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 seem strange to eat a raw fish that has nothing to do with sushi.
Here are the basics about Dutch raw herring in 8 questions:
1. What is hering?
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 of days to ripen the fish (soused herring). So, strictly speaking, it is not raw herring.
3. What does raw herring taste like?
A good raw herring must have a 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. In the winter months, the fish doesn’t eat. Only in spring, it starts to eat plankton. In May, when the fish has reached a percentage of 15% fat, the fishing season starts.
The first ‘Hollandse Nieuwe’ arrives on the market in the beginning of June. The first barrel of herring is officially and joyfully auctioned in a feast. The raised money on the first auctioned herring goes to charity.
5. Where can I eat the best raw herring in Amsterdam?
Every year, you can vote for the best herring in Amsterdam. Some herring sellers always sell winning fish. Some suggestions from reader of Amsterda daily newspaper Parool:
Fish shop Tijger & de Vis on Lindengracht (Jordaan), De Gigant, the fish stand on Westermarkt (church), the fish stand at Albert Cuypmarket and Stubbe’s haring at Singel/corner Haarlemmerstraat.
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. When kept in a barrel of salt, it can be eaten all winter.
This meant the fish tasted very salty. It had to be cleaned with milk to get the salt off. People ate the herring with raw onions to get the real herring taste out.
Nowadays, herring can be stocked in salt and frozen. This slows down the ripening process. This way, excellent quality raw 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 also with gherkins.
7. Do they eat raw herring in other countries too?
Yes, they also eat herring in Germany. In Germany herring is typically eaten in combination with potatoes and a salad or it is served with cream or yogurt 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, raw 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: