It is a conundrum which chowder to say is the “best.” How you answer that question depends upon where you or your ancestors were raised. Regional foods are close to everyone’s heart. Different regions have strong opinions as to what exactly should be called a chowder and what it should look like. The battles over chowder began early with a representative from Maine even going so far as to draft legislation that would have made it illegal to add tomatoes to New England Clam Chowder. (The bill was never passed.)
If there is one thing that could bring this country together though, it is our love of chowder. As Americans moved westward, clams were no longer available and so were replaced with corn in their chowder. As settlers continued moving westward and settled in the Pacific Northwest, clams were again plentiful and razor clams were primarily used in their chowder. There is nothing to warm you after a day out fishing or out in the cold like a hot bowl of clam chowder. There is no right or wrong way to make chowder – just different.
New England Clam Chowder – The traditional dairy based New England clam chowder starts with bacon and onions with potatoes and chopped clam meat and has the thick, creamy texture many associate with a chowder.. See Yankee Magazine’s recipe
Connecticut Clam Chowder – Similar to the New England Chowder, but lighter. Instead of made with the traditional cream found in New England chowder, milk is used. Salt pork may be used rather than bacon.
Manhattan Clam Chowder – Definitely not a New England chowder, the Manhattan was influenced by Italian immigrants and is similar to a vegetable soup with clams and bacon added. It is tomato and broth based. This recipe specifies using Quahog clams. See the New York Times recipe
Rhode Island Clam Chowder – As you head south down the east coastline, dairy is no longer part of the chowder. Rhode Island chowder is a clear broth-based chowder, still brimming with potatoes, bacon, and vegetables. See the Recipe
Cape Hattaras Clam Chowder – A clear broth based chowder similar to Rhode Island Clam Chowder with plentiful use of clam juice. See the Recipe
Seattle Clam Chowder – Similar to the New England chowder, but with the Northwest addition of white wine and the use of local Razor Clams. See the Seattle Times recipe
Merriam-Webster defines “chowder” as a noun:
: a soup or stew of seafood (such as clams or fish) usually made with milk or tomatoes, salt pork, onions, and other vegetables (such as potatoes)
The word “Chowder” was first found in print in 1751. It is believed to have originated from the French word for “contents of a kettle or cauldron” or chaudière
Traveling down the New England coastline, you could theoretically sample your way down the entire New England coastline, taste-testing and comparing the chowders you find in Halifax Nova Scotia, or Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island, down to Bar Harbor, Maine where they are famous for their clams, or Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Salem, Massachusetts or visit the famous Union Oyster House in Boston – still running since pre-revolutionary days. Perhaps a lunch of a lobster roll and a bowl of clam chowder could send you over the moon while in Provincetown or Hyannisport. In Bridgeport, BRYAC won hands down the latest Connecticut Insider voter’s poll for the best clam chowder in the state of Connecticut. The entire eastern seaboard is filled with fantastic options for seafood. Having a reason to indulge in your own personal quest for the best may be the most fulfilling reason for traveling! They may go wine tasting in the west, but clam chowder tasting in the east feels just perfect – especially as colder weather approaches.
Taste test your way through some of the most iconic clam chowder meccas on a trip to New England!