When in Holland Have a Haring (Sandwich)

The Perfect Sandwich

My parents took three (out of four) of us kids on a European road trip when I was 13. We started in Amsterdam, and my clearest memory is of eating a smoked eel “broodje,” Dutch for sandwich. I liked the word “broodje," pronounced "broh-yeh." I collected odd names and was famous in my family for making up my own. But more than that there was the exotic but satisfying taste of smoked eel—no scary bones and fish heads, as in the smoked whitefish “chubs” my Grandfather brought to us Virginians from New York City.

On a recent trip to Amsterdam with the Chef and our daughter, Julie, I was determined to relive that memory, and I didn’t have to look far. The cheery red, white and blue “haring handlers” are as ubiquitous as the dark, divey “coffee shops” selling weed. When we came upon our first one, I ordered an eel—“paling”—broodje for €5.00 and the Chef got a haring broodje for a mere €3.00. The fishmonger slapped two cords of pale grey eel into an oval shaped roll. When I asked for sauce, he said no, firmly, implying that this was just not done. The chef and I traded bites, and my paling paled beside his haring. I got food envy, and I immediately forgot my obsession with eel broodjes in favor of a new food fixation; sandwiched in a brown or white roll, two large pale pinkish slabs of just slightly brined raw herring were layered with crisp sweet pickles and diced white onion. It is a genius trifecta of taste, and I ate one every day of our five day trip.

And, while it isn’t a sandwich, I have to put in a word for kibbeling €5.00.* On our last grey day strolling this eminently walkable city, we set out for a fish stand where we could take cover from the rain and actually sit down. The Chef led us to tiny Urker Viswinkel, a cozy corner shop with stools at a counter and a friendly staff. Teenaged Julie turned her nose up at raw herring, as I certainly would have at her age, but she enjoyed the kibbeling and frietjes €6.90, a Dutch version of fish and chips.  Square chunks of some kind of white fish are lightly battered and fried, served with a long plastic pick for spearing and dipping in a garlicky tartar sauce. The Chef and I had, you guessed it, haring broodjes, and now this new taste will have to live on in my memory, because I’m 99% certain I can’t find these in New York City, and at what amounts to $4.00 a pop in the land of canals, legal weed and windmills.

*This and other Dutch words delight me—kibbeling, broodje, winkel—and sound like something you might name your new puppy!