flag Day) in Scheveningen.

Opening of the new herring season - Vlaggetjesdag. Photo credit: Ferdi de Gier

Opening of the new herring season – Vlaggetjesdag. Photo credit: Ferdi de Gier

Dutch ladies in folkloric costumes reparing the nets from the fishermen at the opening of the new herring season - Vlaggetjesdag. Photo credit: Ferdi de Gier

Dutch ladies in folkloric costumes repairing the nets from the fishermen at the Opening of the new herring season – Vlaggetjesdag. Photo credit: Ferdi de Gier

Who likes eating herring?

Dutch people absolutely adore their “maatjes” (another name for the young herring), it’s pretty much like a religious experience for them. Almost everybody in the Netherlands, no matter the age (even toddlers) loves this fish and can’t get enough of it. Just take a look at this cutie!

 

  (Video credit: Henk Jan Bouwmeester)

So it’s no wonder that with approximately 15 herrings in a kg, the Dutch, in fact, eat just over 10 herrings a year.

And for the Dutch people living abroad, this is one of those things they are missing a lot.

There are restaurants and shops that import them when the new harvest comes in and in some countries you can even get the herring mailed to you in a vacuum package from various importers. But unfortunately they don’t always have them.

That’s why every time they go back to Holland they eat at least 3 or 4 herrings while there.

How do you eat the Dutch herring?

It really depends on where you are. In Scheveningen, Den Haag or Rotterdam for instance people always eat herring using their hands (the traditional way*),

Source: Dutch Fish Marketing Board

*Dutch herring are traditionally eaten by holding the fish by the tail and dunking it into your mouth with your head thrown back – and YES, the Dutch are very proud of this way of eating it! Photo credit: Dutch Fish Marketing Board

while in the Amsterdam region, it’s served in pieces with a ‘prikkertje met een Hollands vlaggetje’ (toothpick with Dutch flag) or using fork and knife.

How is the herring eaten in Amsterdam area.

How is the herring eaten in Amsterdam area.

Herring it’s also delicious between some buns with onion and pickles or as a sandwich.

Photo credit: Tony van Beers

Eating broodje haring. Photo credit: Tony van Beers

What’s the story with the onions?

Really fresh herrings don’t need onions. These were initially used to mask the taste of old herring or as a conservation method because in the past it was not possible to keep the fish in ice after fishing like nowadays.

But because the combination of herring and onions is so tasty, many people still eat them together.

Is this fish eaten really RAW?

Just to be clear about it…. Herring is not eaten “raw”. Yes, it looks raw and it is uncooked. However, it is not raw, but in fact “prepared” for consumption.

After the fish is caught, its head is cut off and all the guts are removed except for the pancreas, so that its enzymes can soften the fish. They are giving it its peculiar, lovable taste, smoothing texture, and making it easier to digest. This process is called in Dutch “haring kaken”.

The herring is also salted for conservation and frozen before being sold for consumption, in order to kill all possible parasites.

So, in fact, salted herring (Hollandse nieuwe) is fermented herring.

The benefits of the Dutch herring

Now I cannot eat enough herring. It is delicious once you get used to it, and being full of Omega 3 fatty acids, it’s also very healthy. From where the saying: “A herring a day keeps the doctor away!”

Vis is gezond (Fish is healthy). Photo credit: Dutch Fish Marketing Board

Vis is gezond (Fish is healthy). Photo credit: Dutch Fish Marketing Board

It is also bombproof cure for hangovers; start your day with a few herrings and you’re fit as a fiddle in no time!

And now, since the new season just started this weekend, it’s time to get your hands dirty. So cock back the head and ENJOY your Dutch herring!!!

Eating herring, the Dutch style. Photo credit: Dutch Fish Marketing Board

Eating herring, the Dutch style. Photo credit: Dutch Fish Marketing Board

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