Dutch people have a tremendous love affair for one particular small, slippery, slimy, fatty, smelly sea-creature- the hallowed Herring! To say that the Dutch like herring is a vast understatement.  Simply put, Dutch people are down-right mad for their stinkin’ Haring.

For those of you living under a stone, the herring is a small oily silvery-colored fish found in the North Atlantic and North Pacific ocean. Dutch people began fishing and trading herring over 1,000 years ago and much of Holland’s wealth and prolific history of sea trade and colonization can in fact be attributed to these slippery  species.  Business kicked into full swing in the 14th century when a Dutchman by the name of Willem Beukelszoon (yes, one of those funny Dutch names!) invented a tasty and popular process for curing the fish in brine.

Now that the history lesson is over, we can get to the fun stuff: Dutch people do not eat their herring in a particularly civilized fashion. No, they love to make an amusing show and a big deal about the proper “Dutch way” to eat the little fishies. Trust me, it ain’t a pretty sight!

If slippery, smelly, raw fish is not your cup of tea, I’d suggest you perhaps avoid this very Dutch treat. For those of you who are brave enough to give it a try, it’s important to know that the very act of eating herring is an art form in itself!

Don’t you dare try to cut your herring into pretty pieces and eat it with a knife and fork?  Dat mag niet! To be truly indoctrinated Dutch-style, you must grab the fish by its slippery little tail, cock your head back to a slightly uncomfortable angle and take one large fishy bite. There’s something about this delightful little performance that has even the most humble of Dutch persons brimming with pride in nationalistic delight.

Dutch people also make a big hoopla about the kick-off of the herring season (yes my friends, there is an official herring season)! Every year the sea-side city of Scheveningen celebrates the opening of the season with Vlaggetjesdag (Flag Day) and the first barrel is given to  the King  to sell at auction for charity. The 2014 season kicked off this past  weekend and the first precious barrel was sold for a startling €56,500!

How much do Dutch people really love herring, you ask? Well my friends, the Dutch happily consume 12,000,000 kilos every year. Which translates to every Dutch person eating at least 5 of these slippery delights each year – so eat up – ‘tis the season!

Eat up boys!

Eat up boys!

91 Responses

  1. Richard Schultheis

    This is one of those things I am missing since my arrival here.
    Recently I learned there is a place in NYC that sells them so I will have to go have a look when I have time a money to go.
    But boy do I LOVE herring

    Reply
    • Marcella Simon Vander Eems

      yes, there is a restaurant in Grand Central Station that imports them when the new harvest comes in. I tried to find it one time when I was in NYC but i did not have enough time. . . plus i wonder about the price. I had some last year (2010) in NL & it continues to be one of my favorite things ever.

      Reply
      • Dominic Van Der Meij

        Thnx I def have to check it out! Being looking for real Dutch Herring for years now!

      • Cootje

        Do you by any chance know a place in London where they sell Haring?

      • Mandy

        I could eat 5 herring every single day.. I love herring! rollmops! smoked! boiled! pickled! raw! DELICIOUS!!! And I’m English.. not Dutch. A love of herring is the gold standard of civilisation!

    • Henry Gerrits

      You can get herring mailed to you in a vacuum package from various importers like van der Veens in Grand Rapids, Michigan

      Reply
      • Zenozora (@zenozora98)

        Unfortunately they don’t always have them. I live in Florida, so I can only order my Hagelslag, Cheese and Herring when it is cool enough in Florida, as they will be in the warehouse and on the UPS truck for several hours.
        And between January and April, often van der Veen is out of the New Herring (raw), so I have to make due with pickeled herring in a jar (just not the same as real Herring with a capital H)

      • harry

        Where can I buy salted new herring and mailed it to me in California ?
        Please advice.
        Thanking you.
        harry Iesberts

    • Diego

      how do you cook it? or does it come in boxes like sardines?

      Reply
      • Sammy

        you dont cook it diego! thats sacriligious! you eat it raw :p

    • Joan Green

      Me too ! I dearly LOVE pickled Herring. . .can’t get enough ! Need to know a convenient outlet to purchase Atlantic Portuguese or Icelandic Herring as I live in Utah, USA.

