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Are there other names which mean essentially the same thing. If there is a univeral process that goes into the making of a chowder that distinguishes a chowder, what is it? Are there some sorts of food produce conducive to "chowdering" and others that are not? Is there a list of chowder types somewhere? I ask because I sense that all of those elements would go into a good definition--not just a dictionary definition--of what makes for good chowders.

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All of this is pretty clearly answered by Wikipedia and seems to be a "general reference" question to me. We really try to discourage these here; see also Should "general reference" questions be asked and answered here?. If this isn't narrowed down then it will have to be closed. –  Aaronut Oct 28 '12 at 15:18

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In tribute to French origins, can I suggest that chowders are soups that begin with a roux. Rhode Island chowder is thick but clear - it contains butter, but no cream or tomato. It does start with a butter/flour base.

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Interesting ... based on that definiton, that would mean that gumbo would be a chowder. –  Joe Jul 18 at 16:15
    
@joe maybe he means it as a necessary condition and not a sufficient one? The other answer starts by saying chowders are cream based. –  rumtscho Jul 18 at 17:43

According to Food Network and chowhound.com, chowders are thick, usually cream- or milk-based soups with chunks of vegetables and/or fish. A cream soup is generally pureed, a thinner consistency and smooth, with no chunks of food.

Food Network also notes the regional aspects, in that the Northeast seafood-based chowders are more common, while further inland meat-based soups are more prevalent. http://www.foodnetwork.com/how-to/chowder-and-soup/index.html

Chowder's roots are in the Northeast, with the most popular being New England Clam Chowder. It has been said that the soup took its name from a type of French cooking vessel, the chaudiere. But the French can't claim responsibility for this truly is an American tradition. Customarily, chowder included onion, potatoes, and cream. Nowadays, not all chowders adhere to these guidelines. New England Clam Chowder is sometimes made with milk, and Manhattan Clam Chowder doesn't have any milk or cream, but has a tomato base instead. As chowders pop up across the country, they have taken on many different ingredients but most people still expect a chunky, creamy soup. So whether it's corn chowder or seafood chowder, it will not be a smooth puree and it will not be thin and wimpy.

PreparedPantry.com describes chowder attributes:

A chowder is a thick, rich, chunky soup usually made with a white sauce base though Manhattan chowders have a tomato base. Originally, it was a fishermen’s stew made with seafood but today, vegetable chowders are common such as corn chowder and potato chowder.

Chowders typically have five parts:

The vegetables or seafood, the focal ingredient of the soup.

Ancillary ingredients which may include cream, diced onions, bacon, or herbs.

The cooking liquid—usually broth or stock.

A thickening agent—usually cornstarch, flour, or potatoes.

Seasonings including salt and pepper.

http://www.preparedpantry.com/Recipes/How-to-Make-Chowder.htm

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If ever an answer comprehended a question's full intent and meaning, its usefulness to might be viewing, and demonstated genuine expertise as well as big hearted selflessness--and all without knee-jerk resort to wiki-opinion-poll-of-the-day-pedia, better than this one of Marge's, I have not seen it. One UP and a whole heap of hidden Up's. –  lex Oct 28 '12 at 21:47
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@aaronut Maybe it's a syntax hangup but, if the Q did not show extensive (and effective) narrowing effort, then what would? The answer--the only one needed (hence no discussion), and which understood the Q's complete ramifications, responded expansively but precisely to that narrowing--to the specifity (not generality) of the question. Plus, would it have not been too broad, too general, had the narrowing (which failed to be recognized as such) been omitted, with ouster for the same reason in reverse? The Q was a cake (slice) to be eaten, not a cake just to be had. –  lex Oct 28 '12 at 22:25
    
Manhattan chowder ain't chowder. It's tomatoe (deliberate e) soup with a few pieces of sturfs. –  Blessed Geek Oct 29 '12 at 23:31

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