Exploring Conch - Food Thoughts with Sheryl Estrada

I attended the 13th annual Bahamian Connection Festival at New Monrovia Park in Port Salerno, Fla. on Oct. 2. Port Salerno is a small town, located on South Florida's Treasure Coast in Martin County, which is rich in Bahamian ancestry due to its close proximity. Besides the reggae music that made you sway from side to side, and the nice performances, the heart of the festival was Bahamian conch. Conch, a marine gastropod mollusk, is the widely used name for the edible sea snail. The high-protein meat of the queen conch, Strombus gigas, in particular, is a common food source in the Caribbean, especially in The Bahamas. To combat overharvesting, The International Queen Conch Initiative began in 1996, and is coordinated by the Caribbean Fishery Management Council. The council consists of Caribbean region countries who work together to create common management regimens for sustainable use of queen conch.

Bahamian conch is certainly desirable. Long lines formed during the festival for a taste. I was drawn to a stand operated by three women, with the sign, "Sisters in the Pot" on their tent. I watched while they prepared conch fritters and conch salad.

One of the sisters carefully turned each frying fritter in the cast iron pot, making sure all sides browned. A lady walked up behind me and asked with a southern accent and a smile, "Is this where they make the big fritters?"

"Not sure," I said, "but these do look good."

Another sister chopped tomatoes, green peppers, onions, to include in the conch salad.

I find conch fritters to be similar to hushpuppies, a southern American side dish. The difference is the pieces of meat and zest. Conch has a clam-like texture, and the spices used really added to its flavor.

Perhaps it's a combination of its taste, name and the warm spirit in which it is prepared that makes most not squeamish to the fact it's sea snail. I also find people are culinary adventurous at cultural festivals. They are a great way to expose yourself to dishes you've never tried, or don't eat on a regular basis.

Here are photos I captured at the festival, including photos of the Bahamas Junkanoo Shakers who performed.