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What do you do when you have been The Netherlands for nine days and you’re tired of eating croquet and drinking beer? Well, if you’re me, you find out that they have a tradition in Holland all about the consumption of raw herring and it’s a dish that is sent down from heaven. Now I know a lot of you out there are think I’m crazy. “Herring? Really?” Trust me there is no joking in my tone, raw herring might be the greatest food that I’ve consumed. I’ll pass up bluefin tuna for dutch herring anyday. Sunday Wine Down this week is not about wine, but about a wonderful shot and some herring that accompanies it.
It was a nice and cold summer day in Haarlem as Ash and I were walking through the downtown markets with our dutch friend, Rory, enjoying all the fresh made dutch cheese and downing as many stroopwafels that one can handle. Oh and let us not forget about the wonderful french fries that Holland has in abundance. Even with all this great food at our fingertips there was still a special treat waiting for me around the corner, a local fish stand that had fresh herring. Rory, our local dutch expert, was telling me that herring and eating herring is a very dutch thing. You’re suppose to take the raw herring, that has been cleaned, by its tail and lift it high above your head, tilt your head back and slide it down your throat. I was intrigued to say the least. Unfortunately, I have not enjoyed the herring this way but it will be coming in the very near future, today or tomorrow. I did enjoy it another way though; I had the traditional herring sandwich which consist of a white roll, and it has to be white, pickles, fresh cut onions and then the raw herring. It’s that simple, no thrillers on this sandwich of sliced pickles, onions and fresh herring. I engulfed the sandwich in three bites and was in love. If I was not trying to conserve my money, I would have had about three more. I knew I was going to have to wait just a little before I could embark on another adventure with herring.
After a few days of enjoying my first herring I wanted to have more but I had a good reason to wait. I was told by Rory’s family that the hollandse nieuwe or new dutch herring was coming in.This was a big deal, a much bigger deal than I knew at the time. This happens once a year during mid June. They wait for the herring to be just right, a certain size and a certain fat quality, and then all the fishing vessels go out and catch the fish. When the first boat comes back there is huge ceremonial event in Den Haag where the first barrel of herring is sold for 25,000 euros. The king even stops by to witness the incoming new herring. A lot of the money raised by this event goes off to various charities; so it‘s a very big deal when you hear that the new herring is coming. I was just lucky enough to be here at the right time. I did not go to the event but that is now on my list of things to do. What I could do at the moment was try the new herring which is supposed to be the best catch of the season.
The next day Ash and I were heading to Alkmaar which is a wonderful little dutch city and if you get a chance to go, you can watch them weigh and carry cheese in the traditional methods. I promise it’s a lot of fun. If you are lucky you can even help them out carry cheese like I did. It truly is back breaking work. As we ate our weight in dutch cheese and drank coffee, the dutch weather did what it did best and that was rain. Ash and I looked for cover and of course what was right in front of us? A place for me to eat the new herring. To use an old cliche, like a kid in a candy store I eagerly walked up to the counter and ordered my sandwich. I was handed my plate and before I could dig in she stopped me and ask if I wanted to try a shot of jenever. She told me that it was a tradition in Holland to take a shot of jenever with the new herring.
What is jenever? It is the precursor to one of my favorite spirits, gin. Jenever is a juniper flavored liqueur that is one the traditional spirits in the Netherlands and Belgium. She pulled out the bottle from the freezer and poured the shot into a glass. The liquid had a slight coloring to it and as I took a big sniff I felt the warmth go down my nostrils. She told me to sip it while eating the herring and that it would warm my insides and that I was not allowed to drive for the rest of the day. As I took a large bite the fresh herring hit my tastebuds and the slightly sweet and salty flesh brought a smile to my face. What I had a few days ago was good but it was not divine like this was. I was a new person, I was lifted out of my shoes as the onions and the pickles kicked in. Then came the shot of jenever. I took a big sip and allowed it to sit in my mouth, confronting the burn of the alcohol, to experience the wonderful floral notes of the drink. I looked up at Ashley and she could tell how elated I was at that moment. It’s like when you have your first oyster, or your first snail, and you question how you could have lived this long with eating this great dutch snack.
If you want to enjoy this wonderful treat you should come during the end of spring and beginning of summer. June is probably the best month to come because that is when the new herring usually comes in. You should have no problem in finding this snack as it is all over and when you are ordering just ask when the new herring will be coming. The true traditional way is eating the herring whole by the tail. * Now there are many reasons to love the dutch but I think I love the dutch most for their herring. It’s a must eat and I promise you it will change your life.
This was a quick Sunday Wine Down but I had to let you in on this secret about jenever and herring. Next week tune in and I will be talking about the dutch brewery Jopen and the wonderful beers that they make from century old recipes. I hope you guys enjoyed the article. If you’ve enjoyed please follow, like, share, and comment on the post. If you have any tips or suggestions of food or alcohol that I need to try on this around the world trip I would love to know. I am up for suggestions. Again thank you for your support, make sure you go out, travel and change the world my friends.
*As a side note the Herring is not truly raw it has been slightly pickled but still it is pretty raw and what a treat it is.