New Hampshire Clam Chowder: What's Simmering in a Crockpot in the Back of Every New England Bar

Our 50 Plates tour continues with a steaming bowl of creamy, chunky chowder from the Chowdah food cart in St. Johns.

Summer is road-trip season, so we're taking a culinary tour of America. But because Portland is a city of immigrants from other states, we don't have to leave town to do it. We're traveling to 50 Portland restaurants to try one distinctive food from each state. Our 50 Plates tour continues with chowder from New Hampshire, which joined the union on June 21, 1788.

The state: The ninth state to join the Union on June 21, 1788, New Hampshire is the northernmost of the original thirteen colonies and also the craggiest, with the nickname “The Granite State” and the motto “Live Free or Die.”  

The food: Chowder has long been a staple of the Atlantic seaboard, a hearty, nourishing stew immortalized everywhere from Moby Dick to Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm. Most people are aware of regional variations, like the tomato-based abomination cooked up on that wackadoo island in New York, but clams are a relatively recent addition as well. The first versions called for layers of salt pork, biscuit, and fresh cod, simmered and served by the ship's cook to a forecastle full of hungry sailors. As the dish made its way inland and into the dining rooms of middle-class New England, women began throwing in classy additions like potatoes, onions, cream and clams dug up in the muddy coastal flats. Although given New Hampshire's rocky, unforgiving soil, perhaps it's no surprise that their version tends to eschew the vegetables. 

Other dishes considered and rejected: Lindt chocolate, maple syrup, apple cider. Corn chowder, Stonyfield Farm yogurt, a case of Smuttynose Old Brown Dog. 

Get it from: In its soul, chowder isn't a refined food. It's hearty and masculine, made in large quantities and served to crowds of shouting men. That's why, even on the hottest days, you'll find people lined up in front of Chowdah, the food cart on N. Lombard and Burr. Thick and creamy, steaming and salty, with generous chunks of potatoes, bacon and two types of Atlantic clams, a bowl ($5) also comes with oyster crackers that are a mighty preferable alternative to hardtack. 

Click on the map to see each state's distinctive food and where to get it in Portland.

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