We’ve all held a conch shell to our ears and listened to the call of the ocean; however, we probably haven’t all sampled the mollusk’s meat. Conch, a medium- to large-sized sea snail, is commonly found in the warm, shallow waters of Florida, the Gulf of Mexico and throughout the Caribbean.
I first sampled the chewy seafood in the Caribbean. On the near-desolate island of Anegada, part of the British Virgin Islands, I bit into the fried warmth of a golden-brown conch fritter. Skeptical at first, I enjoyed the snack and have since sampled it many times, most recently on an early-summer visit to the Bahamas, where conch is the national food.
The most commonly eaten type, the queen conch, can grow as long as 12 inches and as heavy as five pounds. All parts of a conch are edible, and it is considered a complete protein as well as a rich source of vitamins and minerals.
Countless variations of conch exist — gumbos, fritters, chowders, even burgers. In the Bahamas, conch is king, enjoyed as a snack, a main dish, in salads. Conch chowder, a popular preparation, is mixed with tomatoes, potatoes, sweet peppers, onions, carrots and seasonings. Conch may turn up in your lunch salad, usually raw and marinated, with peppers and onions. Cracked conch is another favorite, battered and sautéed and served with peas and rice. Steamed, fried, curried, creamed and stewed — there’s a conch dish for you.
My favorite, the conch fritter, typically combines conch and sweet peppers, onions and tomato paste, deep-fried and served with hot sauce. What’s not to love? When I conjure the image of conch fritters, I go back to that first bite. I see a red and white checkered cardboard container with five or six of the fried delights nestled inside. If I close my eyes, I hear the ocean lapping at the shore. It’s probably the ease of life on an island I’m yearning for, and conch is most certainly a food that transports me to that ideal. Since my first taste, I’ve sampled conch as chowder and salad, the Bahamian and Caribbean seasonings bringing the meat to life.
In Grenada, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, lambi is commonly served as a curry or spicy soup. And in Puerto Rico, conch ceviche is marinated in lime juice and served with olive oil, vinegar, garlic, green peppers and onion. Of course, the Caribbean is not the only destination in the world where one can enjoy conch. Around the globe, it appears in even more incarnations. In East Asia, it is typically steamed or stir-fried.
Visit Turks and Caicos, where conch is featured in a soup known as callaloo, for the annual Conch Festival. The restaurant “Conch-e-tition” ranks the best salads, chowders and other specialties from a number of eateries. Other activities at the family-friendly event include conch blowing and quizzes. And, naturally, consuming quite a lot of delicious samples.
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