In Nassau, The Bahamas, the Crossroads of Conch

conchThe conch salad at McKenzie's.
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The clack of dominoes; the knock of stringed shells; the cut of fresh Queen Conch. 

There’s a percussive ritual to Potters Cay, the historic fishing dock under the Paradise Island Bridge that just so happens to be the crossroads of the world’s best conch.

Rows of stalls and purveyors line the dock in the heart of Nassau Harbour, where conch, the prized, pink-shelled mollusk, arrives each day from all over the islands of The Bahamas for fresh purchase and consumption. 

There are colorful shacks and tables, with names like Bang’s and Wendell’s, one-word guarantors of world-class conch, most endorsed by the country’s famous Kalik beer. 

Some are larger, with indoor tables overlooking the brilliant turquoise between Nassau and Paradise Island; others are counters; some, like Blue Wave, are tables in the sun. 

Blue Wave is where Leslie, or “Les,” as he’s known, makes his fresh conch salad. 

And it’s conch salad that’s Potters Cay’s biggest draw, The Bahamas’ flagship dish: a mix of chopped peppers, tomatoes, onions, citrus juice and, of course, fresh conch. 

The recipe changes from stall to stall; chefs decide their seasonings; lately, some are even experimenting with new additions like pineapple. 

Donnie has been serving up conch here since 1992.

Les has had a location here for three decades, but a fire burned it down, leaving him with a makeshift table and the most scenic spot in all of Potters Cay. 

The conch salad he’s making today uses Exuma conch; over at Donnie’s, the conch today hails from Abaco. 

Conch comes in every day from places like Abaco, Exuma and the Berry Islands.

Further down the dock, the conch shells today came from the Berry Islands. 

“These are young and tender,” the vendor tells me. 

Conch fresh from the Berry Island.

Just about all of Nassau’s conch comes right here, or to Arawak Cay just west of downtown, another top spot for conch.

Over at Donnie’s, a patron named Tara is lunching on conch salad. She’s been coming here for 20 years, since high school, fiercely loyal to Donnie’s salad. 

Everyone has their preferred spot in this hyper-competitive, but endlessly friendly, conch marketplace, from the renowned Mackenzie’s right at the entrance to the Cay to Les’ stall in the sun. 

Les’ Blue Wave stand.

“Nobody does it better,” Les promises me. 

Of course, there’s more than just conch here; just about every stall has a broader seafood menu with Bahamian signatures: fish fingers, cracked conch (the battered, deep-fried preparation of conch), fresh whole snapper; grouper; hog fish. 

“We do the down home stuff,” Donnie says of the stalls on the Cay. “This is the real thing.” 

And then there are the copious beers and cocktails: Bahama Mamas, Goombay Smashes. 

And it’s all enjoyed right at the edge of brilliant blue water, with that captivating soundtrack of the harbor.

I ask Les how he knows if a conch is one of quality. He doesn’t hesitate. 

“If it’s moving.”

 

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