Nieuwe Haring explained to foreigners

You, foreigner in the Netherlands, for sure will have heard of haring, this little fish the size of a sardine, which the Dutch prefer to eat cold, and raw. Because they are not totally nuts they season the small corpses with pickled cucumber, called zuur, and raw onions, called ui.

 What you probably don’t know is the phenomenon Nieuwe Haring, or maatjesharing. Journalists use their own term of Hollandse Nieuwe. It is quite a thing here in Holland. It means: the new herring. Isn’t all herring new? you will ask frightfully, thinking of the potentially dangerous rawness of the product. The answer is no.

 It works like this:

The Dutch, as you must know by now for it is one of their best qualities if not their only, excel at business making, thus cost reducing and profit margins enhancing. These skills applied to the business of fetching herring, which is, after all, a business like all others, mean as many sales as possible, against as few fishing expeditions as possible.

 After centuries of exhaustingly going out to the far sea, they gathered they could manage with a single move. Every year they set a date, in June. Then they send the whole fleet to the North Sea, catch as many fish as they can then come back.

 That day when they reach port is a National Holiday. Schools, businesses and public services are closed, to allow every citizen to go and get their Nieuwe Haring. Fanfares play in the streets, men drink lots of beer and radio DJ Chiel Beelen shuts himself up in a barrel to eat nothing but herring for three days. The day following Vlaggetjesdag (that’s how this particular day of shore reaching of the herring fleet is officially called) they put all the herring left in barrels full of salt and sell them all year with the appellation Oude Haring.

 The herring fisherman enjoys a life of leisure. He works say a week a year. The rest of the year, he gets his salary paid by the government, which holds him in high esteem, because of the iconic status of herring in the Netherlands.

Next time: “The Ideal of Dutch Motherhood” as seen through the example of boterham met hagelslag being fed to a toddler.

Imke Wederrups

Touristenburo Amsterdam

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