TRAVEL PRELUDES: Herring, preferably by the tail.


That’s what I’m saying: Rotterdam style.

Dredge the filet in chopped onion, grasp the tail, and down the hatch it goes. Rick Steves displays proper form in this video.

In the winter of 1992, nearing the end of my post-communist teaching assignment in Kosice (now independent Slovakia), I took an overnight train to Brno (these days, in the Czech Republic), then an all-night bus to Rotterdam. I proceeded to spend a week in the nearby satellite town of Spijkenisse with Bram and Rie, elderly parents of Nelly, my former neighbor out in Georgetown.

Those wonderful days are a story of their own. Bram took great delight in showing me the sights, and one day we turned up at Scheveningen (a neighborhood in The Hague) for a sunny but frigid afternoon at the beach.

Bram wanted to know if I liked herring, and I answered affirmatively, imagining he meant pickled herring like I’d often had in Copenhagen. We found a fish vendor, and I was handed a cardboard vessel with what I assumed was raw herring (it’s actually frozen, then salted for preservation).

Following my leader, I tipped my head and took a big bite.

Then smiled, broadly.

Back to Rick Steves … who needs to understand that it isn’t really pickled, you know.

Haarlem with Raw-Herring Breath, by Rick Steves

I’m under the towering church spire in the tidy Dutch market town of Haarlem, tempted to eat a pickled herring. The sign atop the mobile van reads: “Jos Haring — Gezond en Lekkerrr” (healthy and deeeeeelicious).

I order by pointing and ask, “Gezond?”

Jos hands me what looks more like bait than lunch, and says, “En lekkerrr.”

I stand there — not sure what to do with my bait — apparently looking lost.

In other Haarlem food notes, I see the De Ark restaurant has closed. That’s shame. It was an old school slabs of meat and baskets of potatoes kind of place, stacked amid venerable wooden ambiance. It will be missed.