The young Dutch don’t seem to share their parents’ enthusiasm for raw herring. I love the marinated version, but I’m not a young Dutchman.
The answer may seem self-evident, but not to the Dutch, who are trying to manage the same marketing feat with Hollandse Nieuwe(pronounced HO-land-suh NYEW-uh), or new herring, which arrives in local waters in the month of June. Traditions surrounding its appearance are as venerable as those of the French. Throughout the Netherlands, people throw new-herring parties, sharing the fish with neighbors and friends.
For as long as anyone in this seaside resort, now a district of The Hague, can remember, the first barrel of new herring has been sold at public auction. This year the barrel, with 45 filleted herring, went for $70,000, or $1,555 for each herring, to Makro, a chain of discount retailers, which sent them to a local restaurant. The money goes to charity, said Makro’s managing director, Jean-Pierre Bienfait, every bit a Dutchman despite his French name, adding, “Obviously, it’s very symbolic for the new harvest.”
So important are herring to Scheveningen that the town’s coat of arms features three herring, each wearing a golden crown. In the old days the herring boats went out for the first catch decorated with flags, so now in mid-June the town decks itself out around the fishing harbor for Flag Day, with old Dutch games like stilt-walking and can-throwing, townsfolk dressed in traditional dress and puppet shows in the old local dialect.
The fish is eaten raw and slightly salted, in a bow to a tradition that long predates refrigeration. At booths around the harbor the herring fillets, first dipped in chopped onion, are lifted high while the diners snap their heads back like sword swallowers, then slip the herring down their throats, flushing it all down with shot glasses of ice-coldKorenwijn, a Dutch spirit distilled from malt and beer.
Though prized at home, the new herring is increasingly shipped abroad, mostly to Germany, where herring is consumed in immense amounts, but about five tons goes to the United States every year, to restaurants around New York, like the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Terminal.
But if the world is being urged to try Dutch new herring, some here in the Netherlands itself, particularly among the younger generation, are demurring.
Explaining why he did not share in the new-herring euphoria, Bart Kalshoven, 34, a shoe company executive, said, “First, it’s fish: smelly and raw.”