After leaving Sydney, Nova Scotia we cruised for a day and then Sea Princess berthed at the Black Falcon cruise terminal in Boston on a clear and sunny morning. Boy were we excited as Boston was to be our first American destination – ever!
Our day in Boston was to have a foodie focus for we’d booked on a ship’s excursion : A Boston culinary tour in the North End – the oldest neighbourhood in Boston – also known as ‘Little Italy’ and later in the day, independently, we would also get to taste two iconic foods of the region; namely a New England Lobster Roll and Clam Chowder.
The Day Begins with a Trolley Ride
Setting off on our shuttle from the cruise terminal, in what’s known as a ‘trolley’, we headed downtown. The temperature began to rise, and we were left in no doubt that it was going to be a hot and humid day in Boston.
We met our tour guide Jackie, a food writer based in Boston, who was taking us on our culinary journey that morning, walking us through an area she knows well – and about which she is absolutely passionate.
North End is Boston’s oldest residential neighbourhood dating back to the 1630’s. it’s a one square mile waterfront community where there’s a huge variety of outdoor cafes and Italian specialty stores.
Hanover and Salem streets are the two main streets of this bustling historic neighbourhood and they are literally lined with fabulous restaurants, cafes and shops selling a variety of delectable goods representing various regions all across Italy.
First Italian Arrivals.
The first Italian immigrants arrived in Boston from Genoa in the 1860’s and by the 1880’s Italian immigrants flowed into the North End on the heels of the departing Irish.
Since the 17th Century this tight knit community has remained deeply rooted to the Italian culture and today it’s still very evident.
Boston Culinary Tour
Our walking tour started in popular Hanover Street but we quickly dived off into some of the lesser known side streets to explore this fascinating part of town, and soon the history of the area became entwined with the food. We visited Maria’s Pastry Shop, Bricco Pane Terria, Bricco Salumeria and Pasta Shop, Alba Produce, Polcari’s Coffee and Hanover Wine and Spirits.
At Maria’s Pastry shop we started with Maria’s award winning ‘Best of Boston’ Cannoli – a crunchy fried dough shell filled with vanilla cream. Delicious! We also had little tastes of marzipan, biscotti and many other freshly baked delicacies.
Italian Deli Delights
We also visited Bricco Salumeria; a salumeria is a cured meat shop – or more loosely an Italian delicatessen. A salumeria dates back to Roman times when curing meat was an especially helpful way to preserve it – and what grew out of necessity later became culinary art.
At Bricco’s we tasted fresh olives, balsamic vinegar, prosciutto and cheeses and learnt so much about Italian food.
Our day in Boston wasn’t only about stuffing ourselves silly.
Later on we managed to cram a lot of walking in and we visited Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall, and then walked to Downtown Crossing and popped into Macy’s Department Store.
We also walked along a section of the Freedom Trail and saw Paul Revere’s house (below) and the exact spot where the Boston Massacre occurred – The Old State House.
Dave even got roped into a street performance by a talented group of breakdancers!
When we were walked out we hopped on Super Deck Tours, an upper deck hop-on-hop-off trolley which stopped at 15 different places around the city, although there are amphibian land and water trolleys you could choose as well (below).
Our tour featured a comprehensive drive around the heart of Boston, crossing the Charles River into Charlestown where we had views of the historic Bunker Hill Monument.
We went to Cambridge and passed the world renowned MIT and to Dave’s delight took a trip out to Fenway Park home of the Boston Red Sox.
We passed the famous Cheers bar, made famous in the well known TV series, drove up Newbury Street (famous for its shopping) and the beautiful Copely Square, and on into the theatre district and Boston common – and much much more.
The day ended by the waterfront with us munching a delicious bowl of Clam Chowder, and sipping an Aperol Spritz.
Prisoners in Charles Street Jail were fed lobster twice a week because back in the early days of Boston Lobster was considered a ‘throwaway’ fish.
“Did you know that according to statistics Italians tend to spend 25% of their income on good quality food and only 10% on healthcare, while in America these figures are turned around,” Jackie told us.
Foodie Tips from Jackie
- Store your cheese in cheese papers in the fridge for maximum freshness. Buy online.
- On Italian grocery foods such as balsamic vinegar or pasta look for the letters DOP which means Designated Protected Origin.
- SABA balsamic vinegar will have been 12 years in its aging in 5 different types of wood – add wine vinegar to dilute it.
- Looking for a good balsamic vinegar? Make sure the first two ingredients are listed as ‘Grape Must and Red Wine Vinegar.’
- Look for first cold pressed olive oil. You will recognise a first cold pressed oil by the little tickle it gives you in the back of your throat – this it the anti-oxidant at work. Olive oil is a good anti-oxidant.
