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You will probably associate the idea of fast food with American burgers, portions of pizza in cardboard trays, or Chinese noodles in throwaway plastic containers. Well, this is Holland and although things are not altogether different here, the street stalls do not sell hotdogs but, wait for it, herrings!
These small, silvery fish are a national institution and are eaten as an hors d’oeuvre with gherkin and onion, in sandwiches or, simply, macerated and raw.
To understand the importance of this fish, you should be aware that Amsterdam even celebrates a Vlaggetjesdag, when the first catch of the day is sold at a great auction, the proceeds of which are given to charity.
Herrings, however, are not only to be found in the city’s markets or fishmongers, but also in Amsterdam’s streets and on its canals. You can buy them at street stalls and eat them sitting on a bench or at a tram stop, whatever you prefer. You will recognise these sites immediately, not only because of the smell. They are small, sometimes mobile huts that are decorated with promotional images of herrings and other fish.
A touch of kitsch is guaranteed at these stalls. Indeed, the promotional posters are illustrated with an image of a young, blonde Dutchwoman in regional dress and clogs, a head dress and plaits, eating a herring in a very curious way. If you want to follow etiquette, this image will give you some clues as how to do so and if you succeed in asking the stall keeper, he will mirthfully tell you how herring should be eaten.
Take note of the following instructions: hold the fish by the tail, open your mouth and put it in whole, starting with the head. Now, all that remains is to chew and savour this salty delight. Whatever happens, do not lose your composure!
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