The menu of the sea
The Netherlands’ proximity to the sea has impacted on life in the country in many ways. One of these is the diet. For centuries, fishermen have taken to the waves of the North and Zuider (South) Seas, supplying the kitchens of the country and its neighbours with a rich, diverse catch.
Zeeland flexes its mussels
In the south-western province of Zeeland, the inhabitants’ battle with the sea is depicted on the regional flag and coat of arms. A lion is seen emerging fiercely from the waves bearing the motto luctor et emergo – I struggle and I emerge. In their struggle, the zeeuwse have learned not only how to live with the sea, but how to prosper.
The area is famed for producing the fi nest mussels. Each year, in July, a street party is held in the provincial capital of Middelburg, to mark the start of the season. From then onwards, in all the best fish restaurants in the country, and notably in neighbouring Belgium when they constitute a national dish, Zeeuwse Mosselen, or Zeel and mussels, will adorn the menu. The mussels are traditionally served in a large pot, cooked in white wine and accompanied with chips.
Since the Middle Ages, herring has been a popular dish in the Lowlands. For centuries, Dutch fishing fleets have fetched the valued catch from the waters further north, around Scandinavia. The herring is popular all along the North Sea coast, but the Dutch have a unique way of eating the fish.
Unlike in Germany or Britain, where herrings are typically pickled, in the Netherlands they are lightly soused for preservation and served raw, with chopped onions. The typical way to consume a herring is whole – the fish is held by its tail and lowered into the mouth.
Waste not, want not
The thrifty Dutch are not a people to waste things. The popular snack known as kibbeling is a by-product of the historical cod industry.
The leftover chunks were battered and deep fried. Nowadays, kibbeling is made of any number of different North Sea fish, not exclusively cod. It is still served in the same manner, however, from a snack bar accompanied with mayonnaise or tartar sauce.
A smoky delicacy
The historical fishing ground for eels is the IJselmeer – formerly the Zuider Zee – in the north of the country. From the numerous fishing villages along the edges of the lake, fishing fleets would bring back vast numbers of wriggling eels.
On land, the eels would be smoked in a traditional smokehouse – a few of which are still in operation today – before being sold to wide acclaim.