Cape Cod cuisine revolves around the peninsula’s plentiful seafood – which is sometimes caught just miles from where it’s served in restaurants. It draws from the traditional recipes of many cultures, especially the English, the Portuguese, and the Wampanoag Indians, and includes dishes that range from fried clams and raw oysters to savory scallops and lobster rolls.
The staple of Cape Cod cuisine
For hundreds of years, casual clam shacks have been a staple of Cape Cod cuisine. These shacks serve heaping plates of fried clams in small holes-in-the-wall that are often outdoor seating only. For old-timers, these shacks offer nostalgic trips back to the Cape Cod of yesteryear. For the younger generations, they’re where classic Cape Cod memories are made.
For a truly authentic Cape Cod cuisine, check out classic clam shacks like Spanky’s Clam Shack and Seaside Saloon in Hyannis and Cobie’s Clam Shack in Brewster.
While fried clams and fish are the more iconic Cape Cod meal, many restaurants also serve grilled seasonal fish – especially during the hottest summer months. Visitors can find grilled local catches – like striped bass, dogfish, and monkfish – at restaurants like Catch of the Day in South Wellfleet and Nauset Grill in Orleans.
Another iconic dish is creamy New England Clam Chowder, which is made from clams and potatoes and, sometimes, bacon or spicy Portuguese sausage.
Herman Melville immortalizes this classic soup in Moby Dick, where he writes: “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.”
The iconic Wellfleet bars
Cape Cod cuisine is also known for its raw oysters – which are served at iconic Wellfleet bars such as Mac’s Shack and Beachcomber in Wellfleet – along with Cotuit oysters, steamed clams (known as “steamers”), and steamed mussels served in garlic broth. Another local Cape Cod specialty is stuffed “quahog” clams, which are baked and breaded then served returned to the shell at establishments like Quahog Republic and Black Cat Tavern in Hyannis.
Scallops from Nantucket Bay are among the most prized of the Cape Cod cuisne. Visitors can find these tender delicacies – which are often served seared – at high-end restaurants like Dune and Ships Inn Restaurant on Nantucket. Other local specialties include lobster broiled and dipped in butter sauce, as well as lobster rolls served with mayonnaise or lettuce at restaurants like Sesuit Harbor Cafe in Dennis.
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