Where does a visitor really learn about a country and its food? Not in the confines of a hotel, a place often presented best-face-forward, and with its locale’s true soul a little too clean and polished.
On a recent trip to the Bahamas in May, in a moment of inspiration, I decided to use my legs for more than changing the location of my beach chair. Sun-screened and ready for surprise, I walked up the bridge from the Bahamas’ tourist-friendly Paradise Island toward the locals-only food stands that lay underneath the roadway. This was not a lazy Pina Colada moment; this was a determined mission for good food. For real food. And I found it: a delicious, healthy, fresh-prepared and made-to-order conch salad.
I tried to avoid looking like a tourist, but stumbled at the first hurdle, when I unfortunately pronounced conch as it is spelled (correct pronunciation is “conk”).
I walked the row of stands and admired their variety and business savvy — some declared favourable reviews from the New York Times. Still, for this mission, I decided to steer clear of Mark Bittman’s recommendations, despite being a fan.
I ended up at a conch stand after all: “Doc Sands,” charmingly if mysteriously named and, typical of these set-ups, sparingly decorated (notice the exposed pressboard and drywall in the pic below). The woman running it had smiled me over, and told me she had the best conch salad in the Bahamas. I trusted her, because I was on vacation.
Conchs are slow-moving marine snails. Think of conch salad ($10) as a rather large helping of the best escargot you have ever had, without the need for butter.
The conch cook asked if I would like it spicy. Having learned on a Thai trip that my spice appetite does indeed have limits, I said, “somewhat.” Small red peppers were added to tomatoes, cucumbers and onion, on diced them on a cutting board. Over this, a juicy lime, squeezed until only the rind remained; ditto, an orange. Next, the cook mixed together as much conch (also diced) as vegetables. Salt was massaged onto the heap and it was all piled into a plastic container with two ice cream spoons (pictured, top of post) — it’s a great salad for sharing.
The verdict? Divine. Healthy food should always be this fresh and delicious. Better still, the taste seemed to mingle with the air, which always carried a whiff of ocean.
Also recommended by yours truly: conch fritters ($2, pictured above), lightly fried and piping hot, served with a side of spicy mayo. It’s always a delight to enjoy fried food that has not seen a heat lamp. Crispy and crab cake-like, the fritters went down easily with a Bahamian beer ($3) that helped to quench my thirst in the abiding heat.
A local man seemed to agree, grabbing a cold one and nodding to two cops before stepping into his car to drive away, beer in hand. Miming a cheers back at him, I headed back to my hotel, happy, a little hot, and a whole lotta conchy.
Courtney Sunday is a writer and yoga teacher based in Toronto. When she is not travelling to distant lands to get fresh culinary experiences, she feverishly reads food blogs and tries weird and wacky recipes. Her next experiment is with bean brownies.