Sucking Down Herring

An annual Dutch tradition is the catch of the season’s first herring, a small fish which some consider a delicacy. The first herring harvest, something which typically occurs in May, is called “Hollandse Nieuwe” (means “Dutch New”), and the Dutch celebrate this by event by gorging themselves on the raw (or nearly so) herring, along with liberal amount of Genever (a Dutch gin), and perhaps raw onions and pickles.

Living, as I do, on an island which is part of the Dutch Kingdom, and thus has a lot of Dutchmen (and women) living on it, I’ve been privileged to join in the celebration of Hollandse Nieuwe, and am usually the only American present. This year, the first “haaring” showed up on June 1st at the Mai-Mai restaurant on Bonaire, accompanies by load Dutch music:

Pictured above is a plate of fresh Dutch herring right off the KLM flight from Amsterdam, served with pickles, raw onions, and bread.

To eat the herring, you pick it up by the tail (it has been scaled and deboned, incidentally), optionally rubs it up against the finely chopped onions on the plate (so as to have some adhere to the herring), then tilts your head back, open your mouth and lower the herring into it, taking as big a bite as you can. See my demonstration below:

The more timid will cut their herring into smaller bite size pieces and eat it with a fork.

It’s not nearly as fishy as one might think, and I am sure the fish oils are very good for you. If you eat sushi or sashimi, this is not far removed from that.

More on this tradition can be found here.