Onboard contributor Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon tells us everything we need to know about conch: what it is, where to try it and how to best enjoy it when cruising to the Bahamas.
What the Conch?
Conch is to the Bahamas as apple pie is to America, so it’d be a real shame not to sample this meaty mollusk while cruising through the 700-island archipelago. The scrumptious sea snail – which thrives in the Bahamas’ warm, shallow waters – is the star of local menus, and you’ll find it served myriad ways: “cracked” (battered and fried); curried; or dusted with seasoned flour to make crispy fritters. But the traditional and most popular preparation of the gastropod is the islands’ signature conch salad.
First thing to know: Although it’s called conch salad, there’s not a single lettuce leaf involved. In the Bahamas (and in the Turks and Caicos Islands), conch salad is a ceviche-type dish, made with raw conch meat and diced veggies (including some traditional salad ingredients, such as onions, tomatoes and sweet peppers) tossed in fresh citrus juices. It’s light, fat-free, packed with protein and super flavorful; what’s not to love!
See the Sea
Although you may find it on the menu in fancy local restaurants, hands down the best conch salad comes from beachfront stands, where you can see the delicacy being prepared right in front of you. Watch as the stallholder plucks the mollusk straight from the sea (the best places keep their conch in conch pens on the water’s edge) and “knocks” the conch, piercing the shell with a specialized tool and extracting it with a knife.
After the gastropod’s been cleaned, he’ll slice it into small chunks, dice the accompanying veggies, and, using the back of his blade, combine everything with freshly squeezed lime juice and local hot peppers. All that’s left for you to do is to grab a bowl and survey the sand for the perfect spot to sit and enjoy it.
Hungry yet? Here are a few of my favorite conch shacks to try when cruising to the Bahamas:
Billy Joe’s, Freeport
Spike your salad, prepared fresh-from-the-sea at this beachfront shack next to Freeport’s Grand Lucayan resort, with a drizzle of homemade hot sauce made from fiery local goat peppers – if you dare. Then plop down on a bench on the sand and enjoy a sea view as you chew. Just don’t forget to order a frosty Kalik beer to soothe your taste buds afterward!
Oh Andros, Nassau
About a 10-minute drive from the cruise port, the string of colorful waterfront shacks at Arawak Cay serves up every conceivable variation of conch. Truth be told, all the eateries here are pretty good, but my pick is Oh Andros. The décor is forgettable but the fare is far from ordinary at this always-busy restaurant, where locals and day-trippers chow on bowls of melt-in-your-mouth conch salad and fried food fans devour the golden-crusted cracked conch and conch fritters.
Potter’s Cay, Nassau
While most Bahamas visitors head for popular Arawak Cay (known as “The Fish Fry”), foodies in the know make a beeline for Potter’s Cay – just underneath the eastern bridge between Nassau and Paradise Island – to satisfy their conch craving. Locals have their loyalties to particular vendors, but you won’t go wrong at any of the stalls at this rustic spot where the city’s taxi drivers get their lunchtime fix.