It’s a tough reality to face, but we aren’t going to be traveling any time soon. It should comes as no surprise that one of my favorite things to do when I travel is eat. Everything. Street food, like this Bahamian conch salad, is my raison d’être, for what better way to experience a culture than through its local cuisine?
Conch Salad in the Bahamas
One of my most cherished memories is one from May of 2013. We were on a family cruise to the Bahamas. Our oldest son had just turned one and learned how to walk on the decks of the ship. We docked in Nassau. My husband and I skipped an excursion in favor to explore the port, toddler and stroller in tow.
We happened upon a hole-in-the-wall bar with a man making ceviche with conch that he pulled straight from the ocean in front of our eyes across the street. With a machete, he chopped it up, added various citrus juices, hot peppers, onion, and tomato. We scooped this conch salad up with tortilla chips and washed it down with Kalik Gold, the local beer. The meal was delicious– spicy, tart and fresh, and like nothing I had ever experienced before.
Conch salad in Mexico
I have been chasing that memory for seven years, and I nearly recreated it this past February, in Mexico. This time it was shrimp, octopus and conch ceviche at a beachside bar called the Le Saint Bonnet at the port of Progreso. It was a perfect second, but I can’t afford to fly (nor is it now safe to) every time a craving strikes.
What is conch, anyway?
“Conch” refers to the meat of a Queen Conch, a type of marine snail, or what we know better as that shell we press to our ear to hear the roaring of the “sea” (and if you’ve ever read the Lord of the Flies you may have other associations.) The Queen Conch’s shell, ruffled and tinged sunset-pink, is a thing of beauty, but the true prize is its snowy-white meat. Lauded for its protein content (and a little rumor of its aphrodisiac qualities), conch, and consequently this “salad”, is a Bahamian staple for tourists and locals alike– the conch even appears on the Bahamian coat of arms.
There are a few necessary ingredients to have on hand for this recipe: red, ripe tomatoes, white onions, peppers (both hot and mild), and lots of citrus (limes, especially). I added cucumbers and herbs, as well. I got my conch from the grocery store previously frozen, so I opted to simmer it quickly, however, the traditional conch salad is made with raw conch. It’s your call.
A spicy and tart ceviche with conch, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and lots of citrus.
- half a pound of conch meat
- 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
- 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
- 1 ripe tomato diced
- 1/4 cup diced onion
- 1/2 cup peeled seeded and diced cucumber
- 1/2 cup diced bell peppers
- 2 hot peppers jalapeño, Scotch bonnet, whatever you like, minced
- a splash of white vinegar
- cilantro optional
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Tortilla chips
If prefer to use the conch raw, wash conch with a mixture of lemon, salt and water and smash with a meat mallet a few times to tenderize. Dice into half-inch chunks.
If you prefer to cook the conch (I do this if I’m not sure how long conch has been thawed out), simmer in boiling water for 4-5 minutes. Dunk in ice bath to stop the cooking and then coarsely dice.
Place in mixing bowl with remaining ingredients and season with salt and pepper.
Cover and chill for up to 5 hours. Toss in the cilantro, if using, before serving.
Mix and serve with chips.
Food isn’t about luxury or Michelin stars. Seek out the places that put stars in your eyes. Like when you’re with the ones you love, elbows deep in conch salad and three beers in, surrounded by swaying palms and aqua seas.