According to the food historians, the word chowder and its application to fisherman's stew comes from France, where they have “la chaudree”, which basically means cauldron. Chowder was traditionally a fish stew (no clams), that was brought over from Europe with the settlers. It was a great way to for fisherman to use all the parts of the fish in an economical and palatable way.
As the years went on, clams and quahogs were found to be plentiful in New England, and chowders were often made with those ingredients instead. But due to regional differences, there are many interpretations on clam chowder. Here are the two basic types.
Manhattan Clam Chowder: Some characterize it more as a vegetable/tomato based soup with clams. It was said to have its roots in Rhode Island, where cooks were known to add tomatoes to New England style chowders. Tomatoes were plentiful, and they believed it was an obvious choice to add them to the chowder.
New England Clam Chowder is my favorite, I used to eat bowls of it working at an Oyster House here in Florida. What’s your favorite type of Clam Chowder??