October 1st kicked off one of my two favorite seasons in Belize — Queen Conch season. Conch (pronounced conk) is the beautiful mollusk most often associated with the Caribbean. Its recognizable shell is often seen in the seagrass beds, particularly around Ambergris Caye, and especially when snorkeling or diving.
If you’re looking to give conch a try, here are three of my favorite conch dishes in Belize.
I’ve had conch fritters in other Caribbean destinations, but the ones I get back home in Belize are my favorite by far. You’ll find them served throughout the country, especially in coastal destinations and on the cayes. Ingredients and texture may vary by recipe — I’ve had some with the conch ground up, while others have had larger, more meaty chunks of conch. In general, other ingredients include onion, sweet pepper, garlic, herbs, and perhaps even a bit of habanero pepper. When it comes to dipping sauces, you’ll find another wide variety here — I’ve had chipotle style mayo, sweet chili sauce, pepper sauce, and more.
I’ve said it countless times, but I really could eat ceviche every day — especially conch ceviche. My favorite ceviche in Belize is a mixture of shrimp, octopus, and conch. Some of my local friends don’t like octopus and/or conch in ceviche as they find it too chewy, but I love the texture of both. The conch is marinated, or essentially cooked, in lime, mixed with other ingredients like tomato and onion, and always served with homemade tortilla chips as there’s no better way to enjoy fresh ceviche.
You may find a few different versions of ceviche in Belize — some options are more chunky, with carrots and cucumbers, while others have long, thin slices of onions and tomatoes, sometimes referred to as “Mexican style” by locals.
Conch Soup, Stew, or Chowder
After living in Asia for several years, I became accustomed to eating soup even in the warmest of months. So, conch soup on a tropical island in 85F weather is perfectly acceptable to me. I’ve had conch served in a soup made with pigtail, in a milky style chowder, and even within a soup more like a stew, with large vegetables and potatoes. It depends on the restaurant and your preference, but don’t skip trying conch soup if you find it on a menu! One of the best I’ve tried in San Pedro is at Elvi’s Kitchen.
Other Ways to Eat Conch
You may find menu options that serve conch as a main dish, perhaps fried or blackened. Some people find it too chewy or tough, but if you get it cooked right, the fillet is quite tender. I prefer conch in ceviche, soup, or fritters. If you’re around when someone is cleaning a conch, you may be invited to try “conch penis,” supposedly the male reproductive organ of the conch, said to be even more of an aphrodisiac than the conch meat itself. For the record– Yes, I tried it once, and it had very little taste.
The Importance of Conch Season
Like spiny lobster season, there is a very strict season when it’s OK to catch, sell, and consume Queen Conch in Belize. The season lasts from October 1 through June 30, but it may close early some years. Other rules exist regarding who can legally sell conch in Belize and the minimum allowable size. Please consult the Belize Fisheries Department regulations to ensure you are in complete compliance, and do not consume conch outside of the official season.
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Lunch was provided by Elvi’s Kitchen in San Pedro, Belize, but as always, I retain full editorial control over content, and all thoughts, opinions, and calories gained are my own.