If you’re not from a place, you don’t have the same nostalgic pangs for the foods, even if some of us invoke Proust when we bite into a madeleine, or get all bent out of shape when someone messes with a certain food from a particular country or region – even if we’ve never been there.
I’m not a big fan of creamy soups, but I am a staunch defender of New England clam chowder. The word “chowder” comes from the French word “chaudière,” a big soup pot or cauldron. Some say it may have been invented by Breton fishermen in France, who later brought the soup to Canada and New England. Although I am not sure about the Manhattan-variety of chowder, which to me is like adding tomato puree to the dressing for a Caesar Salad, and calling it a “Caesar Salad.” If you’re looking for a tomato-based clam chowder there are plenty of places to find one in books and on the internet. This isn’t one of them.
I grew up eating New England clam chowder, which we often enjoyed at Howard Johnson’s, the famed roadside restaurant (which was once the largest restaurant chain in America), where Jacques Pépin worked, coming up with recipes in the 1960’s.
The place wasn’t fancy, but it was pretty good; the orange and turquoise roofs were a welcome sight during long drives on the Massachusetts Turnpike. (Most New Englanders of a certain age will remember hearing the phrase; “Sorry, we don’t have Coke. We have HoJo cola. Would you like one?”