Rhode Island clear-broth clam chowder

 Rhode Island clear-broth clam chowder offers taste of the sea, Native tradition

'The original chowder' was made with quahogs before arrival of colonists, cows and cream


Creamy white New England clam chowder is the most famous. 

Blood-splatter red Manhattan clam chowder is the most reviled.

Yet salty clear-broth Rhode Island clam chowder "is the original chowder," says Jamie Coelho, editor-in-chief of Rhode Island Monthly magazine.

"The indigenous tribes of Rhode Island gathered quahogs to eat, long before the colonists arrived, and used them to make chowder."

There’s a pretty good reason that Native Americans didn’t make creamy chowder.

Rhode Island clam chowder

Rhode Island clam chowder is a clear-broth chowder made with hard-shell clams, known as quahogs, fresh herbs and potatoes. (Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

They didn’t have cows.

The animals are not native to North America.

They arrived in the Americas only with European settlers after the Columbus explorations. Indigenous people had no domesticated livestock. Dairy was not common in their diet.

Clear-broth Rhode Island clam chowder is no less delicious than its more common creamy counterpart.

It’s certainly healthier.

Instead of cream, Rhode Island-style chowder is made with clam broth — which is nothing more than salty ocean water — but often stretched with seafood or chicken stock or beer.

Meaty Rhode Island quahogs are the star of the stew.  Quahogs are large hard-shell clams with dense, flavorful meat. The shellfish grow abundantly in the Ocean State.


The species is found across coastal North America. The word quahog comes from the Ocean State’s native Narragansett people — also the name of a beautiful seaside town with world-class seafood.

Rhode Island clam chowder typically includes fresh herbs such as dill, while potatoes are common.

Coelho cites Sherry Pocknett, the chef-owner of Sly Fox Den Too, in Charlestown, as the state's best repository of its indigenous cuisine.

A member of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, she won the prestigious 2023 James Beard Award as Best Chef in the Northeast.

"Quahog chowder," Pocknett told Coelho in an interview last year, "is a Mashpee Wampanoag recipe made with quahog clams, potatoes, onions and ground black peppercorn in a broth."

Quahog remains an iconic Rhode Island culinary and cultural idiom.

Quahog, Rhode Island is the name of the fictional town featured in the animated sitcom "Family Guy."

"The indigenous tribes of Rhode Island gathered quahogs to eat, long before the colonists arrived, and used them to make chowder."

Rhode Island's clear-broth chowder reflects the state’s deep and close connection with the ocean and its prized quahogs.