corders in the hague

It's like having the Corders round for dinner - except the kids don't smash stuff and Mike doesn't drink all your booze. And when you're bored you can get rid of us with a mouse click rather than having to start tidying up the house.

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Location: The Hague, Netherlands

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Fishy tale

The things I do for this blog.
Today I put my life on the line to bring to you a true taste of the Netherlands – raw herring.
None of your effete Scandinavian pickling involved in the preparation of this snack, just the grease-smeared, liver-spotted hands of the fishmonger who’d been slicing and scraping these babies all day.
The process is pretty simple; catch the herring while it’s young, bring it to shore and sell to a fishmonger who – in front of your eyes! - cuts off its head, skins it, disembowels it, scrapes out the bones (leaving half of the little ones in so the consumer can pick them out from between his teeth for the rest of the day) and serves it covered in diced raw onion on a paper plate.
I can almost hear your mouths watering.
You will notice from the above the total absence of the words “cook it.”
But sashimi it isn’t.
When I’d bought mine and finished gagging at the sight of (A) the fishmonger’s rancid fingers and (B) the fish guts being scraped into a hole in his cutting table – along with the guts of every other fish he’d prepared that day (and I bought mine at 4:30 p.m. on the busiest herring eating day of the year), I took it outside to eat.
Julia looked at it and asked, “Is it still alive?”
I assured her that it was indeed very much an ex-herring and she agreed to pose with it.
Let’s get something clear here: I really wanted to enjoy the herring.
There are many things about Dutch cooking that are worthy of my scorn - people, fruit does NOT belong in every course of every meal! Apple sauce is a baby food, not a condiment. Absolutely true meal I’ve eaten: minced beef decked with mashed potato, pickled cabbage and BANANA.
But the herring embodies many things I like about food – it’s local produce, not pumped full of growth hormones, simply (possibly a little too simply, how hard would it be for the fishmonger to wash his hands between fish?) prepared and, once you’ve scraped the raw onions off, not spoiled by other ingredients.
Today was the first day of the new herring season and this year’s fish have received rave reviews. Buttery texture, salty (duh, it’s a fish) taste, lean meat etc, etc.
Of course, the new fish get good reviews each year because they’re generally written by spokespeople for the herring fleet.
When you get your herring it is basically two fillets held together by the tail. You eat them by clutching the tail between thumb and forefinger and lowering the thing into your mouth. It’s somehow reminds me of Tom and Jerry cartoons.
So anyway, I didn’t enjoy it.
The meat was a nice texture but it still had bones in – not choke you bones but these little stringy bits of cartilage that get wedged between your teeth and stay there until your next visit to the dentist.
I remember Sydney rock oysters and blue fin tuna sashimi tasting like the sparkly blue Pacific. This herring tasted of the North Sea.
I can’t remember the last time I’ve genuinely felt like throwing up after eating something. I battled through half of it before binning the rest. I noticed several other half-eaten herring sticking out of the overflowing bin outside the fish shop.
Julia and I dashed to the deli counter of the nearby supermarket where they have plates of little free food samples. I stuffed myself with something called pizza mince which I would have given a very, very wide berth to under any other circumstances, then had a cracker smeared in filet American which is basically raw mince and rounded it off with some actually nice French sheep’s cheese.
This combined assault on the taste buds still failed to cleanse my mouth of the foul fish taste. I bought some industrial strength chewing gum at the checkout, crammed the entire packet into my mouth at once and fled for home.
It’s now seven hours, three liters of water, two meals and a magnum of red wine later and I can still taste the little bastard.
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