Since living in Holland, I’ve adopted many Dutch traditions. I ride my bike everywhere, my house is always filled with fresh tulips, and on the 15th of October, I bake my own birthday cake. But there’s one tradition I’ve been hesitant to adopt, a right of passage I’ve been unwilling to devour. Eating raw herring.
One of the first Dutch foods I grew to love was smoked mackerel. Serve it at breakfast with a fork and some toast, and you have a delicious, protein filled meal. I’ve also grown quite fond of hutspot. Sure, you could just eat your potatoes and vegetables without mashing them all together in one pot, but where’s the fun in that?! But the raw herring thing I just can’t get on board with. It’s slippery. It’s traditionally served with onions and pickles (talk about bad breath). And in Holland, there’s no such thing as eating herring with a fork and knife. The Dutch simply cock back their heads and shove the whole, slippery fish down their throats. Gulp.
Where the Americans have cheeseburgers, the Dutch have raw herring, and there are shops and stands all over Amsterdam serving this delicacy. One such shop is across the street from my house, and every morning as I sip my tea and look out the window, I watch a number of brave souls line up to buy their raw fish.
After three years of evading Holland’s ‘national dish’, I decided to take one for the team; so I could share the story of raw herring with you, my readers. I went into the experience skeptical and determined. I would try ONE bite. I would not spit it out. I would chase it with a pickle and some fresh juice from the Albert Cuyp Market, and I would go on with my day. It would be done in a second and it would not taste horrible. It would be bad, but it would be OK.
We queued up in Volendammer Vishandel with all of the old-school Dutchies. There was fried fish, served hot to order. But most folks went for the raw delicacy, served on a bun with pickles and onions.
I ordered the Malse Haring, sans bun, as advertised out front on a big sign.B wimped out and got fried fish – as you would expect from any good Brit. It was served with a flavored mayonnaise and was absolutely delicious. Based on the fried fish alone, we would definitely eat at Volendammer Vishandel again. How have we live here for three years without trying this delectable fried fish, right across the street?!And then it was time to try the herring. No more stalling. I was served two good-sized slices of herring, chopped into small pieces, along with three sweet pickles, and a big spoonful of chopped onions. I put on a brave face and smiled for the camera.And then I did it. AHHHHHHHH!So, what is the consensus?
I think I’ve lived here for too long. Because I absolutely loved it!
I truly expected to take one bite and then chuck the rest, grossed out and burping up raw fish for the rest of the day. But the herring was tender and soft, and not overly fishy. In fact, it tasted much less fishy than I expected, especially compared to some of the sushi I’ve had in the past. The pickles were sweet and crunchy, and the onions were sweet as well – not too overpowering.
My only complaint is the lack of cutlery – how are you supposed to eat these tiny chopped onions without a fork?! I found myself wedging the onions in between two pieces of fish, and then popping the whole fish-onion taco into my mouth. Not very lady like, but damn good. And yes, I ate the whole thing!
If you want to try raw herring in Amsterdam, you’re in luck, because there are stalls on almost every corner! I highly recommend the shop on my street – it’s not every day you eat raw fish and pickles, so when you do, you want to do it right!
You can find them here:
Eerste van der Helstraat 60
1072 NX Amsterdam
+31 20 6760394