The Queen Conch is a seasonal fishery product in Belize and for Belizeans it has long been a source of income – but more importantly it is a tasty delicacy. Conch stretches throughout our history. In the days of the Mayas, as well the present day, the Conch served multiple purposes. The tender meat served as a delectable food source while the beautifully colored smooth inner shell was used for communication, ornaments, jewelry and more. For generations, the conch has been a part of Belizean cuisine and now claims its spot as one of the many iconic tastes of Belize.
When in season, conch is the main ingredient in many of my favorite Belizean dishes. I try and make sure that my taste buds are well-treated to the many, many flavors – in fact, I try and enjoy it until I’m CONCHED out.
Before the conch gets on your plate, and I am certain you’ll agree, a lot of hard work and energy is expended; from diving for the prized conch, to the cleaning and even the actual preparation. But when it is prepared, it is one of the most heavenly tastes. The flesh of the conch is slightly chewy, some say rubbery, but once prepared properly, it is super tender and sweet. This sweet white meat is not fishy at all, although some may be tempted to say that it has a resemblance to clams or calamari.
One of the more popular ways to enjoy the conch on Ambergris Caye is in a divine ceviche. After the conch is properly cleaned, the fresh (raw) product is diced into small cubes. The conch is then steeped in lime juice for it to be cooked by the natural acid present in the lime. Personally, I like to add freshly cut red tomatoes to give it that extra color and taste that I love; diced white onions chopped and yellow-orange habanero peppers give the ceviche a spicy kick. Throw in some finely chopped cilantro, black pepper, seasoned salt and regular salt, then refrigerate the mixture for about half an hour. Once refrigerated and cool then it is ready to be served with crispy-crunchy fried corn chips. This ceviche works well on its own, but add a bottle of the icy cold Belizean pride – the Belikin – some sand, sun and the sea – and you’ve got yourself a very satisfying afternoon at the beach.
Another popular way that you can order conch on Ambergris Caye is in the form of a fritter. There are several methods used to prepare a fritter and it all depends on how you learnt to make it, whether it was at home using mommy’s old time recipe or fancy and gourmet, I enjoy them all.
The fritters are small circular patties made from a batter. The batter, which is a combination of small bites of conch, sweet peppers, onions, celery, flour and the secret seasoning, is deep fried to perfection until it reaches a golden brown color. The crunch tasty fritters can be dipped into a honey mustard homemade sauce, but depending on which establishment you are, there is always their secret special sauce. I, for a special reason, like my fritters served with coconut white rice and fresh stewed red kidney or black beans and a few businesses have spoil me into this. Try it, it’s absolutely decadent and delicious!
The third popular way conch is widely consumed in Belize, be it by visitors or locals, is in a conch soup. This creamy soup, laden with chunks of succulent conch meat and vegetables, is a Belizean specialty, one that is also consumed in other parts of the Caribbean. The conch is pounded and flavored with coconut milk, cumin, cilantro, garlic and chili powder. Ground food such as yams or potatoes, as well as okra and carrots are added to the broth. When the soup thickens, it is similar to the flavor of conch chowder but the combined taste of the ground food, the coconut milk and the tender conch, prepared by local experts, is unique only to Belize. The conch soup is so popular in the region that international award-winning musician Andy Palacio first came to the musical spotlight with his song “Conch Soup.” Even though his music was subject to a court battle over copy write laws, it remains a common knowledge that Andy P penned the words of the song and combined the sound and rhythm of the music inspired by the flavor of the Belizean cuisine; the conch soup.
Beside the flesh of the conch, the shells are also used in beautiful ornaments and jewelry. Beautiful necklaces and earrings carefully hand-carved always make for a good gift to a friend or loved one. Equally beautiful is the centerpieces for tables, small display bowls and even spoons made from the shell of the queen conch.
These shell jewelry or center pieces are always in abundance all over San Pedro Town, especially amongst craft vendors around the Central Park Area.
It doesn’t matter in which way the conch is prepared or how the shell is used, the taste as well as the crafty shell products is equally unique to Belize. During the open conch fishing season, which runs from October 1st to July 31st, most restaurants would offer the Belizean delicacy on their menu. If you are looking to experience this delicacy while on Ambergris Caye, be sure to ask for the various ways the conch is prepared and the always able and knowledgeable waiters would be more than happy to assist.
But if you prefer to prepare the conch yourself, like I normally do, you can always venture and walk along the beach, during the early morning or mid afternoon, and choose from the fresh catch as the locals shell the conch along the beach. And if you are not a conch eater, then pick up a piece of jewelry and ornament and cherish the prized Caribbean Queen Conch.