In Amsterdam, fish stands sell raw herring (‘haring’), a soused raw fish with a strong taste. Dutch raw herring is hugely popular in Amsterdam. In Holland, people have been eating raw herring for over 600 years. For foreigners it might be a bit strange to eat a raw fish that has nothing to do with sushi.
Here’s the basics about Dutch raw herring in 8 questions:
1. What is herring?
Herring is a small fish that is very popular among Dutch people. It is caught in the North Sea and the East Sea (near Denmark) from mid May to mid July.
2. Do the Dutch eat raw fish?
The herring has been frozen and then laid in salt for a couple days to ripen the fish (soused herring). So, strictly speaking, it is not raw herring.
3. What does herring taste like?
A good raw herring must have soft texture with a nice bite. It tastes and smells fresh and salty. It must be big and have a high percentage of fat (over 15%). Dutch raw herring is famous for being a remedy for hangovers.
4. What is ‘Hollandse Nieuwe’?
‘Hollandse Nieuwe’ (Holland’s new herring) is the new herring of the fishing season. It is only allowed to catch herring from mid May to mid July, when the fish are the fattest, getting ready to lay eggs.
The first ‘Hollandse Nieuwe’ arrive on the market in the beginning of June. The first barrel of herring is officially and joyfully auctioned in a feast where everyone’s eats raw herring, the raised money going to charity.
5. Is the herring any good this year?
The herring is excellent this year. Herrings feed on plankton. And plankton grows by sunlight. So the better the weather, the fatter and better the herring. If spring has been sunny, the herring is of the best quality.
6. Is raw herring traditional food in the Netherlands?
Yes. People from Holland (from the West of the Netherlands) have been eating raw herring for over 600 years. Traditionally, eating herring was mostly a practical matter. The fish is rich in nutrients and fat and, when kept in a barrel of salt, it can be eaten all winter. Of course, it meant the fish tasted very salty. It had to be cleaned with milk to get the salt off and eaten with raw onions to get the real herring taste out.
Nowadays, the herring can be stocked in salt and frozen, slowing down the ripening process. This way, excellent quality herring can still be eaten in November and December. Dutch raw herring is still eaten with raw onions. In Amsterdam it is typical to eat herring not only with raw onions, but to also add gherkins.
7. Do they eat raw herring in other countries too?
Yes, they also eat herring in Germany, but typically in combination with potatoes and a salad or served with cream or yoghurt sauces with onions and gherkins. The Scandinavians eat their herring more marinaded.
In Sweden, herring is traditionally served on Midsummer’s Eve. In the North of Sweden they lay their herring to rot in a barrel with herbs for a while before eating, giving the herring a gruesome smell.
8. How do you eat herring?
At any fish stand in the street, the soused herring is served on a paper plate with onions and pickles. Generally they chop the fish in little pieces or served on bread (‘broodje haring’). Traditionally however, herring is to be eaten by holding the fish by its tail, dipping it in onions and letting the slippery raw fish then slide into your mouth.
To show you how raw herring is eaten properly, we made this video: