Today's food holiday is chowdah this world - January 21 is National New England Clam Chowder Day.
Let's get one thing straight off the bat: New Englanders are serious about their chowder. Chowders - a hearty soup typically made from seafood and/or vegetables - vary by region. The differences might seem subtle to the untrained eye, but to representatives of that region, they're black and white.
The main difference between a New England clam chowder and a Manhattan clam chowder is the addition of tomatoes to the latter. Italian immigrants brought tomatoes with them to the New World and they became so popular, they were put in most dishes. New Englanders disagree with this addition, so much so that in 1939, an assemblyman in Maine introduced a bill making it illegal to add tomatoes to clam chowder.
New England clam chowder is a milk- or cream-based soup that's thickened by the starch from potatoes or crushed crackers. Onions and celery sautéed in bacon fat add a salty component that complements the clams. Littleneck or cherrystone clams work best for chowders. They're cooked in salted water until the shells open, revealing the sweet and salty flesh. The liquid the clams are cooked in becomes the broth for the soup, adding extra clam flavor. New England chowders are served simply with crackers and a spoon.