Day 6 (ctd.) Boston. Cetacean, Customs, Chowdah.

T is for Townshend

After our whale-watching we hied ourselves down to the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum.

Everyone has heard of the Boston Tea Party, haven’t they?  A group of brave patriots cunningly disguised themselves as Mohawk warriors and threw evil British tea into Boston Harbour as a protest against the evil British raising taxes on tea.  And did I mention how evil the British were?

As usual in real life, the truth was a bit more nuanced than that.  

There were a few of the tea-dumpers dressed as Mohawks, although according to some sources the disguises consisted of literally a few feathers in their hair and taking their shirts off (did I mention it was December 16th and jolly cold?) which honestly sounds about as convincing as me sticking a couple of pencils under my upper lip and claiming to be a walrus.

The 1773 Tea Act taxes were actually a reduction on the tax rate for tea imposed by the Townshend Act taxes in 1767.  But the colonists had pretty much been ignoring those taxes and drinking smuggled tea for the last few years, so I guess the lower tax rate was actually higher than paying no tax.  Interestingly, the price of tea plus tax was lower than the smuggled price, so it wasn’t just about the price.  The issue of taxation without representation was definitely in the front of many colonist’s minds. 

But enough history! What about the museum?

The Museum is in the middle of Fort Point Channel, a pleasant walk south from Long Wharf where the Aquarium and harbour cruises are. Access is from the Congress Street bridge.

The tour starts in a mini-version of the Old South Meeting House, where the visitors join in a mini-version of the meeting that led to the Tea Party. Boo taxes! Yay liberty!

Visitors are given little cards with some biographical details of people who were present at the meeting, some of whom took part in the tea-dunking, and encouraged to take part in the Yays! and Boos!

Then it’s down to the dock to see the replicas of two of the ships involved in the Tea Party, and some exhibits of items and replicas of dockside times in 1773 Boston.

Then upstairs again for some more exhibits including a short film about the Minutemen and a well-stocked gift shop.

Overall the museum is interesting and entertaining, and a pretty worthwhile way of spending a couple of hours at USD30 for adults and USD22 for urchins.

Boston Meanz Beanz

Our fourth day in Boston and we haven’t had beans or chowder yet, shame on us. Dinner on day 6 was dedicated to experiencing traditional Boston food.

A little bit north of Faneuil Hall is Union Street, populated by a row of pubs and taverns. Among them is the Union Oyster House, an icon of Boston pubs which has been running as a restaurant for nearly 200 years in a Colonial-era building that is at least a hundred years older again.

Please forgive the photos below. As you can see the lighting inside is entirely housed in extremely yellow fittings. I’ve de-yellowed the pictures as much as I can but they are still pretty average.

Inside and upstairs, the dining room is low ceilings, heavy beams, and a mixture of tables and booths. The menu is heavy on seafood, with plenty of oysters, lobster, clams, chowder, shrimp dishes and a steak and chicken dish just in case you don’t like seafood (although vegetarians get short shrift with just a couple of salads and a vegetable side dish to choose from).

We wanted to experience traditional Boston food so we ordered a range of classics.

Crab cakes are always a favourite. These were pleasantly meaty.

Boston Tea Party cocktails – iced tea with citrus vodka – went down very smoothly after a long day of whale watching and general touristing.

Seafood platter with oysters Rockefeller, grilled clams, oysters and shrimp.

The famous clam chowder was creamy and hearty with plenty of clams.

Cornbread, another New England staple, was soft and fluffy, slightly sweet in the local style which to be honest is not to my personal tastes. What can I say, I like my cakes sweet and my bread not.

Boston baked beans, at last! Again in a traditional New England style, these are hearty in a rather wet, soupy base and very lightly flavoured. A good side dish or breakfast.

And that’s kind of the thing about New England cooking. It was born of a time and place when a quarter of a pound of salted pork belly was what you had to give a little meaty kick to a chowder which was mostly potatoes and milk and clams. It was simple, and hearty, and kept body and soul together in a long winter when there wasn’t much in the way of greens and there definitely weren’t fancy spices and artisanal vinegars piled up on the shelves of your local supermarket. Let’s appreciate it for what it is.

Union Oyster House is an old-school food destination serving hearty time-honoured dishes in a traditional style. Not the cheapest, with our visit running USD 125 with tip, but we had a good taste of classic Boston food and few nice drinks before heading home to rest up for another long walk on the Freedom trail.

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