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.
Herring is a small fish that is very popular among Dutch people. ‘Hollandse Nieuwe’ (Holland’s new herring) is the new herring of the fishing season. It is caught in the North Sea and the East Sea (near Denmark) from mid May to mid July, when the fish are the fattest, getting ready to lay eggs. 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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
The one I had many years was a whole herring. These days, it has been chopped up.