      Reply
  2. [email protected]

    My elderly parents came to visit for a few weeks, and I’m thrilled that my father got to see a Dutch man eat the haring Dutch-style at the popular herring stand near our house. Dad didn’t understand why I was waiting for the man to receive his herring, but then he got to see ‘the show’. Alas, won’t see me sidling up to a herring stand anytime soon…

    Reply
  3. MissNeriss

    Herring (and its equally slippery partner in crime, Eel) is something that I just can’t stomach. I really want to be Dutch enough to eat it, but I just can’t get it near my mouth! My (Dutch) husband loves it and can’t get enough, but even he is a bit freaked out about the ritual of eating it all in one go…

    Reply
  4. Paul Peters

    Heerlijk!

    I think though you forgot to mention that they (we) eat the herrings raw. Just chop the head off, gut it and enjoy (eet smakkelijk.)

    Reply
      • cloggy

        The onions are there to mask the deterioration of the freshness of the herring.
        It does deteriorate quite fast ! that’s why it is gutted freshly

    • John R

      Still better than the fermented, half-rotten shark-thing the guys from Iceland are having. Or the scottish stuffed sheep-belly (Hagis)… and so on

      Reply
      • Jeroen

        Ok, to make things clear. Salted herring is not raw. When cleaning the fish, all the guts are removed except for the pancreas. This is called “haring kaken”. Enzymes from the pancreas let the herring ripen. Salt is added to extend the riping process. So yes, salted herring (Hollandse nieuwe) is fermented herring 🙂

  5. Martijn

    Really fresh herrings don’t need onions. The onions (and pickles in the Amsterdam region) were used to mask the pungeant smell and foul taste of old (or rotting) herring.
    I love to eat herrings without onions. 4, sometimes 5 at a time. They are a perfect cure for hang-overs. Start your day with a few herrings and you’re fit as a fiddle in no time 😀

    Reply
    • Just another Dutch living abroad

      so true, they are a bombproof hangover cure!!! missing those little fellas..

      Reply
    • K-dawg

      I love herring, but having one during some of my hangovers of the past would certainly have made me projectile vomit that thing, and everything else in my stomach, all over the floor.

      Although that might have alleviated my hangover…

      Reply
    • reintje84

      I like mine with onions. But they are a perfect hangovercure indeed. Just one or two for breakfast and no more headaches! You’ll perk right up in a matter of minutes

      Reply
  6. Phil

    I live in Scheveningen, & was woken on my 1st year by the loud dutch music early on a saturday morning & wondered WTF was happening? & the local Haring cart is usually parked maybe 20 meters from my flat most days, stil not bothered to try it yet, but I find there’s always an excuse for a street party, I always jokingly ask my neighbours which fish they’re celebrating today? & usually get a suitably sarcastic answer (very english sense of humour my neighbours!) 😀
    The only downside is I live on a 1 way street which joins the main street, don’t plan on taking the car anywhere that day then! LOL :/

    Reply
  7. Tamara

    In the Amsterdam region, we don’t eat herring like that. Here it’s surved in pieces with a ‘prikkertje’ (toothpick) to use as a fork. I don’t like herring though.

    Reply
    • Marieke

      prikkertje met een Hollands vlaggetje dan toch wel?? (toothpick with dutch flag, you know…)

      Reply
  8. Edwin Wijkhuijs

    Sitting here in the desert of Saudi Arabia with – you guessed it – a freezer full of herring. Love it!

    Reply
  9. Jeroen

    Since 2008 I live in Hawaii, and while there’s literally great tasting fish all around me, both cooked and raw, there’s one fish I truly miss: rauwe haring!

    Well, make that two fishes.. I shouldn’t forget about Kibbeling 😀

    Reply
  10. Bart Craenmehr

    Good, the herring seems to raise a few eyebrows…. But thinking about omega three, health benefist and so all. A herring is full of unsaturated fat (yes for people who don’t know that is quite healthy stuff like the Omega’s) …. Compare that to the grand old english fish and chips… yes you guess it right full of saturated fats 😉 he he

    Reply
  11. Sijmen

    Herring is delicious. I have never eaten it the traditional way but it’s perfect between some buns with onion and pickles.

    Reply
  12. Louisa

    You all made me sooo hungry and so nostalgic for that good old haring. Grew up in Holland, live in the USA for 40 years now but go back to my country every year and eat at least 3 or 4 haringen while there.

