One of the things about Dutch culinary habits that is hard to understand for a lot of people outside the Netherlands, is our passion for eating raw herring. There even is a holiday (semi-official) associated with this passion: Vlaggetjesdag (Day of the Small Flags).
Originally, this referred to the day that the ships would first test their engines after lying still during the winter, before going out to sea for the herring catch. There was a set day for this event, after Whitsun Sunday, when the ships would parade in the harbor decorated with small flags between their masts.
Nowadays, Vlaggetjesdag is celebrated when the first catch of herring returns to harbor, or, more accurately, when the first New Herring (the new season’s catch) is made available to the public for consumption. On this day, usually around the middle of June, there will be lines at the herring vendors and happy, smiling faces when the herring is consumed.
This first herring catch is big business. Every year, the first barrel that makes it into harbor is auctioned with the proceeds going to charity; this barrel can go for well in excess of 50,000 euros and has been close to 100,000 euros on occasion.
Also, newspapers will publish their review of whose herring is the best of that year’s catch. Winning this contest can result in a couple of extra euros per herring for that vendor and lines that are out of this world.
So, next time you make it to the Netherlands around mid-June, go check out the herring and enjoy a couple of these delicacies!