For more than 600 years Holland has been a prominent consumer of herring – preferable and predominantly raw. If you are planning a short stay in Amsterdam, try to arrange it for the beginning of June to get the best of the best of ‘Hollandse Nieuwe’ – ‘new herring’.
Urban legends and perfect timing
While it is true that ages ago people used to eat raw herring, today you have to subtract the ‘raw’ part as the herring sold in the streets is usually smoked or brined a little before they get served at the stalls. So, in the light of the above, the ‘new’ herring is not exactly ‘fresh out of water’, but more like the first catch of the season – and the season starts in late spring, that’s why it’s best to get to Amsterdam in late May or early June. Of course, today’s technology lets us keep fish fresh for all the year, but if you want to get a first-hand experience of herring ‘as it is’, you now know where to book your accommodation, don’t you?
Raw herring – a competitor of sushi?
Well, not exactly. First, it’s a local resource, so there’s no need to import it – the North Sea and the East Sea provide plenty of it. Second, it tastes totally different. A good herring is big, fat (over 15% of fat), salty and quite soft. And it is served in different shapes and forms. Most of haringhuis (herring stands), haringhandels (herring carts) and vishandels (fish shops) will offer the more accessible and less challenging ‘ herringbroodjes’ – slices of herring served on a bun with onions, pickles and a toothpick with the Dutch flag stuck into the pieces of fish. Another form is the said ‘Hollandse Nieuwe’ – the local ‘new herring’, which you’d probably expect to eat whole and held by the tail. To be honest, that’s a thing of the past, as today this herring is also served in pieces, on a waxed cardboard plate and eaten using toothpicks (with flags, of course); remember, however, than ‘new herring’ is a seasonal specialty and can be enjoyed in late May/early June only.
Like with every other type of food, there are some better and not-so-good places – which of course is a subjective matter. However, based on our local knowledge we may suggest a couple of ‘spots’ regarded as reliable and verified. The best herring carts are reportedly De Zeevang found at Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 226 (near Dam Square) and Frens Haringhandel at Singel 486. Good herring stands include: V.O.F. Vishandel Centruum (Haarlemmerdijk 4), Stubbe’s Haring (Singel Haarlingersluis), or Vishandel Molenaar (Albert Cuypstraat 93), but other stands located in the area of Albert Cuypmarkt and the Noordermarkt are also recommended. And if you smell something fishy, don’t hesitate to ask the locals.