    Reply
    • Caroline Dennis

      Good for you Louisa! I too grew up in NL but moved 41 years ago to Sydney, Australia.I’m now planning on returning to the motherland in 2012 for an indefinite period of time for some Dutch cultural immersion!

      Reply
  13. Casper

    I love herring, and like all other kinds of fish they only stink when they are not fresh.
    In the past, it was not possible to keep the fish in ice after fishing like nowadays. Chopped unions were used as a conservation method. And because the combination of herring and union is so tasty, many people still eat them together.

    Reply
  14. Esther Buitenhuis

    We had some Aussies in Holland back in 1990 or 1991. Apart from all the other Dutch traditions they were made to eat zoute haring in de kroeg. O my god they were good sports but all of them threw up afterwards lol. Aussies do NOT like zoute haring! Mind you I took my Aussie boyfriend for some kibbeling at the market and he thought he had died and gone to heaven haha.

    Reply
  15. Elodie

    gehe.
    I love herring.
    but I DO eat it with a rork and knife!
    het mag wel!
    unless you meet those people in zeeland..maybe…

    Reply
  16. Rutger

    I’m Dutch but herring is not my cup of tea, the smell let alone the taste, sheer horror.

    Reply
  17. Lotte

    It really depends on where you are. In Scheveningen for instance people ALWAYS eat herring using their hands(the traditional way), while in Amsterdam most people eat herring on toast/sandwiches with a fork and a knife. It’s also the case that the closer you get to the coast, the more people seem to like herring. There are a lot of Dutch people who don’t like it at all and think it’s nasty.
    I love it though!

    Reply
  18. Ivik

    I’d love to find herring to eat in London. Does anyone know where I can buy raw herring in London?

    Reply
  19. ablabius

    Most herring is exported to Germany. But then, most of everything is exported to Germany (Dutch potatoes make up 30% of all German fries, for instance). 90% of herring is ground into fishmeal in Scandinavia. The English waged war over the fishing rights for herring.

    Herring is consumed in a number of ways, salted, dried, smoked, fried, laid in herbs, cream, or white wine, and even wrapped around a pickle and laid in vinegar, but never really raw.
    You see, after the fish is caught, its head and gills are cut off, but the pancreas is left in the body. For those that missed biology, the pancreas is the gland that produces the enzymes that break down meat. Yes, you read that right, the fish is left to digest itself! Of course, being dead, the pancreas doesn`t produces any more enzymes, but those already present in the fish will ‘pre-digest’ the herring ever so slightly, giving it its peculiar, lovable taste, smoothing its texture, and making it easier to digest. For this last reason, herring was often prescribed by doctors to patients that had been severely weakened by their illnesses. Digesting food takes a lot of effort, but with herring, part of the work was already done! (If you think this is gross, I`ll spare you the details of ‘voorkauwen’.)
    Don`t worry though, you will not risk eating a rotten herring. When exposed to air, the oils in the fish will slowly start to oxidize and turn rancid long before the herring starts to rot. And all herring is frozen before being sold for consumption to kill possible parasites.

    Reply
  20. Dutch Groot

    As an American of Dutch-born parents, we always had creamed or pickled herring, and smoked eel was a favored treat, but I don’t ever recall having the herring raw. I remember the folks bringing back the eel in butcher’s paper on the airplane, but with the laws now, it has to be packaged (shrink wrapped) before we can get it here in the States.

    Reply
    • Wim Jongejan

      Herring is indeed my favourite. Some people eat it with raw onions, but I take it with pickles. Every Saturday morning I go the baker for fresh bread. Right next to him is the fishmonger. And yes! I take a herring, every Saturday morning.

      Reply
  21. Alexandra

    Thank you for a great post! Dutch herring was a huge surprise for me, when I arrived to Amsterdam. For my entire life I’ve been sure that raw salted herring+onions is a typical Russian dish… It is a #1 fish, we’re so used to it. Now I see that no Russian consumes such a load of herring in comparison to Dutch people! Though I must admit it is tastier here in some aspects.

