Chowda > Chowder

28 Oct

So, the dining hall had another San Francisco-themed night this year, with plenty of tasty dishes from that strange little city up in NorCal. However, I was thoroughly disappointed with the “New England Clam Chowder.” It’s offensive to even call it that. There’s a remarkable difference between lousy, imitation chowder, and the real stuff – *chowda*!

Nothing compares to the authentic stuff back home. Loaded with clams. Lots of big, soft, tasty potato chunks. Nothing that doesn’t belong (like carrots, which I found in my “New England style clam chowder” in the Midwest, or bacon bits, which for some reason can be found in West Coast chowder). Just the right seasonings for that amazing taste (something that’s always way off in cheap imitations). And another thing that the imitators always get wrong — the broth. It has to have just the right consistency. If made right, it’s heavenly. You just can’t get real chowda outside New England.

Granted, you can’t get chowder in a bread bowl back home. That’s a San Francisco innovation. My only gripe is that the bowls are usually too big to eat…and sourdough can make my stomach feel a little funny. (After eating at Boudin’s at Fisherman’s Wharf, my digestive system decided it would dispose of the imitation chowder as quickly and as violently as possible. Sorry for the mental image.)

It made me realise how much I miss the food back home, though. The seafood there is definitely superior, for one. Scallops (pronounced with a broad ‘a’)… clam cakes… lobsta rolls… the mere thought makes my mouth water.

Mmm, mmm, mmm. One of my other big cravings: coffee milk. It’s entirely exclusive to New England. It was served in my elementary school cafeteria, right along with the regular and chocolate milks. It was the favourite drink of my 3rd grade teacher, Mr. Fahey. It’s the official state drink of Rhode Island.

Garelick Farms, a regional dairy company, is responsible for supplying pretty much all of New England’s public schools with milk. They’re one of the dairies that produces coffee milk — advertised as “Colossal Coffee.” Damn straight. You can also get it from two other local dairies: the Massachusetts-based Hood and the Maine-based Oakhurst. Each brand has a unique taste. Hood Coffee Milk is the most strongly coffee-flavoured, while Oakhurst is milder. Garelick Farms is somewhere between the two.

Another regional delicacy that was served in my elementary school cafeteria is the infamous Fluffernutter (locally, “Fluffanutta”). I actually didn’t even know that it was exclusively an New England thing until recently. But apparently Fluff was invented in Lynn, Massachusetts. If you don’t know what it is…it’s some kind of marshmallow-flavoured paste. Sound disgusting? Well, it kind of is. I certainly don’t eat fluffernutters anymore, but every kid in New England does at some point. When you’re a kid, they taste wicked good. Plus, it provides some variety, so you don’t have to eat just PB&Js. Who knew that bread and peanut butter would taste so good with so many different things?

A few months ago, a bill was introduced in the Massachusetts state legislature to limit the number of days a week that public elementary schools could serve peanut butter & fluff. I don’t even remember whether the bill passed, but it was kind of a hilarious affair. The media sarcastically referred to it as “Fluffgate.”

Hmm…what other foods do I miss? Ah, yes…French-Canadian dishes. A delicious, hearty serving of pâté chinois:

Or a warm slice of tourtière, straight from the oven, and with coating of ketchup…

But let’s not forget about dessert! I should first mention my favourite New England-exclusive candy bar: SkyBar, made by Necco (New England Confectionary Company). Necco, whose owning family includes my middle school Home Ec teacher, is famous nationally for their Sweethearts. But only in their home territory can you find Necco wafers and SkyBars — the chocolate candy bar with four moulded centres — fudge, vanilla, peanut butter, and caramel. It’s sheer brilliance.

But the gastronomic delights don’t end there. One peculiarity of New England cuisine is our apparent obsession with ice cream. Despite the cold climate, New Englanders eat more ice cream than any other regional population in the U.S. (fortunately, we have one of the lowest obesity rates). So what can explain this affinity for ice cream? A Boston Globe article asks the same question:

Why are we such ice cream junkies? “Because the quality of the product is so high here,” contends Bob Bryson, executive director of the 560-member New England Ice Cream Restaurant Association. “It’s high because a greater percentage of ice cream shops make their own ice cream. If you travel down south and stop at an ice cream shop, you’ll probably eat a commercial product from a local dairy. Not here.”

While the best ice cream is always at the small ice cream stands, New England also has several large-scale ice cream producers. The most famous, of course — Ben & Jerry’s. Another popular chain is Friendly’s, which has expanded across the East Coast to an extent, but still remains a deeply-rooted New England institution.

Two New England ice cream producers – Hood and Brigham’s – even have series of flavours dedicated to the region. Brigham’s flavours include “Big Dig”, “Curse Reversed!”, “Fluffernutter”, “Just Jimmies” (‘jimmies’ means ‘sprinkles’, especially in eastern MA), and “Wicked Chocolate.”

Hood’s flavours include “Bear Creek Caramel”, “Boston Creme Pie”, “Boston Vanilla Bean”, “Cape Cod Fudge Shop”, “Fenway Fudge”, “Maine Blueberry & Sweet Cream”, “Martha’s Vineyard Black Raspberry”, “Moosehead Lake Fudge”, “New England Homemade Vanilla”, “New England Lighthouse Coffee”, “North End Spumoni”, and “Vermont Maple Nut.”

I also miss Nantucket Nectars Lemonade, which is by far the best lemonade you can buy at the market. I know that the brand is sold in California, though…it’s just harder to find.

Hungry yet? 🙂


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