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Whole belly clams vs. strips

  • j

On this board and the other New England-based gourmet food board, most vocal clam lovers post strong sentiments for the inferiority of strips. They urge strip lovers to drop them like a bad habit and enjoy juicy whole belly clams. What are the real reasons why you're not a true clam lover if you don't eat whole bellies? And are there any valid reasons* why some people might want to stay with strips or are they all classless, Friendly diners?

* As someone has already mentioned here, you never know what might be waiting for you inside the bottom feeder's belly.

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  1. t

    I'm a "strip-girl" myself, but I'd venture to say that tried and true clam-lovers would attest to the real intensity of flavor that comes from eating the whole clam and nothin' but the clam. Strips are really just a slight preview of what's to come; "clams-lite" some might say.
    I'm cool with that as I'm not so into that gooey intensity and the possibility of "belly surprise" but hey, that's just me.

    14 Replies
    1. re: twentyoystahs

      I've yet to try a clam belly.
      What is the "gooey" surprise everyone is talking about? What does it look like?

      1. re: Prav

        Try one, that will be explanation enough.

        They aren't "bad", in fact, many would say they are quinticentially New England; a true taste o' the sea and all that jazz. It's just that they are sort of an acquired taste, and you can't be the type of person who is squeamish when it comes to texture, etc.


        1. re: twentyoystahs

          I'm more of a strip person myself. My mom absolutely loves the whole bellied clams, so I took her up to Farnham's a few weeks ago. She got the fried clams an I got the scallops. I tried a few of the whole clams, and while didn't mind the texture or the little pop of the belly, I just can't acquire a taste for them (and I've tried several times). The belly, to me, has a sort of sweet/bitter taste. Definitley differnt from a clam strip. I think it's something that needs to be tried before you make up your mind.

          1. re: Ali G

            So I'm definitely gonna take the plunge and get fried clam bellies. Anyone have any comments about me getting them at Kelly's Landing in South Boston (around the corner from my office) ?

            1. re: Prav

              clam strips and full clams with bellies are not the same thing.Whole clams are the sweet ones and the strips are the big deep see cohogs cut into strips.
              2 different things all together.

              1. re: unruly

                Yes, that was the point of this entire thread.

                1. re: unruly

                  Wow. I didn't know strips were made out of those giant clams! Makes sense I guess. Just didn't think of it...

                2. re: Prav

                  Fried clams at Kelly's Landing are actually really, really good. They supposedly use the same batter recipe that the old Kelly's on the beach used to use. I thought they were top notch. Of course, fried stuff is all I would order there.

            2. re: Prav

              Trick is never look at what's inside. Just pop the whole thing in your mouth and chew. The flavor is so intense as opposed to the fried rubber bands flavorings.

            3. re: twentyoystahs

              I just love any kind of seafood, cooked any way, but only whole clams, is there a price differance in whole or strips? most places I order fied clams don't have strips clams.

              1. re: frygirl

                Whole clams are always more expensive. Strips are made from big ole Quahogs that are not really good for much else other then chowder.

                1. re: StriperGuy

                  I thought clam strips were most often made from razor clams, since they're huge they can slice them into many strips?

                  Man, I miss those big belly clams from Clam Box.

                  Bellies (fried or steamed) taste like the sea, making you feel like you're standing on a whaler, with a beard, in a cable-knit sweater, drinking bourbon from a coffee mug. Strips are fine, but just sort of taste like fried carnival food.

                  1. re: joypirate

                    Razor clams are way too pricey and hard to get. Big ole quahogs is where the strips come from.

                    1. re: StriperGuy

                      I think a lot of strips come from big surf clams, which actually look like giant steamers, the soft-shell clams used for fried whole-belly clams, rather than hard shell clams (called topnecks or littlenecks, cherrystones, or quahogs, depending on their size).

                      Good fried whole-belly clams are one of New England's greatest treats. Clam strips are a bar snack.