    Reply
  22. Mark

    I disagree,

    I think herring is utterly disgusting

    Reply
  23. amy

    After living here for 3.5 years, then moving back tot the US for 4.5 years, and now having recently returned to the NL for a temporary stay, I cannot eat enough herring. It is delicious once you get used to it, and just think about how healthy (fully of omega 3 fatty acids) it is. I tried to find it in the US and could only find a sickingly sweet version in a jar full of white wine, vinegar and sugar. He The Americans are starting to go crazy for the paleo diet and some are even drinking fermented cod liver oil, but for some reason consider herring to be suitable as bate. Herring in the Netherlands is reflective of a true culture with roots in real food. When it froze in February, I went ice skating outside after eating herring and have never felt so good in my life!

    Reply
    • Paul

      Quit your job in the US and move to Holland. Ice scating and love for the herring makes you allmost Dutch!!

      Reply
  24. Anne

    Ugh, I hate fish. This is really really really a bad stereotype since I have maybe 2 friends who actually like fish enough to choose it over other dishes (and the most of my other friends can’t even swallow it, like me, ugh)

    Reply
  25. will

    Just to clarify: Herring is healthy. Yes, but all fish are. And some are even healthier when it comes to the amount of saturated fat acids. Herring isn’t anything special when it comes to the nutritional value.
    That said, I love the taste of this fish! I’ld take a herring over an ice cream, or any outdoor snack any day.
    I also use them in salads. 1 chopped up apple, 1 springonion, 2 herring chopped, 2 spoons of creme fraiche or yoghurt, pepper and salt, some lemonjuice. yummy! great on a sandwich.

    Reply
  26. Sarahlynn Pablo

    I’m fortunate to spend some time here in Kikkerland, I want to see how many of your observations I can see for myself. Great post!

    Reply
  27. A E

    In New York, good Dutch herring can be found at Russ & Daughters, on Houston Street. Not as cheap as good standard, or even French smoked. It’s so yum.

    Reply
  28. Maarten

    It’s not actually true that everyone eats their herring with onions. In fact, it is a faux pax, according to connoisseurs. Originally, chopped onions were added to mask the taste of old herring, later in the season. Right now, all herring is fresh so the addition of taste-changing onion is unnecessary.

    Then again, lots of Dutch people like the taste, apparently.

    Reply
  29. Dropje-Kopje

    Eat a raw haring? Dat kan ik NIET.
    But a tin full of kippers is good to eat!
    O tinned kippers: so meaty and fine,
    So delishy and fishy, like kings shall we dine.
    If the pull tab ring breaks off — Bummer, bad news!
    Not enough rim for a can opener to use.
    But we must get the kippers, so make like McGyver
    And pound the can open with a flat blade screwdriver.

    Reply
  30. Daniel

    A good informative bit about the herring and the medical centre is correct , herring is an extremely healthy option in anyone´s diet.. Try to consume at least twice a week omega -3 fish and you´ll stay healthier so much longer. Herring is from the sardine family, equally beneficial to your health…keep downing them folk, do cut the heads off,though.

    Reply
  31. OrangePinda

    With Pickels?? And eat the whole thing at once…. Noooooo…. Who says that??
    I’m from Rotterdam, but raised in Vlaardingen, where we have an annual herring and beerfest. Yes you do eat the herring standing up, holding it by the tail, and they should be covered in cut up white onions.
    We also don’t swallow it whole… That would be gross.
    And for the pickles…. someone got his facts wrong…. We have “Zure Bommen”…. They are big pickles, sold separately, but they have nothing to do with herring.
    We also eat herring on bread…. But I’m not sure I have ever seen anyone eating herring with knife and fork…. Would be similar to eating sushi with knife and fork to me….

    Reply
  32. cloggy

    I have to be in-to-it, but i never am.
    After reading this blog I must have one !

    Reply
  33. Max Iglesias

    Me too. I’m waiting for the Herring seasons to try Herring in the Dutch way. I have already started eating Herring: I buy them salted, then to remove the salt, I soak them in cold water and leave them all the night in the refrigerator. Then, the following day I prepare them with challots, potatoes and olive oil.. This is the French way to do it.
    If you guys have better ways to eat herring, or places of interest to buy them, or restaurants please let me know.

    Regards

    Reply
  34. Max Iglesias

    Oh I forgot to precise. I live in NewYork and I’m South American.

