Ishmael and Queequeg love soup. What kind? Chowder, of course. We discover just how much they love chowder in a chapter Melville calls “Chowder,” where we pick up our tale.
Hungry as all get out, our heroes stumble into the Try Pots Inn, owned by Peter Coffin’s cousin Hosea Hussey. Clearly restaurant and hotel management runs in the family.
Ishmael asks the proprietress, Mrs. Hussey, for supper, to which she barks, “Clam or Cod?” Ishmael politely asks for more details about the fish: “What’s that about Cods, ma’am?” Is it grilled, fried, breaded? Mrs. Hussey refuses to elaborate and instead repeats her question like an exasperated diner waitress: “Clam or Cod?”
Ishmael starts to become alarmed. “A clam for supper?” he asks. “A cold clam: is that what you mean, Mrs. Hussey? But that’s a rather cold and clammy reception in the winter time, ain’t it, Mrs. Hussey?” He and QQ are starving; he’s hoping it comes with a side order of french fries and cole slaw. Mrs. Hussy has no interest in expanding upon the details of the house specials. After hearing Ishmael say “clam” three times, she bolts for the kitchen and yells to the cook, “Clam for two.”
Panic sets in: “Queequeg, do you think that we can make out a supper for us both on one clam?” They would need a pretty small fork.
No need to strategize as it turns out. This clam/cod business is just a comical miscommunication, as most comical communications are. Mrs. Hussey brings both of them a bowl of clam chowder worthy of Emeril’s. Chowder is the specialty of the house. In fact, it’s the only specialty of the house. However, there are two kinds of chowder—clam and cod. When Ishmael said “clam,” Mrs. Hussey brought them clam chowder. After finishing up the clam chowder, they order “cod,” and Mrs. Hussey brings them cod chowder. They have cracked the cod, I mean, code.
Ishmael and Queequeg go on to chow down chowder for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Doesn't seem to bother those two chowderheads. Not one clam. Or cod.