Cycling and Searching for Sublime Seafood Chowder

I had my first dreamy seafood chowder, when I was in a bad  mood. It was a clam chowder that placated me, over twenty years ago near the start of my longest ever bike-camping trip over 1,000 km. long  in the Canadian east  coast Maritime provinces.  I was fuming desperately after only

Smoke salmon chowder --one of several popular chowder choices at Pike Market Chowder House. Seattle, WA 2014. Photo by J.Chong
Smoked salmon chowder –one of several popular chowder choices at Pike Market Chowder House. Seattle, WA 2014. Photo by J.Chong

cycling 40 km. in  35 degree C summer morning humidity in Nova Scotia.  I was weak, ready to collapse.   I had barely eaten any breakfast after we arrived cycling to our campsite the previous evening during a rainpour. Then mosquitoes came out which made dinner consumption for me unbearable.  I hid in the hot tent during that summer evening, away from the voracious mosquitoes.

Exquisite Clam Chowder Calms Collapsing Cyclist: Nova Scotia, Canada

Hearty smoked salmon soup accompanied by rosemary flecked focaccia bread. Granville Market, Vancouver BC 2014. Photo by J.Chong
Hearty smoked salmon soup accompanied by rosemary flecked focaccia bread. Granville Market, Vancouver BC 2014. Photo by J.Chong

I can still remember the creamy light soup at a tiny cute bistro. The soup must been made with a pat of butter since there were some buttery yellow droplets in the soup. There were wonderful chunks of clam and finely diced potato that didn’t distract from creamy clam heaven.

Since then, I’ve been underwhelmed by seafood chowders. Usually there was too much potato-veggie filler or too much flour-starch thickener which makes any chowder, a gluey mess.

Lipsmack Goodness of Thick Wild Salmon Soup: Vancouver

Simple clam chowder. Cowichan Bay, Vancouver Island 2012. Photo by J.Chong
Simple clam chowder. Cowichan Bay, Vancouver Island 2012. Photo by J.Chong

 However, a few months ago, we dropped by a soup place at Granville Market in Vancouver, BC.  We were pleasantly rewarded by a smoked salmon soup.  Though not cream based, this consommé soup was thick in salmon chunky goodness, some barley, split peas and modest portion of chopped veggies.  I am partial to consommé soups, if they are properly executed in rich broth. This one was lipsmack-on right in taste with lots of salmon flavour.

Then the next day, we boarded the Amtrak train with our bikes for Seattle where we cycled over to 2 places with memorable seafood chowder variations.

First-Time Raw Oyster Sampling, Perfect Oyster Chowder:  Seattle
Initially we wondered about dropping by Taylor’s Shellfish, a local chain of restaurants and shellfish distribution.  They listed their products without menu prices.  We cycled over to their sleek, new Queen Anne neighbourhood location.  A  worker was carefully cleaning and finely slicing a fresh geoduck clam stick.

Exquisite oyster chowder that was never rich nor too creamy. Taylor Seafoods, Seattle 2014. Photo by J.Chong
Exquisite oyster chowder that was never rich nor too creamy. Taylor Seafoods, Seattle 2014. Photo by J.Chong

Just last year. I had my first raw oysters in their shells for the first time.  Each fresh oyster in shell, was  festooned with generous drops of champagne vineagarette and fresh lemon juice. Strange I was raw oyster newbie, since I like sashimi and sushi.  Like Taylor’s chalkboard credo:  eating fresh seafood was akin to kissing the mouth of the ocean. Delicate, very fresh oyster meat slipped into my stomach all too quickly.  My oyster chowder was unlike all chowder liquids I’ve had in the past:  no hint of starchiness, smooth non-fatty milk creaminess and pure fresh oyster flavour with many chunks of freshly cooked oyster.  I wish I had a double bowl.

Pike Market Favourite for Diverse Chowder Picks
On the same day, we headed over to Pike Market Chowder Place after bike-wandering among outdoor art sculpture at Olympic Park, by the  Seattle waterfront.  This Seattle market institution often has long lineups of customers,

Several seafood chowder variations to choose. Pike Market Chowder Place, Seattle 2014.
Several seafood chowder variations to choose. Pike Market Chowder Place, Seattle 2014.

looking for their chowder fix.  This place offers several chowder variations.  Though I was tempted by the day  special of crab and lobster chowder, I nixed the idea with the chalkboard’s claim “with lots of good veggies.”

Cycling by one of several arresting outdoor sculpture art in Olympic Park by Seattle's harbourfront. Photo by J. Chong 2014.
Cycling by one of several arresting outdoor sculpture art in Olympic Park by Seattle’s harbourfront. Photo by J. Chong 2014. A cycling jaunt before our 2nd chowder sampling.
Seagull finds its own crab bliss with live mussels at its feet. Vancouver 2015. Photo by J.Chong
Seagull finds its own Dungeness crab bliss with live mussels at its feet. Vancouver 2015. Photo by J.Chong

So we both settled for smoked salmon chowder while sitting outside on a balmy November afternoon. A true Pacific Northwest coast comfort food after a  day of  city cycling along  Seattle’s Burkeman bike-pedestrian trail, browsing a Saturday farmers’ market and getting lost cycling up and down hills in Seattle wealthy neighbourhoods.

