Monday, November 19, 2007

Food and Place, volume 3 (Boston)

What is the one food most often associated with Boston? Could be scrod. Could be baked beans. Could be lobster (lawbstah). How about New England clam chowder?

Boston scrod (sometimes schrod) is just cod or haddock and I would guess it’s not what most people think of any more. Boston baked beans were once famous enough that the baseball team was known as the Beaneaters. These days, beans may not be the first Boston food that comes to mind, either.

Lobster is really a Maine dish, though I’m tempted to use it as the Boston flagship food, mostly because of the volumes of lobster served to tourists at the venerable and famous Durgin Park restaurant in Quincy Market.

But it could just as easily be some Italian dish because of the North End tradition. I have enjoyed some very robust and satisfying meals in North End Italian joints. But does it define Boston cuisine? No. This is harder than I thought it would be. Boston is a great food town, no doubt about it.

I remember visiting the fishing wharves with my step-grandfather, who wanted to show off a little bit by personally selecting the very swordfish (just off the boat) from which several thick steaks would be cut. We carried them home and grilled them along with steamed quahogs.

That’s it! The lowly quahog! O.K., it’s a stretch to say that the quahog is Boston’s culinary symbol. Maybe Cape Cod’s. Rhode Island seems to claim the quahog as its own, but I've never been to Rhode Island (except as a way to get from Boston to New York) so for purposes of this blog series, it doesn't count. Sorry, Rob.

Ah, what the hell, it's my blog, so I hereby declare the quahog to be Boston's signature dish. Sometimes called hard shell clams, I recall digging buckets full from the sandbar in Buzzard's Bay near my grandmother's house, then steaming them in a seaweed-covered pit on the beach. (The picture at the head of this post is the railroad bridge over the southern end of the Cape Cod Canal. It's visible from my grandma's house on Buzzard's Bay). My dad loved the quahog ritual because to a farm boy from the Midwest it was quite exotic. And the quahogs were good (to say nothing of the swordfish steaks). Plus there was Naragansett beer.

The quahog is a bi-valve mollusk, distantly related to the famous west coast univalve mollusk called abalone. Here's a Richard Brautigan poem from "Rommel Drives on Deep into Egypt" about abalone, followed by some links to abalone and quahog recipes. Enjoy!

Abalone Curry

I have Christmas dinner every year with Michael
and he always cooks abalone curry. It takes
a long time because it tastes so good and the afternoon
travels pleasantly by in his kitchen that is halfway
between India and Atlantis

For some quahog recipes, go here. Abalone recipes can be found here.

Happy Thanksgiving!
Next stop: Seattle!


Jim H. said...

Yes, I know some of these links aren't working. I believe the problem is me, although I would like to blame Blogger or Firefox or my neihbor who distracted me with his infernal leaf blower.

Please be patient while I enroll in the local technical college.

Rob Hardy said...

Okay, you can have quahogs, although they're really a Rhode Island food. I prefer littlenecks, anyway.

The food that comes to mind when I think of Boston is Steve's Ice Cream, but evidently it's defunct now.

Aren't leaf blowers awful?

Jim H. said...

How come in Boston ice cream emporiums they call those little chocolate sprinkles "Jimmies?"

Jim H. said...

The links have been fixed.

I understand that some cities have banned leaf blowers because of the horrible noise and the nasty exhaust. When we were in Los Angeles, the lawn care companies were battling the city council one the subject. Don't know who won. Perhaps Hollywood writers could be put to work with rakes, making the lawn care companies and the environmentalists and most TV viewers happy.

Rob Hardy said...

You know, come to think of it, I'm surprised your Boston pick wasn't Fenway sausages. Check this out.

Greg said...

Nothing to add about Boston; just wanted to wish you & yours a very Happy Thanksgiving!