Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Best Thing I Did in Cape Cod. Hint: It is not a carnival at Provincetown


I first heard of Cape Cod from a 60-something-year old gregarious woman named Ayse and a loud musician named John. My eyes twinkled and my jaws gaped open in a permanent rigor mortis as she recounted the story of how she carried pounds and pounds of clams and mussels from the beach in her skirt, to be steamed and eaten right away.  John just nodded at a table-length, with a face of you-are-missing-out.

How big was her skirt? Is it ethically traded? How do you find clams? And, they are free? Do they taste good? How do I get on that gig?

Ayse was my former boss at the National Institute of Health, where I slaved away (I meant…work) for two years. John was my co-worker. I did not and still do not know what he does. Every summer, like salmons, most members of the lab migrate to Woodshole, MA to do scientific things in the Marine Biological Laboratory (I guess, salmons migrate to copulate, so my analogy doesn’t work here. Or does it? I always wonder). Anyway, Ayse and I were the two had to stay behind because our research work needed constant attention in the exact same room on the third floor of Building 49. Every year, I dreamed, and pondered deeply about my life as a frolicking Asian, searching for free clams, oysters and mussels in cold water of Cape Cod at sunset time. I told myself that day would come. One thing I learned in life is “perseverance” - if you bitch enough, someone (aka your boss or co-workers) will hear it and they will invite you to shut you up.

Anyway, fast forward two years, I drank too much wine on an international flight and accidentally signed up American Airline credit card on flight, and got 30,000 miles – enough to give a round-trip ticket from anywhere in the US. I called John right away to see if he can host me and Dana, another poor unfortunate soul who did not get to go to Woodshole. John said the word “YES” (via SMS).

Fast forward more, I am now in Cape Cod, with one clear mission – collect clams on shore, and eat. I made sure John knew this motive again by subtly dropping the hints. For starters, I recommend asking, “are we clamming?” as soon as the person wakes up, before he has gathered enough energy to say “no”. Finally, John got the message and we decided to dig up clams during the low tide in the morning. I am incredibly allergic to waking up early, but for those clams, I would be fine not sleeping for 24-hour straight. We ate Portuguese rolls for dinner and decided to go to bed early the day before. “John, I am making noises with pots and pans if you don’t wake up at 5:30am,” I yelled at John before heading to my bed. John chuckled and started snoring within minutes. What a life, John.

The next day, we headed to the shore to collect clams. John kept on mentioning the whole trip that we need to be accompanied because we did not have license to collect clams, and that they have to be a certain size.  The tide was already coming in. I was this annoying millennial, with a DSLR, admittedly to get some pictures for my social media. John and Dana went ahead and raked the shore in search of clam as I chased the light. I joined them after a few minutes (apparently, according to John, it was more like 30 minutes). The water was cold, but the motivation of catching those mollusks was greater. I waded in until the water reached my crotch. I shivered while crossing my finger that I still had an extra clean underwear. Beneath my shoes, I could feel gravels, rocks and seaweed beds. I raked for a solid 10 minutes but things I pulled up were sadly either rocks or seaweed, and the clams I found were too small to take. It was hard work. John and Dana, on the other hand, were pulling in big ones. You know there were times, something clicked and you suddenly got a hold on how to ski and how to bike. Well, that unfortunately did not happen to me with clamming, although I did manage to get a couple of big ones. I just decided that the universe is telling me to beat it and go take pictures. I listened to my omens, went to grab my DSLR siting on a rock on the shore, dusted the sand particulates and took pictures of John and Dana working to earn their keep. What a life, Soe. What a life.

The sun was strong. The water got high. We got a big bucket of clams. We were hungry. It was time for all of us to have breakfast. John promised some leftover Portuguese rolls. On my return, I gave my respect to Ayse for single-handedly clamming and carrying them in her skirt. I would never have been able to do that - even if I had a skirt.

John’s recipes on steamed clams


5 lbs. of clams
1 bottle or 500ml of lager
500 ml of water
10 dried bay leaves


John purged the clams by soaking in a metal cage hanging in water, from his boat overnight.This is probably the most critical step for wild-caught clams because they can hold a lot sands inside. But, I think if you bought from stores, a mere ten-minute soak in freshwater is sufficient.

The next day, I scrubbed them thoroughly. Otherwise, your beautiful broth will turn muddy and possibly sandy. Even if you buy from a store, you will still need scrub clean. (For more information, check out this short video by the kitchn).

Grab the largest pot with a lid you can find. Plunge in beer, water and bay leaves. Bring it to a boil. Drop in the clams. John actually put them in an actual steamer, but I don’t think it matters. Turn down the heat to medium high and cook for ten minutes or when clams open. Be careful not to over-cook the clams. What you want are succulent buttery flesh with a burst of ocean flavor. If you overcook, you will get rubbery fishy hi-chew pieces.

Serve with a rustic bread to soak those clammy and almost herbal broth.


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