The Arawak Fish Fry

It’s always better in the Bahamas, but freshly made conch salad is the best.
Forget that shell stand at the straw market: there’s a better way to score a conch.

The Bahamas, known for its stunning weather and a relaxed vibe, is also the site of a thriving population of Queen Conch. The coral-based archipelago provides a healthy home for the large mollusk, and local environmental conservation organizations are working hard to keep the Bahamian conch population thriving for generations to come. This is a very good thing, since Bahamians love their native conch cracked, scorched, and raw.

Pronounced “konk”, this large edible sea snail has been an integral part of daily life in the Bahamas since the days of its first inhabitants, the Lucayan Indians. The ubiquitous conch pops up on dollar coins, street signs, the Bahamian Coat of Arms, and on the menus of nearly every dining establishment.

Straight out of the shell, conch is redolent of the surrounding Bahamian seas. Fresh conch can be served in any number of ways, but the three most iconic Bahamian dishes are crack' conch (raw conch is thinly pounded, then battered and deep fried); scorch' conch (raw conch is scored with a knife and briefly marinated in a spicy citrus mix); and colorful conch salad.

Conch salad is prepared much like Latin America’s ceviche: chopped raw conch is mixed with onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, and a fiery goat pepper and citrus (usually lime or sour orange) marinade. A freshly made bowl of Bahamian conch salad showcases the raw conch’s delicate flavor, but it’s the speed and accuracy of a local expert masterfully preparing this dish while you wait that highlights the Bahamian way of life. And there is no better place to get a real taste of this rich culture than at the Fish Fry at Arawak Cay.

The Fish Fry at Arawak Cay, Nassau, Bahamas.

Arawak Cay (the preferred pronunciation is “key”) is an artificially built low island made from sand dredged out of Nassau Harbour in 1969. Local fishermen used to dock their tiny boats in the protected bay and sell their fresh catch from temporary shacks. Soon, those fish shacks multiplied and become more permanent structures, eventually expanding into today’s village of competitively-priced bars and food stalls.

Nearly all the brightly painted storefronts sell made-to-order conch salad, fried fish, and other Bahamian dishes, so selecting a dining spot is usually a serendipitous process. Goldie's Conch House, run by the self-proclaimed "King of Conch" Kirkwood "Goldie" Evans, always has good lime, and his famous Sky Juice—a mixture of ice, coconut water, condensed milk, and gin—helps ease the curmudgeonly into bouts of conviviality.

Goldie's restaurant at the Fish Fry in Arawak Cay, Nassau, Bahamas.
Goldie's restaurant, part residence, part sprawling series of fish stalls.

But this visit, we follow a young man who is purposely striding toward a place called Candies, for he is carrying a cooler brimming with fresh conch.

Candies is one of the larger establishments at the Fish Fry, with comfy seating outside and a nicely air conditioned interior. Fresh conch is prepared at a counter facing the exterior, while all of the frying is done in the back kitchen.

Candies Enterprise restaurant at the Fish Fry in Arawak Cay, Nassau, Bahamas.
The very casual Candies Enterprise restaurant is the cheerful bright green building on the far left.
We settle in at the conch counter between an older gent sipping a frosty Kalik and a couple of kids arguing cricket, place our order, and watch the show.

Raw conch is quite tough. The meat is first scored with a razor-sharp knife, then pounded with the flat of the blade. A generous squeeze of lime juice helps expedites the tenderizing process. The tenderized conch is chopped together with sweet onion, a tomato, cucumber, then the whole thing is tossed with a spicy marinade of lime, sour orange, and goat pepper (a cousin of the scotch bonnet). After a brief rest, the salad is scooped up into plastic-lined styrofoam bowls and served with a side of hot sauce.

A bowl of freshly prepared conch salad without tomatoes served at Candies Enterprise restaurant, Arawak Cay, Nassau, Bahamas.
Freshly prepared conch salad (without tomato).
The combination of citrus, blazing hot pepper, fresh veggies, and tender conch meat is a sensual delight. Pretty as a picture, a spoonful reveals the subtle, sophisticated taste combination. The conch is tender, with a sweet, fresh taste similar to scallops and a texture closer to clam than calamari.

We tuck in, happier than a seagull with a french fry... or is that a conch fritter?

If you’re in The Bahamas and want to try making your own conch salad, you can buy tenderized conch at any local dock, including many of the seafood stalls at Arawak Cay, Potter’s Cay, and Montague Beach.

You will have to clean the conch to remove the slime, and we recommend washing it with a mixture of lemon or lime juice, salt, and water to further tenderize. If you don’t have access to fresh conch, canned conch is ready to use.

Happy eating!

Bahamian Conch Salad

Serves 4

Fresh lime juice, sweet onion, and goat pepper are standard in Bahamian conch salad: additional ingredients vary from chef to chef. Some recipes call for everything to be tossed together, but we like to mix our juice and hot pepper together first. Goat peppers are peach-colored cousins of the habanero and scotch bonnet: feel free to substitute one for the other, or use milder jalapeƱo peppers.
  • 3 ounces fresh lime juice
  • 1 1/2 ounces fresh orange juice
  • 1 goat pepper, seeded, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 2 cups chopped conch meat (about 1 pound)
  • 1 English cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
  • 1 medium sweet onion, diced
  • 1 large tomato, peeled, seeded, and diced
  • Iceberg lettuce leaves, for serving
  • Chopped parsley, for garnish, optional
In a mixing cup, stir together lime juice, orange juice, goat pepper, and salt until salt is dissolved.

In a large bowl, mix conch meat, cucumber, onion, tomato, and citrus-pepper marinade. Cover with plastic wrap, and let marinate at room temperature for 5 minutes, OR in refrigerator for 15 minutes. Stir before serving.

To serve, line 4 salad plates with lettuce leaves; divide salad among plates. Garnish with parsley.

The Arawak Cay Fish Fry
Western Esplanade
West Bay Street (opposite Fort Charlotte)
Nassau City, New Providence, Bahamas N3037

Referred to locally as either The Fish Fry or Arawak Cay, this is the place for a sit-down meal of freshly-made conch salad, whole fried fish, peas ‘n’ rice, and other island staples. Catch the #10 Jitney and ask for the Arawak Cay stop.

Hours: daily 10am - 10pm
Although most businesses here have regular hours, allow for a bit of “island time” flexibility when visiting.