In Search of Conch Salad by Lynne Mayhew

On a recent trip to Cat Island, in the Bahama’s, we sought out directions on how to get to the windward side of the island. Apparently there were several routes and as it turned out, the road we chose was the one we were told to avoid. We ended up on an abandoned air strip which led us to more dirt roads that led to a spider web of other dirt roads. Deciding on which one to explore became a challenge. Often times, they led to dead ends. Finally, with a shout of hurrah we spotted a shallow inlet with hundreds of harvested conch shells heaped up at the water’s edge. Two derelict boats were near by.

The shells were quite large. Each was covered with a thin brown skin that was flaky to the touch. Underside was the beautiful pink color, some brighter than others. We selected two for ourselves as souvenirs.

Back on the main road, we began our search for conch salad. After several stops, we pulled into a small roadside stand that we heard prepared fresh conch salad as well as conch fritters. We watched as the Bahamian reached into a bucket, selecting two live conchs and with his machete made a slit in the top of each shell. This released the conch inside so it could be pulled out. Looking like a huge tongue, the man pounded the flesh to tenderize it.

We sat down at a picnic table and watched as he pounded and then diced the conch. His wife came out of the other building to bring us two cold Kalik Beers and to visit with us. She said that conch is known to make the weak strong and will help men with sex power. We all giggled. We didn’t know it was an aphrodisiac. We continued to watch her husband as he diced the colorful vegetables to mix with the conch.

Bahamian Conch Salad

1 cup raw conch meat diced small

¼ cup diced celery

¼ cup green pepper

¼ cup diced onion

½ cup diced cucumber

2/3 cup diced fresh tomatoes

1/3 cup lemon juice

Hot pepper and salt to taste

Mix well and let sit for 30 minutes

Serve individually on a bed of lettuce or as an appetizer

While the conch was marinating, we continued our conversation with the owner. Through her, we learned of another route across the island that would take us to a bluff overlooking the ocean. Our talk also included where we were from and how we liked Cat Island. She stood up as an old car pulled in. We watched as she pumped gas, one of two pumps located on the island.

The salad was declared ready to eat. With a second Kalik Beer, we ate our conch which was a little chewy but nevertheless tasty.

After our farewells and promising to come back for more conch salad on our next trip, we headed up the road. It became clear that these magnificent shells don’t go to waste. We noticed them all over the island as yard and fence decorations. Some artisans make jewelry out of the porcelain like surface, while others carve it like scrimshaw.

Cat Island. We’ll be back. More roads to explore and friendly people to meet.

Next time, we’ll try the conch fritters, too. It’s good to bring an appetite.

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