About Manila clams

The term “Manila clams” has had me intrigued for a long time. According to my reading, they are exported by Japan and the clams themselves are native to Japan. If that were so, why are they called Manila clams?

I don’t like getting political about food but I distinctly remember that sometime during the infamous 20-year rule of Ferdinand Marcos, he issued a Presidential Decree that allowed Japanese companies to fish in the internal waters of the Philippines. And I wondered if, originally, what came to be known as Manila clams were indeed from the Philippines. Did the Japanese fishing companies harvest them here, brought them to Japan from where they were exported to Europe and United States? Did they eventually decide to breed these clams in their waters so that, years later, the Western world got the impression that these clams were native to Japan?

I wish I had the answers to those questions, heaven knows I spent two days searching but I’m still in limbo. And, truth be told, with so many varieties of edible clams and some looking similar to others (I can only sigh with regret at how little information there is about the many varieties of local clams), if you take me to the market and ask me which are Manila clams, I can only tell you that they aren’t the ones with green shells.

On a trip to the market last week, I chanced upon mounds and mounds of live clams. The clams in one mound had dark green shells (oh, please don’t say that only mussels have green shells) and were selling for thirty pesos per kilo. The clams in another mound had ridged beige shells (Manila clams?) and they were selling for sixty pesos a kilo. I asked the vendor what the difference was. She said the clams with green shells were freshwater clams, which needed a lot of soaking to expel the soil, while those with beige shells were saltwater clams which were ready to cook with no need to soak.

casaveneracion.com Philippine clams

I bought a kilo of each and realized that the vendor was wrong. Both needed soaking. The saltwater clams were tastier though. And just what did I do with them? I made a soup. With sotanghon. And the freshwater clams? Clam chowder.