Do seafood chowder soups turn your crank? What’s your favourite type of soup?

Fine fresh oyster dishes galore. Our server described each oyster type taste like a series of wine tastings. Seattle 2014.
Fine fresh oyster dishes galore. Our server described each oyster type taste like a series of wine tastings. Seattle 2014.
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32 Comments Add yours

  1. Yum… I love clam chowder…

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    1. Jean says:

      It’s probably rarer for you to have locally made clam chowder where you live, travelplanet? Always delicious, especially from fresh seafood and not much thickener added.

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      1. Oh you will be surprise. There are few restaurants here serve nice clam chowder but i normally get mine from Campbell Soup. 😀

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  2. Sounds like some great memories Jean. I do not like seafood or fish, I know, I know, I’m weird. My favourite soup is homemade beef barley – YUM! ❤
    Diana xo

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    1. Jean says:

      Something in the annals of early childhood must have turned you off from seafood. Admittedly when we were in New Mexico, in Alburqueque, we found only 1 Japanese restaurant and yes the meat was non-seafood in a lot of restaurants. You would be perfect anywhere in the Midwest of North America. No doubt homemade beef barley soup must be less saltier and meat probably more tender.

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      1. I wonder also, if we individually need different foods and it is good to listen to our bodies Jean. Once I ate crab dip, by accident, it didn’t taste fishy to me and I quite enjoyed it. That night, I had wicked stomach cramps and my mouth tasted like it was full of copper pennies!

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        1. Jean says:

          It may be more understanding the source of our foods and what other things were mixed in plus how long the food had been sitting out at room temperature. For seafood, it’s important. I eat seafood about 1-2 times per month. It’s not that often because Calgary tends to have a lot of pre-frozen seafood. When I lived /now visit Vancouver, we would buy fresh stuff. Amazingly the day after Easter Sunday this year, the Vancouver fish market ran completely out of fresh mussels which to Vancouverites, is weird.

          For instance, I would think twice about eating any seafood mixed with mayonnaise if it’s been sitting out for a few hrs. at rm. temperature.

          I don’t prepare seafood chowder at home…since I normally don’t prepare cream/milk based soups. A seafood soup that I prepare is consommé based with veggies which is what a lot of Asian soups are like. Except laska which uses coconut milk, etc.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. diahannreyes says:

    LOL- “after ‘only’ cycling 40 km.” I’d love to be able to say that and qualify it with an only. As someone who has a gluten-sensitivity- I’d welcome finding yummy clam chowder that I could eat (apparently most recipes contain wheat.) I probably wouldn’t cycle 40 km to find it- mostly because I’ve never been much of a cyclist but I would definitely drive over to a good joint that serves gluten-free c.c.!

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    1. Jean says:

      Is your gluten-sensitivity life-threatening, Diahann? A sister of a close friend, does have celiac disease where she’s ended up in the hospital in a life-threatening situation. Seafood chowder you would need to ask if they used flour for thickening it vs. corn starch. Very good chowder doesn’t use any thickening agent and tends to be on the thin side which means it should deepen the seafood flavours.

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      1. diahannreyes says:

        Good to know! Not deathly allergic but I get a rash and now am no longer used to it so I stay away from it.

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        1. Jean says:

          A rash –never knew wheat gluten could cause that. That means anything with rice flour is better for you, I guess. So you have wheat allergy not gluten sensitivity which is celiac disease that is lifethreatening.

          See the infographic here. Less than 1% of population have celiac disease. So it’s now marketing spin/scam..

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  4. Sue Slaght says:

    No I am going to have to get a snack! What a delicious post that was. 🙂 The first time I had clam chowder was as a teen visiting Nova Scotia. I loved it. Since that day I have usually been underwhelmed by ordering it. Perhaps it was just the prairie girl gone to a whole new world moment which I can’t replace. I’m usually the vegetarian/lentil soup type but I do love creamy squash as well.
    That last photos of the seagull with the crab is fabulous!

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    1. Jean says:

      Glad your eastern Maritime memories are also of happy, quality clam chowder, Sue. We make a squash soup from scratch at home, but no need to use cream or milk. Just add 1-2 carrots and nearly a whole cut squash in consommé and after awhile, voila! Yes, I am hauling multiple squashes in my bike panniers for several wks. from the market. 🙂

      I was pleasantly surprised by the seagull with crab in its beak –I could barely see in the camera viewfinder when I took the zoom-in shot.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sue Slaght says:

        Your recipe sounds delicious! I am smiling at the thought of your pannier stuffed with squash. 🙂
        Perhaps those surprise photos , when it is better than we expect, are the best of all.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Mabel Kwong says:

    Chowder has never been my favourite type of soup. As you said, a lot of them are way too creamy and cream tends to make me get mucus in the chest right after eating it. I wonder why many chowders are so creamy. Usually a small bowl of it with some veggies or fish is enough a meal for me.