            4. As with many foods, it's a matter of personal taste. For me, the strips are eaten more for texture than taste, kind of like eating squid (which I love). It's the bellies that have that briny "taste o'the sea" (as twentyoystahs said), just like oysters but in a more elemental way. Why would I just eat the strips, when I can have the whole experience with the whole clams? It would be like eating stewed belly pork without the layers of fat and skin, like some health-conscious people do. Defeats the whole purpose, IMO.

              1. How many folks here have had steamers at Essex Seafood or the Clam Box or Farnhams? What's the difference between eating the whole steamed clam and eating one that's been battered and fried? Why the sudden squeamishness over part of the clam?

                1 Reply
                1. re: chowcat

                  Exactly. What's all the fuss? Try it, you'll like it. Or you wont. We're not talking about head cheese here. Mmmmmmm... head cheese.

                2. Feel like I am settling into the role of curmudgeon here on chowhound.

                  Silly chowhound, strips are for kids. Not real fried clams at all. Might as well just stick with calamari.

                  Don't get me wrong, if they have really huge bellies and are really mucky, that's a tad much even for me. But ones with nice small to medium bellies define fried clam.

                  The strips are not even worth the calories of consuming them if you ask me. I would actually rather have good calamari or fish and chips. Strips you are really just in it for the breading and the fry job.

                  But really good clams with the bellies...

                  1. From conversations from customers around the country, some have had bad experiences biting into the belly. When clams are spawning the bellies get large and you may even find some green stuff in it.It's harmless of course.Clam strips, remember are sliced from giant see clams. They are not the necks from a steamers clam like some think.

                    Link: http://www.diggerschoice-seafood.com/...

                    1. I loved Clams with the bellies with good old fashion tarter sauce

                      1. Every clam strip I've ever had has been a rubbery, chewy, pre-frozen bit of nastiness.

                        If you can't get whole bellies, eat calamari, shrimp, or lobster. Not clam strips.

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: Boston_Otter

                          agreed. fried rubberbands. clam strips aren't even clam. i love the bellies.

                          and wow this is an old thread....just noticed

                          1. re: Boston_Otter

                            I am sure the OP agreed... 9 years ago when he first posted

                            1. re: Boston_Otter

                              I like clam strips.. The ones i get are at the same clam shacks that sell whole clams and come in the same plastic buckets from the seafood distributor as the whole clams. They are not frozen or pre-breaded. They are then breaded in the same breading as the whole ones. I am willing to bet many who recall the rubbery-prefrozen variety of howard johnsons (which i agree suck) have never actually had the strips at a good clam shack. I find the whole bellies disgusting, often sandy, mushy inside full of black - crap.. The strips are made from Atlantic Surf Clams..so they are from a type of clam. Happens to be the exact same clam used in most clam chowders, clam cakes, etc..

                              1. re: hargau

                                Thank you for this. While I do like belly clams as well, I always find it hilarious that so many people insist all clam strips taste like the things in the Mrs. Paul's boxes. Because they don't, and insisting that they do merely suggests that the person in question hasn't actually ever had a proper clam strip.

                                1. re: hargau

                                  I agree emphatically: the strips from a reputable clam shack are in a different ballpark from the fried shoelaces in the freezer aisle. If I could only have one for the rest of my life, I'd take the whole-bellies, but sometimes a guy wants something fried and clammy but doesn't feel like paying $22 for lunch, even if he could be paying for the best bellies that ever clung to... whatever the heck the rest of a clam is. At the end of the day, they both taste like pure fried summertime.

                              2. To each his own. If you want "chewy", clam strips are the way to go. They are not the same animal.related.but not the same.
                                clam strips are what probably 90% of the US knows.thanks to HOJOS and most other non NE restaurants. There is a slight clam taste.but nowhere near what a nice belly clam gives you...ocean unbridled

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: FriedClamFanatic

                                  I concur- no comparison. There's nothing like an Ipswich whole belly.

