I will admit that I did not take my first bite of conch salad up until a few years ago, a shame I’ve had to chew on with every bite of the Bahamian delicacy since. Needless to say I’ve made up for the once unrecognized appetite and searched for every excuse to dip my spoon in the medley of thinly diced conch, tomato, onion, sweet pepper, hot pepper and fresh squeezed lime and orange juice. You can very well consider this post just another “excuse” but I sought this bite more out of intrigue. Dino’s Gourmet Conch Salad stand located on the Western end of New Providence, at the entrance to one of the island’s oldest villages, brings about the memory of Shake Shack in New York City’s Madison Square Park, a gourmet burger joint I regularly frequented when I lived in the city. With its long que of patrons from far flung corners of the world and those from just around the corner, not to mention the passerby’s staring with the upmost curiosity, how could it not?
Arriving one Friday afternoon, on the brink of a long weekend – quite possibly not my best idea to date – I knew there would be quite a long wait until my first bite of Dino’s famous Tropical Conch Salad: a traditional conch salad with the added fixings of diced pineapple, apple, mango, and cucumber. With the Atlantic ocean to my back, Hoagy Charmical’s “Stardust Melody” streaming out of a nearby window – the stand’s featured “DJ” being whoever parks and turns their radio up loud enough – and the comings of goings of locals, tourists, politicians and the like, I was undoubtedly destined for a cultural experience. A notion brought even more to life as gaggle of women dressed to the nines, in too daring of heels for the soft ground, approach the stand where I am now placing my order. Looking down at my shirtdress and then up at the sun – which still has an hour or two in the spotlight – I wonder, does this experience call for a dress code? Putting my college education to use I quickly come to the conclusion that these island gals are pre-gaming, as are most locals here – lining their bellies in anticipation of a long night ahead. A scene not falling short of intrigue and my much anticipated dish not yet ready to be eaten, my eyes widen on a master conch slop cleaner – no more than 16 years – who with each cleaning of a shell eats a conch’s thistle. I am surprised he doesn’t turn in to the translucent, slime like substance right before my eyes. Getting lost in thought, cautious not to appear rude in my gaze, I recall once being told that if you kill the conch you must pay respect to the animal and carry on its “essence” by eating the thistle raw. If that is his intention I dare say he is a respectful man.”Too much pepper ma’am?” the voice of my anonymous chef asks, reverting my attention back to the task of his skilled chopping on a make-shift wooden table. A grin on his face, I peer at a handsome serving of several fresh sliced red hot peppers, a spice that signals the completion of such a dish, one that is now being met with a gulp. Not wishing to appear weak I shakingly answer, no. Needless to say the spice and the culinary experience were well worth the hour long wait.
Dino’s Gourmet Conch Salad Stand is located on West Bay St. at the entrance to Gambier Village on the island of New Providence.