    Ironically, when I was a kid, I used to love eating thick creamy mushroom soup, the Campbell’s variety kind. Would order it every time my dad took me out to a famous fish and chip shop in Malaysia. These days, I am very happy drinking the typical non-thick, clear Asian soups my mum boils – like potato and tomato soup, peanut soup, radish soup…all boiled using chicken or pork bone.

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    1. Jean says:

      Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup –the go-to convenience soup. I’m not familiar with restaurants in the Canadian cities where I’ve lived, that actually offer branded Campbell’s cream soups. Maybe at some takeaway food court place, who knows.

      I don’t think I’ve had chicken or pork consommé based peanut soup yet. So you probably don’t care for soup with a bit of coconut milk? Are you lactose sensitive? I used to be at different times in life when I forgot to drink milk regularily. I drink skim milk daily and have it with cornflakes or oatmeal. I probably sound hopelessly Canadian-born.

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      1. Mabel Kwong says:

        I actually love coconut milk. Don’t mind it with soup. Don’t mind drinking it by itself either, but too much of that I’ll need to run to the toilet quite a bit. I might be a bit lactose intolerant as a cup of milk and a bit too much cheese leaves me bloated – but never stomach pains. Like you, I drink milk each morning.

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        1. Jean says:

          Once I had a large latte (which uses lots of milk) and then was on a 3 hr. bus ride. Not good but thankfully the toilet was there. Cheese doesn’t bother me –all types. Thank goodness since Canada does produce some excellent gourmet cheeses on par with European ones. I also eat soy cheese.

          Too much butter sauce is not a good thing for me. I never make butter sauces but have tried it in restaurants. But hey: eat, live, learn and eat less next time/avoid.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Isaac Yuen says:

    I’m a Mahattan kind of guy, probably just because I like to be contradictory. But I would never, ever turn down a good chowder. Clams are amazing.

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    1. Jean says:

      Ok, vs. Vancouver local, Issac. Until I lived in Vancouver (from Ontario), I didn’t even know different varieties of fresh clams from the northwest Pacific coast. We also take for granted the huge fresh scallops. 🙂 Not cheap of course.

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  7. Girl Gone Expat says:

    I actually talked with someone at work about possibly going east this summer and she said ‘Then you have to try the clam chowder – they have the best chowder out east!’. It is funny how I sometimes remember the food I had in a place better than anything else. I still remember a delicious mozzarella and prosciutto we had in Italy like it was yesterday, but I can’t remember the name of the village:)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      She’s giving you good foodie advice and make sure you try out fresh lobster just boiled from the lobster pound. Relax by the Atlantic Ocean beach with lobster.. As you know, we don’t have lobster as a species along B.C. coast for much eating. (Instead it’s spotted shrimp.)

      I’ve had a lot of excellent food in our travels –if I could remember it all. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. trainingt1d says:

    oh yummo, I have just eaten dinner but my mouth is watering after that!

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  9. TinLizzie72 says:

    I never thought of smoked salmon chowder but it sounds delicious!

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    1. Jean says:

      Hope you try out the smoked salmon variety TinLizzie, soon.

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  10. Rita H. Azar says:

    Can you believe Jean that I have never tried seafood chowder. It looks amazing though.

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    1. Jean says:

      That’s an indicator you’ve been distracted by other good food dishes.:)

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  11. Should you find yourself with an hour’s layover between ferries on Quadra Island, have yourself a bowl at the Heriot Bay Inn. With garlic focaccia toas. Divinity.

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    1. Jean says:

      I was at Quadra Island for only a few hrs., over 15 years ago. I’m sure seafood would be very fresh there for any soup by the Pacific Ocean!

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  12. I haven’t traveled much but am a seafood snob. Nothing like San Francisco or Boston for chowder, esp. But I hadn’t thought of Canada. =) I realized how hard it is on digestion once I made it (dairy with the seafood, unfriendly mix of protein in the gut) but the taste makes up for it, LOL. And yes, you most certainly needed it that day.

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    1. Jean says:

      I’ve never made any seafood chowder. You’re right: the person who invented seafood chowder must have stirred up a lot of failures first with that unlikely mix of ingredients. Somehow I don’t think it would be the type of soup I wish to attempt.

      Not sure how Canada’s would be different. Does California coast have any huge scallops? B.C. does have a variety like this.

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      1. Scallops are not what I usu. go for so I am not sure. =) Yeah, I think clam chowder is one of those amazing accidents.

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