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It Gets Better: The Queen Conch of Harbour Island
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Posted by:Jun 2nd 2011, 10:14:29 pm
Fig Tree News Team

It Gets Better
The Queen Conch of Harbour Island

02 June 2011, 01.29 | Beau Colburn

If you take a water taxi to Harbour Island in the Bahamas, you’ll get off at the government dock in town. (How you get to the water taxi is up to you—I flew from Miami.) Once you’re there, take a left at the end. You’ll wander past some colorful huts selling straw hats and shells, and pass some chickens and roosters wandering on the beach. A few minutes down the road you’ll come upon the Queen Conch, a small waterfront food stand. Here you’ll find the freshest conch salad around.

When you sit down at the bar and order, you write your name on a notepad, choose “regular” or “hot,” and watch the owner Richard and his wife go to work. You can grab a can of soda with your order, but if you want something “stronger,” Richard will advise you to head across the street while you wait. Wander over to the liquor store, pick up a few cold Kaliks, and sit back down. Richard will tell you “good choice” and hand you a bottle opener.

The ceviche-like conch salad consists of a few simple ingredients: freshly chopped, raw conch meat, chopped onions, peppers, and tomatoes. There is a massive chopping board that all the ingredients are prepared upon and slowly mixed by hand. A batch of onions will be chopped and added, and then a few full conchs will be carefully diced and added to the pile. Once it’s formed a big mound, Richard will slowly mix the pile together, like a kid shuffles a deck of cards, by moving them all around in circles.

To this, a mixture of fresh-squeezed sour orange juice (“the key ingredient”), salt, and lime juice are added. You can watch Richard and his wife as they slowly add the ingredients, mixing with care as they go, to get the exact combination of flavors.

There are a number of docks around the bay on Harbour Island where fisherman come in with their fresh catches and cut and de-shell everything. I had guessed that this was where the fresh conch from the Conch Queen came from, but I was wrong. Every two or three days, Richard goes out and dives for conch all around the small islands of the Bahamas. He snags about 500 per trip. On a busy day he’ll go through 150-200 conchs while making his salad.

Back at the shop, there are cages that sit in the water below the back deck and allow the conch to live until needed. When the meat has been collected, the shells are thrown into a big, pink pile to the side of the dock.

Maybe it’s the work that you know goes into it: the diving, the chopping, the careful adding and mixing, adding and mixing of the ingredients—the patience to create the perfect balance of tartness and spiciness to compliment the fresh conch. Maybe it’s the cold beer on a hot day in a beautiful setting. Maybe it’s the pride you see Richard taking in each batch he creates. Whatever it is, if you’re on Harbour Island, skip an hour of the beach, sit at the Queen Conch, and soak it up. If you’re like me, it will be one of the best things you’ve ever tasted.

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