When my daughter was visiting friends in New England this summer, she sent me a couple photos of their outdoor meals. They were obviously eating lobster with great glee. So I wrote back snidely, with only a hint of envy: “How wonderful! You’re eating Red Lobster carry out!”
As I recall, she didn’t reply.
The other item in the photo (at top of post), she referred to as “Stuffers,” a term unfamiliar to me. She later explained it was stuffed clams, or stuffed quahog, referring to the variety of clams most often used for the local appetizer. To make the New England delicacy, clams are steamed, chopped and combined with bread crumbs, onion, garlic and seasoning. Then the mixture is stuffed back into half shells and baked.
Yes, trying regional favorites when traveling can be fun, wherever you are. Though a visit to China in the 80’s was a challenge. To this day, if I can’t identify, at least, 75% of what I see floating in a bowl of soup, I let it be.
Going Beyond the Culinary Pale
At the farm, I enjoy things I can’t always get in St. Louis. I buy the local wines. I eat trout caught at Maramec Springs. And I get misty about the old-time, loose meat burgers from one of the nation’s few remaining Maid-Rites locations.
When I get to the Bootheel, I order grits, preferably with cheese or shrimp. If it’s summer, I bring back fresh peaches and melons. In Memphis, I want, at least, one meal to be barbecue. And in NOLA my heart is set on a good gumbo.
When I’m in DC, I often make a point of going through Baltimore for my favorite crab cakes or she-crab soup. In the Florida Keys or the Caribbean, I immediately put on my sun block and sandals and head out in search of conch fritters. The Internet makes it possible to check out the best places for local fare, so your choice doesn’t have to be hit or miss.
Vacations and New Foods
My first foray into New England was as a young teenager. shortly after the war. I drove with my parents in our new Oldsmobile to Quebec. At the time, I was studying French and wanted to speak the language in a local setting. We mapped the route with the help of AAA Trip-Tiks, a set of strip maps in a spiral binder that showed what roads were usable.
From the backseat, I became the navigator. I argued which turns we had missed or pointed out which sites were worth a stop. As I recall, we traipsed through every early American fort on the map and took in a semester’s worth of history about the Revolutionary War.
We stayed in small tourist homes at night, which were much like today’s B&Bs. If a house had a sign in the front yard and a neon strip that blinked “Vacancy,” you just knocked on the door and paid a few bucks to use their spare room for the night.
HoJo’s: Once the Travelers’ Oasis
We ate, whenever possible, at Howard Johnson’s, where you could choose from 28 flavors of ice cream. The restaurants were clean, reliable, and accessible and my mother liked the clam roll. Since she would never serve hot dogs at home or keep soft drinks or chocolate milk on hand, it was a treat to get those at HoJo’s. Yes, exception were made; we were on vacation.
Sadly, the old wayside tavern is no more. But updated Trip-Tiks are still available for those who prefer cartography to a GPS. Today a simple phone app, such as Yelp, can put the culinary world at your fingertips, plus maps. Best of all, you can have the instant pleasure of sending food photos back home to your less fortunate family and friends.