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CONCH, CONCH, EVERYWHERE - THE NATIONAL DISH OF THE TURKS AND CAICOS ISLANDS
 
(2014 - Fall/Winter Issue)

Writer: STEVE MACNAULL



Conch, conch, conch. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

In a delicious deep-fried fritter with spicy dip, in a stir-fry, jerked, in a soup, on a pizza, in a chowder, as a steak, in a stew, on a salad and in a curry.

Conch is the official dish of the Caribbean paradise of Turks and Caicos and it was our mission to try it every which way.

Where to Start?

Da Conch Shack and Rum Bar on Providenciales (Provo for those in the know). On a recent trip to the string of islands, we asked several locals for recommendations on where to eat and each and every one of them, without hesitation, said da Conch Shack. Of course, everyone also pronounces it with a cheeky Caribbean lilt.

Now, da Conch Shack is nothing to look at. In fact, when our taxi pulled up we were a little disappointed. Aptly named, it is a collection of shacks desperately in need of a coat of paint. But just beyond the front gate we discovered a divine setting.

Located on a pristine white sand beach with the Caribbean Sea glittering beyond, it had picnic tables strategically placed in the shade of palm trees. And the vibe was Caribbean-cool.

DJ Natti cranked out the reggae tunes. Stray dogs wandered by hoping for a scrap or two. And the glorious smell of conch in all its culinary guises wafted through the air.

A Tutorial on Conch

You’ll instantly recognize the big beautiful pearl and pink curved shell. What you might not know is inside this pretty shell resides a sea creature resembling a chunky snail that has become the national dish of Turks and Caicos.

The firm white meat of the conch is relatively tasteless raw and on its own. But the texture is perfect for creating seafood dishes ranging from raw salads, chowders and stir-fries to fritters, curries and Creole stew.

Of course, da Conch Shack had them all on the menu and we quickly ordered conch fritters, Turk’s Head beers for my wife and me and a non-alcoholic fruit punch for our daughter.

“We’re a regular stop for locals and tourists alike,” explained waitress Karene Brown when she dropped off our drinks. “We’re famous. I don’t know exactly why. It has something to do with the food and drink and location and music and vibe though.”

True that.

We soaked up the atmosphere, listened to Adele and Michael Bublé songs set to a reggae beat and fed Roger a fritter. Oh yes, Roger is the resident stray dog that calls the beach home and hits up tourists for conch scraps.

Then we caught a glimpse of Gaan Geahheah heading out to catch conch. Well, there’s not much to “catching” conch because they lie listlessly on the ocean floor just waiting to be plucked for a tasty meal. As such Geahheah didn’t have to go much farther out than waist deep to pick the sparkling shells and fill up his waiting kayak.

By the time he made his way back to shore a small crowd of tourists, including us, has assembled to watch him pull the meat from the shells to fill a white bucket. Geahheah seemed a little perplexed why we had gathered and were snapping pictures ferociously; after all, he was just doing his job.

Our Quest Continued

We headed back to Beaches Resort where the conch theme delightfully continued. At outdoor Bella Napoli Pizzeria chef Franco Malcolm was the first to put conch on a pizza. “It’s a natural. I’m surprised no one has done it before,” he said.

Conch also popped up at three more of Beaches’ 19 restaurants. At Barefoot by the Sea it was in a zesty salad with tomato, onion, cucumber, lime and Scotch Bonnet pepper. At Schooners it made an appearance in another salad and tomato broth-based chowder. And even at the Japanese restaurant Kimonos we noshed on the conch gyoza appetizer.

Like any world-class destination, the Turks and Caicos boasts myriad restaurants ranging from casual to classy. Most focus on the islands’ bounty of seafood and capitalize on water and tropical views, but you can also find the ideal steak
or Italian cuisine if so desired. There are Caicos Café Providenciales, Coco Bistro, Coyaba Restaurant, Danny Buoy’s Sports Pub and Restaurant, the Seaside Café at Ocean Club West, the sophisticated Opus Wine-Bar-Grill at the Ocean Club Resort and Hemingway’s Restaurant at The Sands at Grace Bay, to name a few.

A Celebration of Food

All this means, of course, that conch deserves its own annual celebration. So this year on November 29, there’s a one-day Turks and Caicos Conch Festival, with tastings, cooking competitions and live music capped off with fireworks.

Ever hear of a Gourmet Safari? It’s the marquee event of the Caribbean Food & Wine Festival in Provo scheduled to take place November 6–8. Start with cocktails at Grace Bay Club, then head off for treats at Coyaba, Seven Stars, The Regent Palms and Gansevoort. The fest also includes other dinners, food and wine pairing events, a street food fair and activities for the kids.

Travel Planner

WestJet (westjet.com) and Air Canada (aircanada.com) provide service from Toronto and Montréal to the Turks and Caicos Islands. For more information on dining venues, visit:

Turks and Caicos Tourist Board: turksandcaicostourism.com

Beaches Resorts: beaches.com

Caicos Café Providenciales: facebook.com/caicoscafe

Caribbean Food & Wine Festival: caribbeanfoodandwinefestivaltci.com

Coco Bistro: cocobistro.tc

Coyaba Restaurant: coyabarestaurant.com

Turks and Caicos Conch Festival: ConchFestival.com

Da Conch Shack: daConchShack.com

Danny Buoy’s Sports Pub and Restaurant: dannybuoys.com

Hemingway’s Restaurant: thesandstc.com/the-resort/dining

Opus Wine-Bar-Grill: oceanclubresorts.com/our-resorts/dining/opuswinebargrill

Seaside Café: oceanclubresorts.com/our-resorts/dining/seasidecafe

 
 
 
 
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