Now one man is reviving the trade. And do try to look at the video clip of old Amsterdam. It is charming -- and very evocative of the Good Old Days. If it doesn't come up in this post, hit the link to the Guardian.
From the Guardian
Early every morning, the 57-year-old skewers a dozen slippery specimens and raises them above the fire to let the smoke do its work. Later he casts off and sets course along central Amsterdam’s canals in search of customers.
The trick, he says, is to get their attention: a bell, his voice and loud music – classical or old-Amsterdam singalongs, depending on the neighbourhood. Almost everyone on the street looks up when Oosterbaan sails past, hollering and ringing his bell – but only real Amsterdammers buy his eels.
“Tourists don’t understand what I’m doing, let alone what I’m selling,” he explains. “Smoked eel is a typical Dutch delicacy – one of the few.”
Oosterbaan and his eels are a novelty – but selling from a boat on the city’s canals is not a new idea. Parlevinkers – combining two Dutch specialties: the trading spirit and water – used to be common here.
But somehow these salesmen on small boats disappeared; not just in Amsterdam, but throughout the Netherlands. The last Dutch parlevinker is thought to have sailed away in 2008 – long after the last one left Amsterdam, sometime around 1965.
Oosterbaan didn’t set out to revive this historic trade. Six months ago, he had accepted a job as head of the food department at a university in Amsterdam. But he had never worked anywhere for long: he’d always get bored after a while, or get into trouble. So after a few weeks, when he was fired again, he started to question himself. In search of answers, he started to sail the lakes of Friesland, a province in the north of the Netherlands. It was here that he first got a taste for smoked eel, and began to sell a few.
When someone suggested moving his business to the canals of Amsterdam, Oosterbaan, with nothing to lose, set sail. Arriving in midwinter to a city dusted with snow and ice, he found that curious Amsterdammers would flock to his boat – attracted by his singing and the smoking barrel on the stern.
Soon the snow melted and it was spring. The days became longer; the business better. Recently he was featured in the Amsterdam newspaper Het Parool, and even Oosterbaan can’t deny his status as some kind of local hero.
Away from Amsterdam’s crowded streets and streams of tourists, there is space on the water – and Oosterbaan and his eels may yet kickstart the rebirth of the parlevinker. There are rumours that a baker has started to sell fresh bread from a boat (though he remains under the radar because he lacks the vendor’s permits).
As for Oosterbaan himself? He can’t stop singing. “Eeeeelll! Freshly smoked eeeeelll!”