Why are Dutch fish mongers so terrible?

For a country that controls a chunk of sea one and a half times its land mass, the Dutch are pathetic eaters of seafood. OK, granted – we’re rightly proud of our slightly-cured herring (which is mostly caught by the Norwegians) and our kibbeling, fried chunks of cod (although many Dutch consumers think kibbeling is a fish species). But for the rest we export most of our mussels, sole, and oysters to people who know properly how to appreciate them, like the French and the Belgians. Instead, we import a tasteless excuse for a fish like tilapia.

But the fish mongers aren’t helping either. Two weeks ago I was buying a tuna steak at the open market in Wageningen. (After my trip to The Philippines I had but one thing on my mind: I want to make that delicious ceviche with fresh ginger and coriander myself!) A youngish bloke for whom this must have been his way of earning his Saturday night drinks served me, and I asked him whether the tuna steak I was buying had been frozen. Silly question, I know – there is no way you can get tuna from its fishing grounds to a Wageningen market stall without freezing it somewhere along the way. “No, it’s all fresh,” he said. So where did it come from? That turned out to be a difficult question. “I don’t know,” he stumbled, looking at me as if I had just asked him about the sound of one hand clapping. “I should ask my boss.” “Pacific ocean,” said a colleague. OK, thanks. “Indian ocean,” said another colleague who looked like she was in charge. “Is that OK with you?” Sure, I was only curious – I wasn’t going to report you to Sea Shepherd or anything.

How can these people not know where their wares come from? I decided against asking the species, because I did not want to prolong their agony. I’m quite sure it was yellowfin anyway. But the limited information they had available was shocking. Even more shocking is the fact that they get away with it, because Dutch consumers just don’t give a rodent’s backside for quality when it comes to fish – let alone how it was caught, whether any other species had been caught in the process, and so on.

Last week I made this picture at the open market in Ede (just North of Wageningen):

This is what tong, or sole (solea solea) looks like; this is what schol, or plaice (pleuronectes platessa) looks like. You’d expect the orange spots should be a bit of a giveaway.

I guess every country gets the fish mongers it deserves.

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