Hi. If you're here for the clamming video, scroll down to the bottom of the page and press "play."
I think my favorite food scene in all of literature is when Ishmael steps inside Mr. Hosea Hussey's The Try Pots at the beginning of Moby Dick. He's hungry, tired, and cold. The Proprietress asks him what appears to be a simple question: Clam or Cod? He has no idea what in the hell she's talking about. Then he remembers. The Try Pots is all about chowder. Clam and Cod. Here, we'll go ahead and hand things over to Herman Melville for a moment:
"Fishiest of all fishy places was the Try Pots, which well deserved its name; for the pots there were always boiling chowders. Chowder for breakfast, and chowder for dinner, and chowder for supper, till you began to look for fish-bones coming through your clothes. The area before the house was paved with clam-shells. Mrs. Hussey wore a polished necklace of codfish vertebra; and Hosea Hussey had his account books bound in superior old shark-skin. There was a fishy flavor to the milk, too, which I could not at all account for, till one morning happening to take a stroll along the beach among some fishermen's boats, I saw Hosea's brindled cow feeding on fish remnants, and marching along the sand with each foot in a cod's decapitated head, looking very slip-shod, I assure ye."
Sorry... I just had to put that paragraph in. It had a profound effect on me years ago (what can I say? I was an impressionable youth). Shortly after reading it I began wearing a necklace of polished eel jaw bones... (only two people on earth know I'm not lying about this). And then, about a year after that, I began writing the first print edition of The Monkeyface News. Fashioning the bindings of each cover from the tanned hides of the eels that I caught and ate. Don't believe me? Here's a picture of my hand made prickleback skin-bound books:
Look closely at the bindings. That's prickleback skin: dried, tanned, glued and pressed to binder's cloth. Does a damned good job holding the voluminous early print editions of the Monkeyface News together, I might add.
Anyhoohow, let's get back to the Melville...
hmmm... where was he? Oh right...
"However, a warm savory steam from the kitchen served to belie the apparently cheerless prospect before us. But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh, sweet friends! hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuit, and salted pork cut up into little flakes; the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt."
The Good The Bad And The Ugly
Oh Herman, talk dirty to me! I mean really, is there anything better than a good clam chowder? Unfortunately, in San Francisco there are only two places that seem to understand this. At least in my price range. The Tadich Grill and Swann's Oyster Depot. Two of the oldest restaurants in the city (I should say, in the state). You ask the guys behind the counter at Swann's where the clams came from and they'll tell you, same thing at Tadich. You're eating Tomales Bay littlenecks (and manillas) at those two joints. Plain and simple... you're eating local clams. Anyone eating a bowl of chowder at Fisherman's Wharf, is paying 6 bucks for half a can of Campbell's. And what's worse, the clams all come from Vietnam. I mean, damn, what's the half-life of a napalm molecule I wonder? We think we have it bad, imagine for a moment what Vietnamese toxic runoff must be like...
Can't tell you folks how many times I have gotten wretchedly ill from canned clams. But this has yet to happen in all these years of digging gapers, mussels and little necks. Anyway... I've covered all this fairly exhaustively over the last few months. If you are starved for info on our abundant and delicious California bivalve resources go here: Clam. Otherwise, check out the new Monkeyface Production below... all this writing was simply put here by way of introduction. I wanted it to be clear that I am a (self proclaimed) aficionado of the clam. And that yes, I do scream and thump my chest and get a tad over excited when I catch a big one. In fact, I tend to do this (as you all have undoubtedly noticed) when I catch anything. What can I say, it's who I am. So here's the latest: Hope its worth a laugh or two... anyhoo, have at...
Okay... time to hit the sack... oh yes... right... yawn... from deep down in the muck where large invertebrates frolic... this is Lombard Of The (Muddy) Intertidal, signing out.
One last thought: nothing against Boudin Bakery, the maker of the bread bowls that unhappily contain that starchy canned stuff referred to by the name of "chowder." They (Boudin) make a fine San Francisco sourdough. Our suggestion: dump out the Campbells and eat the bread.