Delicious conch salad and the beautiful islands of the Bahamas go hand in hand, and, when we cruised through the Bahamas aboard Quintana, our 35-foot sloop, I was eager finally to taste this famous dish I had heard so much about. We headed for the source: the local marketplace next to the bridge that joins Nassau to Paradise Island.
You want one or two? a large and boisterous Bahamian yelled from across his spotlessly clean food-stand. The stand, like all the others in the market, was colorful, vibrant, and loud. It seemed everyone in Nassau had decided to converge on this spot all at once. And wed all came for one thing: delicious conch salad.
Paul, my partner and captain, yelled back to the Bahamian, We want one, please!
One? I asked, raising my eyebrows, That wont be enough! We had just trekked to the grocery store, walked back to Quintana, unloaded groceries, gone back into town to get supplies at one of the local marine stores, and toured Paradise Island. It was 2 p.m. Wed skipped breakfast and lunch, and I was hungry. One conch salad wasnt going to cut it.
Trust me, said Paul. Hed been to this food before.
To get my mind off my rumbling stomach, aching feet, and thoughts of choking Paul if one salad proved not to be enough, I began to watch the Bahamian rapidly dice and chop the salad ingredients. He had in his hand an extremely large and exceptionally sharp knife. He never looked down to see where his knife landed. I thought at any moment one of his fingers would be severed. Instead, his attention was directed towards his customers and friends who stopped by, or yelling commentary at the players who were in a roaring game of Dominoes. As if his cutlery expertise werent enough, the massive proportions he was piling onto his cutting board were amazing. Surely thats for more than one salad, I thought.
When he was finished, he piled everything into a bowl and smiled at us waiting for the to pay with Bahamian dollars for one large--and I mean large--conch salad.
Paul looked at my wide eyes and watering mouth. This salad was unbelievable. The fresh fruits and vegetables and the conch meat looked scrumptious. I couldnt wait to taste it.
We walked along the market and devoured the delicious salad. The taste was heightened by all the activity around me. During our stay in Nassau, Id see the same group of locals playing Dominoes every day. They were a loud, joyous group, always slapping each other on the back or laughing vociferously at something someone said. One local was selling hot roasted peanuts, walking up and down the market with his hot bags of treats, yelling to any passerby to have a taste. All around me was a pulsating city filled with energy. I dont know if the conch salad, with its spicy chiles, sharpened my senses, but every bite reminded me of this picturesque place Id been lucky enough to visit.
Bahamian Conch Salad
2 conch, cleaned and finely chopped
Juice of one orange
Juice of half a lime or lemon
1 small-to-medium onion, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 small hot red chili peppers, finely chopped
OR 1 teaspoon dried red chili peppers
Marinate the conch in the juices for 2 to 3 hours, then remove and reserve juice. Combine conch with chopped vegetables in a bowl or, to do it Bahamian style, on a cutting board.. Just before serving, add orange and lime. Season with salt and pepper. If serving onboard, serve on a bed of lettuce. Note: you can substitute shrimp. lobster, or any fresh white fish for the conch.