    Reply
  35. chrissieeeee

    ik hou van haring:D zo lekker
    i can eat 10000 haringen a day 😛

    Reply
  36. Lars Tigchelaar

    Little comment on your Herring story, Queen Beatrix is no longer Queen. Her son has crowned King a few months ago. So its now King Willem Alexander and his qife Queen Maxima. To be honest i dont know if Willem Alexander is still recieving the (new) herring every time now but just so you know.

    Reply
  37. Haagsche Hans

    Scheveningen is not a city, its a district of The Hague (Den Haag)

    Reply
    • Paul

      Auch!! Don’t tell the Scheveningers. They wil put a price on your head!!
      😀

      Reply
  38. Jesse

    Living in Thailand for the last 14 months and missing “de lekkere vette haring enorm”. Especially today on King’s Day

    Even though slimy, oily and with an occasional (soft) fishbone, this healthy “5 a year p/p” snack beats the 60 HOT DOGS an average American eats each year :))

    ps…love your site and the many “o so true” statements you put down…time to get the hands dirty, cock back the head and ENJOY !!!

    Reply
  39. Marc V

    Herring…. no, not for me ;-). Or “drop” (licquorice), or “snert” (pea soup) or iceskating or cloggs. Born, raised and living in The Nederlands. As far as these typical dutch things, I’m not typical dutch. As far as complaining and hagelslag goes, I’m dutch 😉

    Reply
  40. JCHNZ

    One of the first things i will eat when i`m come back to Holland for a holiday.

    Reply
  41. Barbara

    Not all Dutch eat a herring the way you describe… I like mine cut into smaller pieces, with some onions and a slice of pickle!

    Reply
  42. Frans

    need these in Singapore. fresh I might add.
    ktnxbai!

    Reply
  43. Becky Bandstra Bultema

    I recently read my great-grandfather’s diary of their immigration trip to the USA from the Netherlands. He wrote what their meals were….most consisted of herring. I thought that must have been pickled (like we still like to eat here in Indiana, USA), but evidently it was raw! I figured they were eating cheap food, but it seems like, from all the comments here, they were eating pretty well!

    Reply
  44. Judith

    Just to be clear about it…. The herring is NOT raw. It is not cooked, yes, but it is “prepared” for consumption. In the Dutch herring case it is prepared by leaving the pancreas in, so the pancreatic enzymes can soften the fish, the herring is also salted for conservation (kaken en pekelen). Another example is the Peruvian Cevice, where is the fish is “cooked” in lime and spices.

    I love herring by the way.

    Reply
  45. Paul Klever

    Yessssss!! Just had my first two of the new season today, and they tasted awesome! Washed them down with a good old ‘Brugse Zot’ (a famous Belgian ale – lovely) and had a little feast on my own in our kitchen. To me, a good new herring is better tasting than the most exquisite Sashimi or any other raw fish, sooo juicy and scrumptious! I haven’t been able to withstand a herring cart sinds I was a three year old toddler and still living in Amsterdam, where I was born. My mama used to tell everyone that I never wanted any icecream or sweets, but she couldn’t walk past a herring cart without me starting to whine in the buggy and I didn’t quit ’till she got me one of those delicous silver starling wonders of pure salty taste. One of the few things you can wake me up for in the middle of the night …serve me a good herring and I’m game!

    Reply
  46. Erwin van den Braak

    Being dutch myself, I consume a few herring a year.
    When I feel for it.

    As the Netherlands is not the only country where herring is eaten;
    I only have to refer to the Scandinavian countries,
    where they leave tins of herring
    (tins with one ore more holes punched in)
    to get so rich with time, it is really smelling, before eating them.

    That, in my opinion, seems really disgusting.
    But every people should enjoy, whtever they like.

    Reply
  47. Gezina Ponsen

    Reading all of this rubbish about boring Dutch lunches. Have any of you out there heard about rookvlees (yummy) nothing wrong with broodje haring. All the things you are talking about are spreads!!!

    Reply
  48. Ik heb honger! |

    […] Herring – I’m convinced that being Dutch is a prerequisite to enjoying this national delicacy. I have not yet worked up the courage to try eating this snack the proper Dutch way; that is, holding it by the tail and then eating the whole fish at once. But if you have the stomach for it, kudos! […]

    Reply

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