When my best friend from college went on a cruise to the Caribbean for the first time a couple of years ago and asked me for advice on how to enjoy the Caribbean experience, I am not sure he expected the answer I gave him. I instantly told him that he couldn’t come back without eating some fresh conch on the beach.
This was perhaps the one recommendation he didn’t forget, must be because I insisted so much. I wasn’t even sure he would find conch elsewhere, yet I told him repeatedly that he was not to come back without having sampled that delight.
I grew up having my beach days filled with fresh lambi boucané. Therefore, to me, one cannot fully embrace a beach experience without some lambi. A beach day is dull without a plate full of dozens of lambi. Every Haitian knows that.
Lambi, conch in English, are seashell mollusks, also known as sea snails, which are typically caught by divers close to the shore. They can be eaten fully cooked à la creole, gratiné, or grilled, but my favorite way to eat them is boucané on a beach. I make a difference here between grilled and boucané as the former is prepared using previously frozen lambi while the latter is made using the live mollusks, and therefore tastes like the sea: fresh, warm while still retaining the sweet taste of the ocean that many seashells have when they are freshly caught.
The live conches are tossed on a sizzling makeshift grill until they are fully cooked. Careful, the cooking process is not for the faint of heart; the lambi can be seen moving around their shell trying to escape the burning heat that will lead to their quick scalding death.
The cooked mollusks are then taken out of their shell, which often needs to be crushed using a rock, and are then generously drizzled with a taste buds-burning and sinus-clearing lime flavored hot sauce that only the sellers seem to be able to master. Ask them what their secret ingredient is, they won’t be able to give you a plausible answer.
If you do witness the cooking process, I can promise you this: once the lambi hits your palate, you will forget all your humanity. You will even be a little upset that there are so many people around to share it with. Regardless of the amount of dozens bought, lambi boucané simply can’t seem to survive five minutes on a plate.
So to get back to my friend, did he get to experience this pure bliss? He did get to sample conch but it was not our Haitian way. Yet, I am still happy that he liked it so much that I get to brag whenever I eat some lambi boucané on a beach in Haiti.