Clam chowder is perhaps the most quintessential New England food. White and creamy, with a milk- or cream-based broth filled with clam chunks, potatoes and onions, chowder is so beloved by New Englanders it has even inspired some of them to wax poetic on its greatness. Take author Joseph C. Lincoln for example:
“A New England clam chowder, made as it should be, is a dish to preach about, to chant praises and sing hymns and burn incense before. To fight for. The Battle of Bunker Hill was fought for—or on—clam chowder; part of it at least, I am sure it was. It is as American as the Stars and Stripes, as patriotic as the national anthem. It is Yankee Doodle in a kettle.”
So where did this culinary marvel come from?
No one knows for sure who made the first chowder, but it most likely evolved from a dish brought over from Brittany, France, by settlers who eventually wound up in New England. Basically they would take the scraps of their daily catch, cook it in a pot with whatever other ingredients they had available, and eat it. Most scholars think the word “chowder” derives from the French chaudière, which is a special kind of cooking pot. (The English word “cauldron” shares the same Latin root.)
As the chowder became more refined over the years, and served commercially, cooks began adding large amounts of milk and cream, giving it the white creamy consistency we know today. They also started regularly adding potato chunks and onions, though other vegetables were—and continue to be—very rarely included.
In fact, there is one hard-and-fast rule with New England clam chowder: tomatoes are absolutely forbidden. This puts it in direct opposition to its “rival” chowder, Manhattan clam chowder, which has a tomato-based broth. A lot of New Englanders feel very strongly about this no-tomato rule; so strongly that in 1939 the Maine legislature actually introduced a bill to make tomatoes in clam chowder illegal.
When visiting Boston, clam chowder is a must-have. Most EF Explore America student trips to Boston include a visit to Quincy Market, a huge marketplace where you can find anything you want to eat. Two spots—Boston Chowda Co. and Boston & Maine Fish Company—are your best bet for the rich, creamy goodness that is a bowl of clam chowder. Enjoy.