Thursday, 7 July, 2022

Dutch celebrate raw herring festival

SCHEVENINGEN: Heads tilted far back, Dutch revellers hold the raw, onion-coated fish by their tails and drop them down their open gullets, reports AFP.

Welcome to the port of Scheveningen, where the Netherlands is marking the arrival of the season’s first catch of new herring.

Cancelled for two years because of Covid, this year’s festival drew tens of thousands of fans of the divisive delicacy.

Former fisherman Simon Pronk, 72, said the oily fish were the “most important thing” for Scheveningen.             Every year from around mid-June, the Dutch consume millions of herring, and people can be seen all round the country swallowing the slippery snack.

Some prefer it in a soft white bun, although purists say it detracts from the fishy flavour.

The first barrel of herring sparks a yearly bidding war, with this year’s raising a record 113,500 euros ($119,130) for charity.

But it hasn’t all been going so swimmingly for this fishing port near The Hague.

Scheveningen has been battered in recent years by dwindling stocks, Brexit rows over fishing grounds, and the pandemic.

This year the festival, known as “Vlaggetjesdag” (day of the little flags), returned to its former glory, with ships lining the harbour and dozens of stalls selling herring and fishing-related trinkets on Saturday.

A Dutch navy submarine even docked at the harbour to mark the occasion.

The popularity of eating raw fish, prepared only by freezing and salting, can baffle foreigners.

But German tourist Thilo was lapping up the festival, especially after two years of Covid curbs.

“It’s great,” the 47-year-old said. “We enjoy it because it’s a sunny day and (we can) go out without any mask or anything.”

Most of the Netherlands’ catch is exported. Less than half of the roughly 180 million herring landed each year stay in the country, while 90 million go to Germany and 14 million to Belgium, the Dutch Fish Agency said.

At the herring festival, workers prepare a steady stream of the fish, served headless and split open with a pile of chopped onions on the side.

“It’s a nice day and people are happy,” said fish market worker Arthem, 51.

“The fun is that a lot of people who come here have never tasted it before and they like it. So then we have a good day also.”