AMSTERDAM (AP) — Tilting your head back, pinching a herring's tail between your thumb and forefinger and lowering it into your mouth, you're not just eating a raw fish. You're getting a briny taste of Dutch history.
Dotted around Amsterdam and across the Netherlands, humble stands selling North Sea herring give the locals a year-round fish fix thanks to a centuries-old preserving process backed up these days by a healthy dose of deep freezing.
No trip to the Netherlands can be considered complete without tasting this national snack — the Dutch equivalent of eating a hot dog or pretzel in New York, but positively healthy by comparison.
For a couple of euros (dollars), you get yourself a herring that has been partially gutted, preserved in brine, then skinned and filleted (preferably as you watch) by a deft, knife-wielding worker.
A good herring is a thing of simple beauty, with a firm but almost creamy texture due to its high fat content and a salty, fishy taste of the sea.
For hundreds of years, the fish were caught and had their gills and part of the gut cut away — leaving in the pancreas, which helps develop the flavor of the flesh — and immediately submerged in salty water to preserve them. These days, herring are caught in the North Sea and mostly gutted and laid in brine onshore, sometimes frozen in brine to preserve them longer.
At Stubbe's Haring stand, a trailer set up on a bridge at the end of the historic Singel canal close to Amsterdam's central railway station, the herring are street food at its best. There are no seats or tables; you just eat on your feet, preferably gazing down the canal and standing out of the way of the cyclists who whizz past ringing their bells impatiently at any tourist who inadvertently strays onto a bike path.