A guide to ‘Herring happen’

The Herring – This little fishy sends shivers down many expats – and Dutchmen – spine. Petit, sociable and well adapted to our cold climate. It isn’t for these characteristics that people are hesitating to eat it, it’s more in the way we like to eat it. As you know, the dutch don’t decorate or spice up their food much. And we’ve also taken this to the herring, as the best way to eat it according to many Dutch is: raw. In fact there’s actually no other way to eat it. Although some people eat preserved herring from a jar. But trust me, that is Dutch cheapness taken one step too far.

If you truly want to blend into Dutch society, you should take up on the herring. Eaten raw it is supposed to be very healthy with all kinds of good fat, amongst which omega 3. It is also a protected fish, which means that fishing herring is government-controlled and is not supposed to bring any damage to the environment. And finally herring possesses a truly Dutch quality: class equality. It doesn’t matter what your profession is or what your fathers was, everyone enjoys herring at the same herring-stand in the street. Even politicians lose their diffidence on the annual herringparty (proudly hosted by the Dutch herring-industry).


balkenende haring
Former prime-minister Jan-Peter Balkenende indulges on herring in his ever elegant style. (source: 3.bp.blogspot)


No reason you shouldn’t go ‘haring happen’! Here’s a quick guide on how to do it:

How should I eat it?
The only proper way to go ‘haring happen’ is to go to a herring-stand on the street or marketplace and order a herring with some chopped onions to eat straight away. Now, take our little friend by the tail, dip it in the onions and lead it straight into your mouth. Head tilted back a bit, mouth wide open, there you go! You can order herring cut into small pieces, but really that is for sissies.

When they say do what the Russes do – it’s actually the Dutch way (minus the pickles, that’s blasphemy)

When should I eat it?
Now! The herring-season is in summer, starting with the festive ‘Vlaggetjesdag‘ somewhere mid-June.

Where should I eat it?
Any shack on the street. But if you really want to taste the best herring, consult the annual herring-test by newspaper AD. Not surprisingly coastal towns such as Rotterdam, The Hague and Leiden serve the best herring, but more inland you can also find great herring in Apeldoorn or Utrecht.

Most importantly, what does it taste like???
Herring has a very bold, loud and incomparable flavor. But if I had to compare it to something, I’d say that if your a fan of mackerel, eel, anchovies, sushi in general, olives, truffles or soy sauce, you will most probably enjoy herring too.


Braks Herring Dutch
Former Minister Braks downs some herring. This is how we roll bitch…



Meral Van Leeuwen
Meral Van Leeuwen
Meral van Leeuwen is an editor, writer and food-addict. Brother of the other Van Leeuwen here. From Rotterdam, living in Utrecht. She authored the book 'IBB-boek'.



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