Wednesday, April 9, 2014

H is for Herring (European Sushi)

Tuna sushi.
Salmon sashimi.
Herring maatjes.
Bon appétit!

If you like food, you’ll eat well in Belgium and the Netherlands. If you like sushi you’ll gobble up herring maatjes. If you like sashimi you’re going to love Hollandse Nieuwe. But if you don’t like seafood, I hear the Sahara Desert is a good place to visit.

Belgium and the Netherlands abut the North Sea which is full of fish, especially Atlantic Herring. This small, silvery fish swims in schools of a gazillion so it’s hard to miss. Nevertheless professional fisherman are the most adept at catching this fish variety. As a food source, herring provides protein, Vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids. And let me tell you, fatty acids never tasted so good. 

Since the Middle Ages, the Dutch and Flemish have fished for herring—haring in Dutch—from May to June when the fish are their richest and most plentiful. At this time of year the herring is eaten raw, and is known as Hollandse Nieuwe (aka “New Holland herring”). Similar to sushi, the herring is prepared for consumption by removing the head, gullet and gills. Hollandse Nieuwe is served cold and eaten with the fingers. That’s right, the Dutch and Belgians don’t bother with fork, knife or chopsticks, they just pick the thing up by its tail, tip their heads back and lower the herring into their open mouths. It’s quite a sight. Every spring in Amsterdam, Antwerp and Brussels, restaurants spill out onto sidewalks with stands selling Hollandse Nieuwe. Patrons stop at the stalls, and without sitting down, eat herring this way as a quick lunch or savory snack. It’s like a hotdog stand with raw fish.

Although Hollandse Nieuwe is very popular it can only be eaten when the herring is fresh. For the rest of the year, the herring served at fish stands across the Low Countries is called maatjes. Maatjes are not raw but pickled to extend their preservation and consumption period. The pickling brine usually contains vinegar, cider and spices and when served, the maatjes are accompanied by chopped onions. Roll the maatje in some onions then, as with Hollandse Nieuwe, tip your head back and eat. Served this way, maatjes can be eaten all year long, which is a good thing since they’re delicious. 

If you like seafood and haven’t had Hollandse Nieuwe or maatjes, stop reading now and book a foodie flight to the Low Countries! If you’re like me, you’re going to love this European-styled sushi. And if not, I hear there's an airline that flies direct to the Gobi Desert. 

Bon appétit!