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Festivals are held by many municipalities, often to get people in the community together and encourage tourism. Most festivals have themes based on harvests or regional specialties. Wherever there is a coastline or a nearby body of water that produces clams, one is likely to encounter a clam festival. Clam festivals are a celebration of this tasty bivalve and of seafood cooking.
Clam festivals are renowned for the variety of ways presented for cooking with clams. Every clam festival will have a clam chowder cook-off in which local and visiting restaurants and chefs cook huge vats of their special recipes for chowder. Visitors have the opportunity to sample many styles of chowder, from the tomato-based New York style to the creamy New England version. A panel of judges typically will taste all of the offerings and award prizes to the winning recipes.
Clams usually are offered for eating raw out of the shell. This is considered a delicacy by many people. They usually are eaten with lemon juice and hot sauce. Vendors often will be busily opening clams while lines of fans wait for their clams on the half shell.
Fried clams, calamari and other fried seafood are standard seafood festival offerings. The air at any clam festival is rich with the smell and sounds of seafood turning golden in deep vats of boiling oil. Plates are piled high with calamari, an Italian dish made with fried squid, which is served with tomato sauce for dipping these batter-fried rings.
Other booths offer seafood meals of spaghetti with clam or seafood sauce and have huge vats of tomato sauce loaded with clams, shrimp and lobster. Though clams have place of pride in any clam festival, nearly every type of fish or shellfish is available in some type of dish. The mixed seafood dishes can be a great way for festival-goers to try new tastes.
One of the real benefits of a festival like this is that it provides the community with the opportunity to try the best that the local restaurants and chefs have to offer. There frequently are coupons and other incentives offered to ensure that those favorite dishes are tried again and again. People who enjoy cooking will often leave with award-winning recipes to try at home, because many of the chefs are proud of their creations and are willing to share their knowledge. These festivals can be culinary adventures.