A lot of people who visit the Netherlands have heard there is a famous Dutch “pickled fish” sandwich and want to try it. Many of them fulfill this ambition and are shocked to discover the fish is not pickled at all. There are several fish sandwiches available to buy from fish stalls or specialist fish shops called vishandels, but the one visitors are so keen to try is called a broodje haring. My translation would be “herring in a bread bun” and the herring in question is not pickled, it’s raw.
The first time I visited the Netherlands was over 30 years ago and, like a lot of first-time visitors, I chose to go to Amsterdam. I was only there a few days and trying a broodje haring was near the top of my list of things to do in Amsterdam. The only difference between me and a lot of people was I knew I was buying a raw fish sandwich. Like many people who try this traditional Dutch fast food, I enjoyed my first broodje haring quite a lot.
I bought my first raw fish sandwich from the Stubbe’s haring stall, not far from Amsterdam Centraal. I believe the business is still going strong, but whenever I have visited Amsterdam in recent years I have not been able to locate the stall and have had to buy from a vishandel instead. The last time I was there I saw lots of hot dog stands in the Dam Square, but there was not a fish stall in sight. If I remember correctly, it was on a Saturday and a local taxi driver told me it would have been easier to find a fish stall during the week. Finding a vishandel was no problem at all.
If you’ve never tried a broodje haring and are wondering what it’s like, I can tell you the most surprising thing for me was the texture. The flesh of the fish is surprisingly soft and has a strange kind of stickiness that makes it try to bind to your teeth. I can’t really offer a good description of the flavour, but it tastes very nice and is usually garnished with slices of gherkin and diced onions that enhance the taste a lot. I’ve tried Japanese sushi and have to say, although I find it quite nice, I’d rather have a broodje haring any day. I think it tastes better, find it more filling, and am pleased to say it costs a fraction of the price. If you are looking for cheap and healthy traditional food to eat during your visit to the Netherlands, and are happy to eat a raw fish sandwich, broodje haring is definitely the way to go. It’s available to buy in a lot of Dutch cities and, in my experience, you should have no difficulty finding a fish stall in the main market square. Amsterdam appears to be the main exception to the rule, but there are plenty of vishandels you can visit instead.