For many in New England, the smell of summer is salty ocean air and even saltier fried seafood. We love fried fish and the occasional pile of fried scallops, but nothing beats the glory of a basket of fried clams. Paired with golden onion rings and a side of tartar sauce, fried clams are the perfect summer vacation treat. Before you can order though, you’ve got a decision to make – will it be clam bellies or clam strips?
Fried clams (bellies on the left, strips on the right) from The Clam Shack in Falmouth, MA on Cape Cod.
Both are available at every New England clam shack (including our picks for the ), so last summer, we asked our Facebook fans which was better, and got more than 500 passionate replies.
Fried clam bellies are plump and sweet.
As it turns out, our question wasn’t much of a question at all. Right up there with the coffee and the top-split , New Englanders love whole belly fried clams. Here’s a sampling of what we heard:
“Clam strips are like decaf coffee – what’s the point?”
“How is this even a question? Clam strips are not clams, they are deep-fried rubber bands.”
“Clam strips are like a hot fudge sundae without the hot fudge.”
“Go belly or go home!“
“WHOLE clams or NO clams!”
In case you’re wondering, “Just what are clam strips, anyway?” For the record, clam strips are not battered and fried rubber bands (they’re just cuts of larger surf clams), but you get the picture…
Of course, we did hear from a few brave public strips fans, too.
Fried clam strips come with less clam flavor, but no risk of sand.
From the strip-lovers, sand was often cited as the main reason for preferring a no-belly clam.
“No sand in the belly to get in your teeth,” one commenter said. “Not a big fan of munching on a mouthful of sand!” said another. But the strip supporters were few and far between. Nonexistent, almost.
Strips are often associated with Howard Johnson’s restaurants, a topic we explored at length in our recent visit to the last Howard Johnson’s restaurant in New England (see ). The strips were a popular item on the HoJo menu during the 1960s and 1970s – a menu that made its way into the hands of Americans all across the country – so for many outside of New England, the HoJo fried clam strip was their first (and possibly only) fried clam experience.
Clam strips, it seems, are also the only kind of fried clam readily available outside of our six states – a fact that many displaced New Englanders consider to be a unique form of Yankee torture. “Strips are what you settle for in other parts of the country,” one told us. “Bellies are my favorite but all I can get here in Texas are strips, and those are frozen,“ said another. “You guys are killing me out here in Denver where the freshest clam or lobsta is a week old!” said a third.
And yes, we have to admit, the thought of living in a world without the bellies makes us feel pretty darn sad.
So, while on Cape Cod last weekend, my friends and I made a stop at in Falmouth, MA for a late lunch, and ordered both (plus some clam chowders and a lobster roll). The shack is a favorite of NewEngland.com contributor Mike Urban, author of Clam Shacks (Cider Mill Press, 2011), and I have to agree – the clams here are superb (especially – ahem – the bellies), and come with dockside views.
See Mike’s picks for the .
The perfect basket of tasty, sweet fried whole belly clams from The Clam Shack in Falmouth, MA.
So is there still a question about which is best? Let us know your favorite kind of fried clam, and where to get them, in the comments below.
This post was first published in 2015 and has been updated.
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