When Worlds Collide

I’m at an Au Bon Pain in Boston’s South Station the other day trying to buy a cup of soup while I waited for my next train. They have clam chowder on the list of soups, so I ask,

“What kind of clam chowder is it?”
Blank stare.
“Is it white or red?”
“Do you want clam chowder?”
“What color is it?”
Blank stare, eyeroll.
The clerk next to her overhears it & asks me,
“You’re from New York?”
I nod.
He says to my clerk,
“You need to get out of Boston once in a while. In New York they have red clam chowder too.”

I had no idea that when you’re in New England, all the clam chowder is New England clam chowder. I mean, if they serve both New England clam chowder and Manhattan clam chowder in Manhattan…

8 Replies to “When Worlds Collide”

  1. If you have to go to Boston, better to bring your own food. You don’t want to catch whatever it is that they’ve got.

  2. from a friend who knows everything:

    Clam chowder is made with cream. New York made up its own “version” — over a century ago I believe — which isn’t really the same soup; it’s a kind of tomato/vegetable soup with clams. (James Beard hated it.)* The question you asked, red or white, was understandably baffling to a Bostonian. It would be like if some tourist asked what kind of bagel you serve, chocolate or vanilla.

    *Historical note: In February 1939, a bill was introduced by an assemblyman in the Maine legislature to make it a statutory and culinary offense to put tomatoes into chowder.

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  4. Being of Bostonian decent now residing in NYC, this issue is of tantamount importance in my daily life. Yes, some may find i hard to understnad, but I grew up in a Bostonian household in upstate NY.
    Depending on where you look, chowder can be defined as “a thick soup of clam, fish or vegetables with potato in a milk or tomato base”. Some definitions leave out the tomato part.
    The name is derived from the French word for the pot it was cooked in, so really anything goes. The original chowders in fact were made of bacon fat thickened with flour, so they say. I personally don’t consider the watery tomato based stuff you find in some places real chowder, it must be thick.
    As for your incident, I would say you ran into more of a dolt than a Bostonian. Everyone I know in Boston is very aware of the Manhattan version, they just don’t eat it. They do mock it regularly though.
    The bagel reference is a bit off for me, because it’s not so much a different flavored soup, it’s a whole other beast. I would compare it more to having someone ask “which kind of bagel do you have, the thick ones or the thin ones?” When all NY’rs know the thin ones aren’t bagels, they are bialys. Or maybe, though I doubt anyone would ask for it, a boiled vs. non-boiled bagel. If it isn’t boiled, it isn’t a bagel though many places outside of NYC will try to tell you it is.
    I am glad you raised such an important cultural issue.

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