When you think of a European fish delicacy, I can pretty much guarantee the last fish that you’ll think of is herring. Despite being an awesome source of vitamins and minerals, this small, oily fish is often overlooked in favour of its more famous, sexier fish cousins, like tuna or salmon. But, that hadn’t always been the case. For centuries, herring was one of the most important fish foods and even played a pivotal role in the history of marine fisheries in Europe. Since at least 3000 B.C. herring was a staple food source for many European cultures.
Who knew, right?!
Even today, herring plays an important, but understated role in many European cuisines. Whether eaten raw in the Netherlands, fermented or fried in Sweden or pickled throughout much of Scandinavia, Germany, and Central and Eastern Europe, herring is still enjoyed all across Europe.
Somewhere throughout our travels, my travel partner and boyfriend Dave developed a taste for herring. It started as a curiosity which only grew with each city we visited. Very quickly it became a tradition for us to seek out the best herring stand in each city so Dave could sample the local fares and provide me with his review. After having eaten the fish in its various forms in six cities across five countries, I’ve decided that Dave is pretty much an expert in herring. That’s a thing, right?
While we were on holidays in Canada, and his workload was minimal, I politely requested (aka begged, pleaded and hounded him) that he share his experiences of eating herring throughout Europe with the world. Thankfully my charms (and unrelenting nagging) won him over.
So here you have it: Petite Adventures’ resident herring expert, Dave, tells you everything you need to know about eating herring in Europe.
guest post by Dave, Petite Adventures’ resident herring expert
My petite travel companion, Kate, asked me to write a post about my other love – herring.
I never thought I would be writing about herring or how it can be eaten… but here we are. Over the course of the past year, I have sampled herring from far and wide, in places such as:
- Hamburg, Germany
- Vienna, Austria
- Rotterdam and Amsterdam, Netherlands
- Stockholm, Sweden
- Copenhagen, Denmark
This education of sorts has not only emboldened my passion for the fish but provided some insights on how to enjoy the versatile food that is herring.
In the cases of Hamburg, Vienna, Rotterdam and Amsterdam, the herring was pickled and served either in a sandwich or on its own, cut into pieces. Of the four cities, by far my preference were the sandwiches sampled in Hamburg and Vienna because of the topping (onions, pickles and tartar sauce) and the strength of pickling flavour. It made for a delicious sandwich with complementing textures and contrasting flavours. For me, it was a winning combination and must try.
Comparatively, the Dutch style offered a milder pickling flavour accompanied with just onions. I tried both a sandwich and a serving of cut-up pieces. In both cases, my taste buds were underwhelmed by the mild flavour and limited garnishes. Having said this, there was another way to eat herring in Rotterdam that I didn’t have the chance to try (yet). It’s definitely for the more adventurous: Simply to take the whole fish, hold it by the tail fin and drop it down the hatch. Efficient and, I can only assume, delicious.
Stockholm presented an opportunity to enjoy fried herring served with pickled vegetables, potato salad, coleslaw and rye cracker. This dish is a delicious choice for those uninterested in pickled fish, as the lightly battered and fried fillet works well with the garnishes noted above. This dish had the additional benefit of being a full meal, whereas some of my other herring experiences were more of a snack.
Lastly, Copenhagen, the unofficial mecca of herring. I say this because, at Nyhavns Færgekro, one can enjoy a full-fledged herring buffet. Mind blowing, right! If I counted correctly, there were more than 10 different dishes including, smoked herring, pickled herring, herring in curry, mustard, blueberry and other delicious options. Although the herring buffet is somewhat of an up-market novelty, it is nonetheless a culinary eye-opener – who knew that herring and blueberries would compliment each other? Not to mention, how often do you get to say you ate at an all-you-can-eat herring buffet? Probably not often, so give it a try.
So, next time you find yourself wondering what to eat, choose herring.
Thanks Dave for sharing your expertise on herring in Europe!
Have you tried herring? Tell me, what did you think?
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