Ye Olde Union Oyster House (41 Union Street Boston Massachusetts, USA)


This is an Indian foodie’s experience of American food in Boston vs. similar food in India.

In a nutshell:

A 180+ year old Restaurant that has stood the test of time & in some ways is still stuck in a time freeze – Loved the whole experience with a special thumbs up to food.

Menu card with the sketch of the old restaurant

Address & other details: Union Oyster House

Meal for 2: US$ 80 onwards

Cuisine Type: Vegetarian & Nonvegetarian

YUMM Lobster

The story of this place:

I am not sure that this is the best ever restaurant serving famous Boston seafood today. However, opened in 1826*, this is the oldest surviving Restaurant in America & that itself speaks a lot – today it is a National Historic Landmark. The Building is also one of the oldest surviving buildings in Boston – constructed between 1716 & 1717 (Aurangazeb ruled India till 1707 – for time reference).

* For reference – Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal Emperor ascended the throne in 1837

 In late 1800s, Toothpick was introduced in this restaurant for the first time ever. Charles Forster , the inventor of toothpicks got the idea from South America where he saw people cleaning their teeth with small slivers of wood. He came up with a machine that produced toothpicks from birchwood grown on Boston’s nearby city Maine. When he tried selling this to restaurants, he found no takers. Legend has it that he stuck a deal with a bunch of Harvard students – They went to dine at Union Oyster House & created a ruckus after the meal when their request for a tooth cleaning instrument was refused. In a few days Charles pitched the toothpicks to this restaurant & it was introduced, soon to be introduced to other restaurants. Needless to say that he had to pay for the bill of the students.

Tablemat with pic of the restaurant & a listing of Boston Heritage walk

Lobsters in early 1800s was known as poverty food in America!!!! It was a cheap source of protein fed to indentured servants & laborers. In fact, in Massachussets a group of servants rebelled & had it written in their contracts that they cud not b fed lobsters more than 3 times a week……………………………………… 

memorieson the wall

Short Description – In case u r in a hurry:

The whole look & feel as we went inside was that of a very old bar cum eatery – the kind that we have seen in movies. Small cubicles to sit & eat, no big hallways, wooden partitions for cubicles & so on. Loads of pictures, coins of yesteryears & menu cards of earlier days remain displayed in the wall. At the entrance was a huge aquarium with live lobsters of different sizes. It seemed unlikely though that this aquarium was there in its present form since the beginning of the restaurant. Opposite to the lobster area was a small & very old fashioned bar. People were sitting across the bar enjoying the drinks. The drinks made at the bar for guests upstairs were being sent on a manual lift operated using a pulley.

Aquarium at the entrance

A guy standing at one of the counter near the entrance said ‘Pls go & ask for a table with the Hostess’. As I reached the ‘hostess’, we came across an elderly lady sitting on a high stool across a high desk resembling a ‘speech podium’. She also appeared to be out of movies of fifties & sixties. She wrote our names on a paper with pencil & said ‘1 hour waiting for the Grand Dining Room upstairs’ or ‘u may sit in the ground floor small seating area’. We chose the second option.

Mammoth Lobsters in the aquarium

We loved our food & were very much at ease coz seafood is something that u have to eat with hands – everyone else was also eating with hands & I guess that made a lot of difference to our experience.

Detailed Description – In case u have the time to njoy reading:

From ‘the kettle’ section, we ordered the famous Boston food – New England Clam chowder referred to as Oyster House Clam Chowder here. For the uninitiated, this is a thick creamy hot soup with clams in it. Tiny cubes of potato are also added usually. The taste of the soup was awesome here & I found it better than Legal seafood as well. The clams were non chewy & good. The potatoes were a bit more than expected & was being irritating at times. Loved this dish.

New England Clam Chowder

Post this we had Mussels steamed with Garlic & wine & served with garlic bread. Mussels r very unusual in India. For the uninitiated, mussels r a kind of shellfish with two elliptical covers. A tiny body exists in between though. From a meat standpoint that is quite less quantity but is why they give u loads of mussels in a dish. It is different from most seafood Indians r used to having & for many (excluding adventurous Indian foodies) , it might be a matter of few trials to get an acquired taste. I liked my mussels a lot here.

Mussels

Post this came Clams casino. Spiced up clams served on a plate. Very good to taste but the spicing up took away quite a bit of the original tastes & flavors of the clams.

clams casino

Grilled oysters were mindblowing good. A mild sprinkling of herbs & cheese before the fgrill was all that was done. We liked it so much that we reordered. The freshness of the oysters was showing up in the taste & flavors. I hope someone serves us oysters so good back in India.

Grilled Oysters

Our friend who is a Chickenaterian ordered Buffalo chicken wings. He liked it too.

We also ordered Union favorites – Crab cake, fish cake & lobster cakes served over greens & roasted bell pepper. I found this to b quite a weird dish. 3 small cakes atop a huge pie of raw greens, 1/4 of a bell pepper roasted & some mammoth potato wedges dipped in a sauce. The cakes tasted quite good but not great. The breading of the seafood & deep frying reduced the tastes & flavors of the fresh seafood. overall it was quite a disappointment.

Assorted seafood cakes

Shrimp pot stickers were the most unexpected dish. It turned out to b like deep fried momos with shrimps within. Crispy outer & juicy & tasty inside. Good.Njoyed it with the dark mahogany colored sauce & also just as it is.

shrimp pot stickers

Our vegetarian friend ordered Ye Olde pizza vegetarian & found it to be not bad not great…………. Ya , I guess seafood specialists do not really excel in vegetables grown on land.

Veggie pizza

Last but not the least – we had the 1kg weight giant lobster. The best part was that almost nothing was done to it. It was steamed with some basic subtle non intrusive sauces. Wow is the word. As I tore the meat & landed them into my mouth, my tastebuds stood up in awe & gave a standing ovation. Fresh huge lobster that was super soft & juicy – Very difficult to get it so right. In India most people end up hardening the large lobsters / crabs.

Lobster

Overall – Seafood in Delhi NCR circuit is usually limited to Asian / Oriental flavors. Restaurants like Zambar & Swagath serve quite many Indian sea food options. However, I am yet to come across someone specializing in European /American seafood. That is a sure miss as of today. If Restaurant Heads r reading this, they might like to pick up this piece of advice for free. I must tell u, it is an altogether different world of food …………………… worth a try.

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2 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing the interesting historical titbits of the Union Oyster House! I like the clam chowder (or “clam chowdah” as the Bostonians say it)with a dash of Tabasco or hot sauce. Makes the flavors stand out! Also the oysters with some horseradish and hot sauce… mmm!

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