North of Rotterdam and south of The Hague, in the lowlands of Holland, sits the charming town of Delft. Situated on a series of picturesque canals, it’s known variously as the birthplace and inspiration of the painter Johannes Vermeer, the eponymous center of the iconic blue-and-white ceramics called Delftware, and the home port of the Dutch East India Company during the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century. If you happen to be there on a Thursday or Saturday between mid-April and mid-October, when the city market is up and running, it’s a great place to try one of the world’s most delicious herring sandwiches.
Herring is special to the Dutch — not only have they been enjoying it, due to their proximity to the North Sea, for hundreds of years, but they also have their own way of preparing it. The herring is “soused,” which means the fish are gutted, split open, deboned, and then brined in a vinegar solution. From there, they’re eaten two ways: the eater holds one by the tail, tilts his or her head back, and lowers it into the mouth with no accompaniment but the flavor of the sea (this is not for amateurs), or as a sandwich, ensconced in a plain hot dog-style buttery bun and topped with diced onions — undoubtedly more user-friendly.
It is Dutch tradition to eat the first herring of the season, called nieuwe haring, in late May or early June, but as the years have passed and means of preservation have improved, the season for the “new” herring has extended. At the Delft market, where visitors will find more than 150 stalls stuffed with antiques, books, flowers, candies, and all manner of bric-a-brac, the fish stall (de visbaken) is easily the most crowded. Under umbrellas emblazoned with the words “gezond en lekker” (“healthy and delicious”), locals and tourists alike pack in to enjoy herring, which is, incidentally, said to be a fabulous cure for a hangover. It is a fresh, salty, and utterly addictive delight, with the bun acting as a fabulous foil to the oily, vinegary herring and the onions lending crunch and earthiness; the sandwich is “fishy” in the best way possible.
Click here for other featured sandwiches or check out the 2013 Year in Sandwiches and the Sandwich of the Week Slideshow. Know a sandwich that should be featured? Email The Daily Meal or comment below. Better yet, become a contributor and write up your favorite today!