                                    1. re: eLizard

                                      Ok, I'll bite on this old thread.

                                      When it was current, "clam strips" were a lousy product, Hojo made popular and almost always sold pre frozen and breaded.

                                      IMO, they weren't very good but many people outside of oceanfront communities were introduce to clams this by them. There re some sophisticated diners on this thread that hadn't heard of bellies up thread less than 10 years ago.

                                      I love a good fried clam, bigger the belly. The Chinatown restaurants have changed my views on the old sea clam. Peach Farm and Bubor Cha Cha both prepare the sea clams, lightly steamed, chopped and with garlic..great dish.

                                      I think I'll have to have the belly clams and fresh sea clams this weekend..2 different trips.

                                      1. re: 9lives

                                        MC hit all the points below.

                                        I'll add cherry stones as my favorite for "on the 1/2 shell," I think the largest and strongest flavored for the hard clams..x chowder.

                                        Love the soft shelled..steamers or fried.

                                        Scratched the sea clam itch at Bubor Cha Cha this weekend..really a superb version.

                                        Saw some sea clams at Jin Hoa?? The old CMart on Washington

                                    2. re: Veggo

                                      Time to head out to The Clam Shack in Ispwich.

                                      1. re: treb

                                        The Clam Box? I love their belly clams (although not a fan of the big bellies.) Jenny Ondioline, who is Not From Here, prefers their clam strips. I have tasted them myself, and they are very good. I still prefer belly clams but am happy to acknowledge that there is room for both in the world.

                                        1. re: Allstonian

                                          Although to be fair, while I prefer the Clam Box's strips to their bellies, that doesn't apply universally. For example, I prefer the bellies to the strips at Hingham Lobster Pound, which is my personal Clam Shack Of Magnificence.

                                          1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                            I like a combo of both. Get both flavors and textures. I can get overwhelmed when eating just bellies or oysters. I want some strips for balance.

                                  1. Clam strips are not usually made from quahogs, which are just the extra-large size of the hardshell shore clam. Quahogs most often get chopped up for use in stuffies, clam cakes, and chowders because they're on the tough side. Their smaller brethren (littlenecks, topnecks, countnecks) are what you typically see served locally on raw bars and in cooked dishes like linguine with clams and white wine sauce, grilled clams, clams casino, etc.

                                    Clam strips are made from a different species, the Atlantic surf clam, a/k/a the sea clam. It's found further offshore. It's huge enough to cut up into strips for frying; it also gets chopped up for chowder. Many crappy commercial canned chowders and clam-flavored products use this clam.

                                    The species that gets turned into whole-belly fried clams at most of our local clamshacks, as well as most steamers, is the softshell clam, which lives in tidal mudflats.


                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                                      ok, here it is. the fact is clam strips are made from surf clams. the foot of the surf clam is cut into strips for clam strips. it is considered a premium product. very tender if done correctly. we process over a 100,00lbs of clams a day.

                                    2. Fried whole bellies are simply sweeter. Just close your eyes, pop one in your mouth and enjoy the wonderful nuances of all the different flavors! Yum!!

                                      And, of course, have a nice cold beer along with them.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: Heuchera

                                        For some reason, people keep digging up this 9-year-old thread.

                                        I was thinking about this question recently, and came to the conclusion that clam strips are kind of like training wheels for whole belly clams. I can understand why someone who is not used to whole belly clams might feel a little squeamish at first. So start with the strips, see if you like them, and then step up to the real thing. (BTW, whole belly clams are a great vehicle for hot sauce. I find tabasco sauce works really well with them!)

                                        1. re: Blumie

                                          Is thick Greek-style pizza or deep-dish Chicago pizza like training wheels for thin-crust coal fired? Totally different beasts for totally different tastes. Again, a clam strip *is* a real clam, just slices of a different species muscle vs. Ipswich whole clams. I prefer whole bellies myself, but why put a judgement on "real" when they both are?