- When buying good olive oil for sautéing don’t buy the most expensive, Partanna is a good brand.
- How to cook pasta – “Use lots of water, the pasta should dance in the water, and put lots of salt in the water – It should be like the ocean,” Jackie told us.
- If you’re buying boxed pasta look for “Coarse Bronze Drying or Al Bronzo” pasta, and “make sure the pasta has a rough looking texture on the outside,” said Jackie.
- “Don’t buy cheap pasta because it’s coated with silicone and the sauce just flies off.”
- “Liquorice helps with digestion. It’s an old school idea, many Italians chew on a stick of liquorice after a meal,” said Jackie.
- “For a healthy snack munch on dry roasted chick peas – they’re tasty and full of roughage, and great with a cold beer and so much better for you than saturated fat crisps.”
- Cinnamon helps regulate blood pressure and blood sugar, but don’t use too much of the commercial type as it contains cumerin which in large quantities is not good for you. Look out for Ceylon cinnamon which is much healthier.
- Honey has antibacterial qualities, and is also good for coughs.
- “Italians might have an aperitif before dinner to aid digestion and to get the digestive juices going. These are generally herbal based drinks such as Aperol Spritz or Campari with soda. Gin and tonic is not ideal for the digestion as as a before dinner drink because it stops the digestive enzymes working. Italians will then have wine with a meal and perhaps Grappa afterwards or a digestivi like Limoncello which is good for digestion,” Jackie explained.
- If you’re buying pine nuts look for the longer, thinner sort – these are true Italian and very rich and creamy – great to throw a few in a pesto. If you buy pine nuts that are crunchy, and chubby with a tiny brown tip, they are from China and not as creamy.
- Bitter greens are loaded with anti oxidants, but they lose their goodness quickly. Dandelion greens, and green lettuce are very good for you. Eat romaine lettuce rather than iceberg for better nutrition. So too are Fava beans
- Eat salad at the end of your meal, not with it as it’s great for digestion. It’s roughage. You’ll feel lighter after a heavy meal if you eat like the Italians do.
- Fennel – is great with fish. Don’t waste any fennel. Anything unused put in a zip lock bag and then use it in your soup stock.
- You can make a great salad using grated raw fennel, and chop up apple and celery and add an orange segments or orangey dressing.
- Don’t buy shaved parmesan – it’s partly wood shavings. Buy a block of parmesan, store it in the fridge and grate it when you need it. Don’t throw away the rind – save it in a zip-lock bag and when you make soup throw it in. It will give the soup a lovely flavour and you can eat it afterwards as it goes lovely and gooey.
- Mince, chop or press garlic and leave it a few minutes before you use it to release its anti oxidant properties.
- Cabbage is really good for you. Blanch some leave to make them pliable then stuff the leaves with cheese or mince meat or anything you like really. You an also sauté cabbage in olive oil and garlic then chop it up and eat as a salad.
Two regional dishes we also experienced in Boston …
One of New England’s most famous dishes is Clam Chowder. It is white and has a milk or cream base and is made with potatoes, onion and pork or bacon and of course clams. It’s also called Boston Clam Chowder. It’s often accompanied with oyster crackers which can be crushed and mixed into the soup as a thickener or used as garnish.
Manhattan Clam Chowder is red and is more like a tomato vegetable soup with clams added for flavour.
There are various recipes throughout America.
Like chowder, lobster rolls are the culinary pride of New England – and they’re delicious – we had one each for lunch.
A lobster roll consists of chunks of tender, sweet, cooked lobster meat barely covered in a thin coating of mayonnaise, all stuffed into a top split white bread hot dog bun.
We tried lobster rolls in North End at Pauli’s – where the blackboard stated we would get ‘Wicked fresh food, that always tastes crazy good.’
“I started working in the North End in my family’s food business when I was just 8 years old. Back then, the North End was a neighbourhood where everybody actually knew your name, and ‘freshness, quality and value’ weren’t just trendy catchphrases – they were simply expected,” says Pauli.
Boston is New England’s largest city.
Must See – Must Do
- Faneuil Hall and Quincy Marketplace. A Georgian building and marketplaces, one of America’s most unique shopping and dining experiences with loads of restaurants and international food vendors, carts and kiosks brimming with yummy treats.
- Newbury Street – for all the upscale boutiques situated in the historic Back Bay section of the city.
- Freedom Trail – a 2.5 mile heritage trail marked by red bricks on the pavement.
- Take a trolley tour.
- Visit Little Italy.
A big thank you to Jackie for a fantastic tour, and for all her ‘foodie’ tips above.
Over to you Lifestylers – what tips do you have for Boston – or maybe an Italian foodie tip?
I’m a guest of Princess Cruises but all opinions are my own.