The Occidental Hotel was opened in Auckland’s Vulcan Lane by American sailor Edward Perkins on 2 July 1870. It’s now a Belgian beer bar which serves beer and mussels. What’s interesting is that an advertisement in the Auckland Star on 12 August 1870 states: “Clam chowder. At the Occidental Hotel tomorrow.” I can’t find any earlier New Zealand references to chowder as a dish. Perkins died in 1905. Did he introduce us to chowder? Looking at other references in early New Zealand newspapers it’s clear that it was closely associated with the United States. An item in the Ashburton Guardian on 6 March 1888 marvels at the wide variety of canned foods in America and notes that canned clam chowder “is also now coming into general use; the article has not been on the market to any great extent heretofore, but is now being called for and the demand is increasing.” The chowder obviously made its way here: Taylor’s at 97 Colombo Street, Christchurch advertises its Christmas specialties in the Press on 6 January 1902, including some New American Importations such as 3-pound tins of clam chowder for 1 shilling and 2 pence per tin.
Chowder was definitely seen as an American dish. A few months later on 5 August 1902 the Bruce Herald carried a heart-wrenching article headed “It’s Tomato Chowder Now”, pointing to comments in the New York Sun that the “good old American dish which used to deserve its name of claim chowder” seems to have degenerated into a thick, sour-tasting tomato soup. “There is scarcely a place in town where one can get clam chowder now as it was made when the dish earned the great measure of popularity upon which its disreputable successor is still trading,” the writer complains. “Instead of clams tomatoes have become the chief ingredient, and the result is an indigestible mess that recalls only in name the savory chowder of better days, and nine- times out of ten the deluded diner who partakes of it will be afflicted with heartburn for hours afterward.” It obviously rankled. The Bruce Herald repeated the story word for word a month later in its issue of 5 September 1902.
And to close, a surprising disclosure in the Feilding Star on 28 October 1903: “In order to meet a requirement of American visitors, the Tourist Department proposes to introduce clams to New Zealand waters. No real American can appreciate the beauties of Nature until he has been ‘filled up’, with his favorite dish— clam chowder.” This obviously didn’t work. Fast forward a couple of decades and the following item appeared in the Auckland Star on 12 August 1925: “American visitors! Ask for Tiki Toheroa Soup. Like Clam Chowder, only more so. At hotels, restaurants and stores.”