And so it turned out; Mr. Hosea Hussey being from home, but leaving Mrs. Hussey entirely competent to attend to all his affairs. Upon making known our desires for a supper and a bed, Mrs. Hussey, postponing further scolding for the present, ushered us into a little room, and seating us at a table spread with the relics of a recently concluded repast, turned round to us and said- “Clam or Cod?”
“What’s that about Cods, ma’am?” said I, with much politeness.
“Clam or Cod?” she repeated.
“A clam for supper? a cold clam; is that what you mean, Mrs. Hussey?” says I, “but that’s a rather cold and clammy reception in the winter time, ain’t it, Mrs. Hussey?”
But being in a great hurry to resume scolding the man in the purple shirt who was waiting for it in the entry, and seeming to hear nothing but the word “clam,” Mrs. Hussey hurried towards an open door leading to the kitchen, and bawling out “clam for two,” disappeared.
“Queequeg,” said I, “do you think that we can make a supper for us both on one clam?”
However, a warm savory steam from the kitchen served to belie the apparently cheerless prospect before us. But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh! sweet friends, hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuits, and salted pork cut up into little flakes! the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt. Our appetites being sharpened by the frosty voyage, and in particular, Queequeg seeing his favourite fishing food before him, and the chowder being surpassingly excellent, we despatched it with great expedition: when leaning back a moment and bethinking me of Mrs. Hussey’s clam and cod announcement, I thought I would try a little experiment. Stepping to the kitchen door, I uttered the word “cod” with great emphasis, and resumed my seat. In a few moments the savoury steam came forth again, but with a different flavor, and in good time a fine cod-chowder was placed before us.
We resumed business; and while plying our spoons in the bowl, thinks I to myself, I wonder now if this here has any effect on the head? What’s that stultifying saying about chowder-headed people? “But look, Queequeg, ain’t that a live eel in your bowl? Where’s your harpoon?”
Fishiest of all fishy places was the Try Pots, which well deserved its name; for the pots there were always boiling chowders. Chowder for breakfast, and chowder for dinner, and chowder for supper, till you began to look for fish-bones coming through your clothes. The area before the house was paved with clam-shells. Mrs. Hussey wore a polished necklace of codfish vertebra; and Hosea Hussey had his account books bound in superior old shark-skin. There was a fishy flavor to the milk, too, which I could not at all account for, till one morning happening to take a stroll along the beach among some fishermen’s boats, I saw Hosea’s brindled cow feeding on fish remnants, and marching along the sand with each foot in a cod’s decapitated head, looking very slipshod, I assure ye.
Supper concluded, we received a lamp, and directions from Mrs. Hussey concerning the nearest way to bed; but, as Queequeg was about to precede me up the stairs, the lady reached forth her arm, and demanded his harpoon; she allowed no harpoon in her chambers. “Why not? said I; “every true whaleman sleeps with his harpoon- but why not?” “Because it’s dangerous,” says she. “Ever since young Stiggs coming from that unfort’nt v’y’ge of his, when he was gone four years and a half, with only three barrels of ile, was found dead in my first floor back, with his harpoon in his side; ever since then I allow no boarders to take sich dangerous weepons in their rooms at night. So, Mr. Queequeg” (for she had learned his name), “I will just take this here iron, and keep it for you till morning. But the chowder; clam or cod to-morrow for breakfast, men?”
“Both,” says I; “and let’s have a couple of smoked herring by way of variety.”
Herman Melville, Moby Dick (1851), chapter 15: Chowder.
one of my (many) favourite passages from Moby Dick, even well before i developed my deep and, time-telling, abiding love of seafood. perhaps love is too strong a word, but a pronounced fondness subtended by a curiosity, the newness of which betrays my perpetual betrayal of my own roots – to think! born on one coast and raised on the other, and no particular love for the bounty of the sea, nor even the ability to swim! only an uneasy romanticization and faint mistrust of its vastness (“frolic in brine, goblins be thine,” they say). it’s a sin, i admit.
however, in the spirit of making amends whilst supplying for my own gratification, last week i struck out into deep (not so deep, really) Verdun to try Les Îles en Ville (5335 wellington, a little west of de l’église metro), which we discovered to be an adorable little resto specializing in the cuisine of les Îles de la Madeleine. it was no Try Pots, i have to say, but then neither was that what we were expecting – it was, however, excellent. a touch pricey, but by no means exorbitant. the seafood soup that i started with was adequate, but what really shone was, well, everything else. i can confidently recommend their galettes à la morue (cod cakes), and both the salmon and mackerel pies, which firmly put into perspective the great injustice done to the whole tradition of miniature standalone pies perpetrated by the premade, frozen-then-inevitably-scalding pot pies of my youth. good lord. on a similar, more excessive, equally delicious note, the special Pot en Pot aux fruits de mer, which is basically the entire magdalen marine ecosystem swimming in béchamel and encased in pastry. you will burn your mouth. you will be satisfied. the seafood crêpe with sauce homardiere was also beyond reproach, and might have utterly obliterated from memory my last experience with a seafood crêpe (see, “I just feel like I payed 7$ for the -experience- of eating a Louisiana-style cream sauce seafood crepe from a Der Schnitzelmann wagon in a parking lot in Sackville, New Brunswick at 12:35am.”), had the the previous one not been so hilariously contextualized.
they also had on the menu, to my great excitement, a bagosse – originally a sort of moonshine madelinot, but more politely, and i imagine institutionally, or local liqueur – made from cranberry and dandelion, which i was foiled in ordering after dinner, on the grounds that they were out, and waiting for the next boat to come in. which i had no choice but to accept with unfeigned maritime alacrity.
and if you think i’m not going to go back just for the chance to experience the sheer amertume that such a liqueur promises, you my friend are mistaken. well, let’s say half-mistaken. they also sell some microbrews from les Îles and host occasional ‘traditional Québecois music’ nights, so you know, when in Rome…