Vlaggetjesdag 2014: A Fish Festival in Scheveningen, The Netherlands

Herring. Buckets of it. Raw, fatty, fresh fish. The first catch of the season and an entire festival devoted to it. Vlaggetjesdag 2014 on 14th June brought me to Scheveningen by the sea. I’d eaten herring a year ago at Van Kleef‘s in The Hague, but cut into small squares and served with jenever, that good old Dutch gin, in their sunny back garden. This time I travelled from London St. Pancras to Brussels Midi by Eurostar, then Brussels Midi to Den Haag HS via Roosendaal on a Sprinter. All to get to the festival and eat the fish in a different way.

Herring with chopped onion. © Sophie Collard

Herring with chopped onion. © Sophie Collard

Here, I was to hold it, covered in raw chopped onion, by its tail, tilt my head back and open my gullet, like this:

Head back, fish in. © Sophie Collard

Head back, fish in. © Sophie Collard

The onion goes well with the herring, as the jenever does, because the taste is strong and takes away any undesired ‘fishy-ness.’ The fish itself is very soft and expertly cleaned by the venders at the herring stands. If there are any bones, they are tiny and flexible enough to eat without noticing.

Me eating a herring. © Sophie Collard

Me eating a herring. © Sophie Collard

The festival spills out into several areas; along Keizerstraat, where there’s a live music stage and women dressed in traditional garb holding out platters laden with, you guessed it, herring. Flags of all the world’s countries hang above the street, which has stalls offering pastries, cheeses and potatoes fried in curls on skewers. As well as beer, lots of it.

Would you like some herring? © Sophie Collard

Would you like some herring? © Sophie Collard

World Cup Holland pastries. Hup Holland Hup!

World Cup Holland pastries. Hup Holland Hup! © Sophie Collard

Then there’s the bigger part of the festival, all around the harbour, where, my information tells me, there is, ‘so much more than the omnipresent herring’ on offer. Here there’s the tastiest goddamn battered fish I ever had in the large warehouse space to the side of the harbour. It’s called ‘kibbeling’ and comes with a delicious sauce.

Kibbeling. © Sophie Collard

Kibbeling. © Sophie Collard

All the boats are decorated on Flag Day. © Sophie Collard

All the boats are decorated on Flag Day. © Sophie Collard

Back outside, there are lifeboat demonstrations and a choir of what appear to be elderly mariner’s wives in white. There are crowds of people having a good time on the boats, which honk their horns and do little trips around the harbour, and for some reason there are bagpipe players playing Auld Lang Syne even though it’s June. It all adds up to a lovely fishy community festival and a fun family day out in Scheveningen.

I attended Flag Day as part of the #mustlovefestivals project, the brainchild of fellow blogger Kash, who writes about luxury hostels. The trip was supported by The Hague tourism board while I was there and I stayed at the Carlton Beach Hotel, which was right on the beach. Owing to some things going on back home, I did for the first time book my Eurostar and Sprinter tickets last minute, costing a dear £174 return (ouch) but you can read about the time I did rail and sail for less on the TNT blog, and I have just booked a one way ticket to Brussels in advance for the end of next month, which cost just £39 – so do always book in advance if you can. I booked the trains through my lovely friends at International Rail, who you can still speak to on the phone, which is nice.

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