Fresh seafood from its extensive coastlines may dominate the list of Massachusetts’s best-known foods, but the Bay State also has a variety of other dishes to offer. A northeastern state with plenty of meals that have become staples across the US, you’re sure to find a few items that you’ll fall in love with.
From classic desserts to the fare of America’s pastime, in no particular order, here are the most famous foods of Massachusetts:
When most people think of New England cuisine, the first thing that comes to mind is clam chowder. It’s unclear whether the dish was brought by British, French, or Canadian settlers, but it’s been a Northeastern staple since the early 1700s. Massachusetts’s easy access to clams from the Cape Cod and Massachusetts Bays means its chowder is second to none.
The version of clam chowder referred to as New England or Boston chowder has a white broth made from a base of milk or cream. Onions, potatoes, and herbs are added for texture and flavor. Shucked clams, the star of the recipe, are cooked gently in the chowder. You can also crumble some oyster crackers in to add thickness or simply have them on the side.
One of the best restaurants to find authentic clam chowder is Boston’s Union Oyster House, as they’ve had it on their menu for nearly 200 years. No matter where you try clam chowder, you’ll understand why it’s the food visitors from all over try when they visit Massachusetts.
Boston Cream Pie
Boston cream pies are a bit of a misnomer, as they’re actually cakes. Invented in the mid-1800s at a time when cakes and pies were baked in the same pans, and thus made their names interchangeable, it’s clear why this dessert has gone on to be well-loved around the world.
The Boston cream pie is believed to have been created in 1856 by Augustine Francois Anezin, a French chef working in the Parker House Hotel (the present-day Omni Parker House). Originally called a chocolate cream pie, this three-layer pastry is made with sponge cake that’s split in half and then filled with creamy custard.
The Boston cream pie varies from the desserts that inspired it by being coated with melted chocolate ganache. The tasty combination of moist cake, smooth custard, and rich chocolate has gone on to have multiple iterations in several other countries. For a taste of a Boston cream pie in the city of its origin, visit Bova’s Bakery in the North End of Boston.
Clams aren’t just for putting in chowder. Fried clams are a common appetizer across New England, perfect in all four seasons of the year. Today’s deep-fried version is thought to have been created in Essex, Massachusetts by Lawrence Henry Woodman in 1916.
Whole soft-shell clams are the best for frying, as they have a more robust flavor than regular clams. They’re fried in a typical fashion of coating them in milk, then flour, and tossing them into hot oil. The result is crispy, chewy, golden-brown clams. You’ll usually find French fries or onion rings served alongside your fried clams.
Since Lawrence Woodman created the modern-day version of fried clams, it’s best to try them at his restaurant, Woodman’s of Essex. Locals and previous tourists alike will agree that a trip to Massachusetts is not complete without a serving of deep-fried clams.
Another seafood entry on the list, Atlantic cod are the namesake of Massachusetts’s famous Cape Cod. These fish were a primary part of Massachusetts’s indigenous peoples’ diets for thousands of years, and then for the European settlers who arrived later. Today, cod is enjoyed for its versatility, mild taste, and nutritional benefits.
Cod can be prepared through several methods, but the most common are baking, grilling, and pan-frying. The soft, flakey texture of the cod’s flesh is its signature characteristic. The fish meshes well with a number of culinary styles, including traditional New England and Mediterranean. It’s also rich in lean protein and several minerals, making it a great choice for health-conscious seafood lovers.
What better place to sample Atlantic cod than on Cape Cod itself? Check out Fishermen’s View Seafood Market and Restaurant for delicious seafood and a view of the bay.
Boston Baked Beans
This Massachusetts favorite is rooted in centuries of history. Native Americans introduced the concept of baked beans to the pilgrims in the 1600s, and the rise of sugar plantations facilitated the production of molasses. The combination of these two events is beans that are stewed (not actually baked!) in molasses to create a sweet and savory dish.
Boston baked beans are typically cooked just as they were hundreds of years ago: slowly. The colonists would stew them and leave them in the oven overnight, and today, the best way to prepare the beans is on low heat in an oven or in a slow cooker. While sugar and syrups can be used to sweeten the beans, molasses is still the go-to.
The savory aspect of Boston baked beans comes from the meat—usually bacon or salt pork—that’s mixed in and cooked with the beans. Restaurants across Massachusetts offer Boston baked beans as a side, or a main component of breakfasts. Beantown Pub in Boston is a great place to give it a try, especially considering that “Beantown” is one of Massachusetts’s nicknames due to this historical food.
There are few things as American as having a hot dog at a baseball game. And with the Boston Red Sox being arguably the most well-known American baseball team, it makes sense that hot dogs are popular game-day fare at Fenway Park. Hot dogs have been sold at Fenway since it opened in 1912.
In 2009, Kayem Foods took over the production of the Fenway Frank sausages, altering the recipe ever so slightly: garlic, onion, and mustard are injected into the meat that is then both boiled and grilled to retain the juiciness and flavor. The hot dog is then placed in New England’s own split-top roll hot dog bun and either served plain or with the customer’s choice of toppings.
Fenway Franks are compact and easy to eat, making them the perfect food to eat while cheering on your team in a crowded stadium. Catching a game at Fenway Park is a great way to spend a day in Massachusetts, and eating one (or two!) of their famous hot dogs really makes the experience complete.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Due to soldiers sharing their cookies, they quickly became beloved across the US. The recipe has essentially remained the same over the years: white and brown sugar, vanilla, chocolate baking chips, and butter. Ruth’s recipe also used nuts (she didn’t say what kind, which presumably means that any would do).
Today, chocolate chip cookies can contain nuts, raisins, bits of fruit, and even white chocolate chips rather than the usual milk chocolate. You can find chocolate chip cookies all around the world, but there’s something special about having them in the state where they were born. Places like Levain Bakery in Boston offer a large selection of cookies, including several variations of chocolate chip.
When it comes to lobster rolls, Massachusetts has the best of both worlds: they get the hot roll from their neighbor Connecticut, and the cold roll from their almost-neighbor Maine. Due to the Bay State being bordered by waterways teeming with lobster, whichever roll you choose will be fresh and delicious.
Both types of lobster rolls are typically served in a split-top bun. Connecticut is where the lobster roll originated, and it’s served warmed with lightly toasted bread. The star of a Connecticut style-roll (other than the lobster, of course) is the generous amount of butter. In contrast, the Maine-style roll’s sauce of choice is mayonnaise.
With celery, lemon juice, and other veggies and herbs, the chilled components of the Maine roll are sometimes referred to as “lobster salad.” No matter what temperature you like your lobster rolls, you’ll find what you’re looking for in Massachusetts. Many restaurants serve both versions of the dish, including Yankee Lobster Company in Boston.
Massachusetts’s coastal geography and lengthy history have given rise to the cuisines that the state’s famous for today. Whether you can’t get enough seafood or you just have a sweet tooth, you’re sure to enjoy the best-known foods that Massachusetts has to offer.