This vacation couldn’t have come at a better time. As the entire country fell into a below-zero deep freeze, I was headed for some sun and heat in Turks & Caicos with my girlfriend Amy and her family.

Day 1:

We were staying at the beautiful Grace Bay Club, right on the incredible beach in Providenciales, Turk & Caicos. Upon arrival, we immediately hit the gym to preempt the impending bodily destruction. I had two missions on this trip. 1) To return with the tan of a golden god. 2) To eat as much conch – the local shellfish specialty – in as many ways as humanly possible.

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Grace Bay Club

That first evening, five of us grabbed a cab and headed to the Thursday night-only fish fry on the beach. There were many food vendors from local restaurants selling tropical boozy concoctions, like Gully Wash. However I was more excited about the variety of preparations of fish, shrimp, and most importantly, conch.

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Conch

Cracked conch, grilled conch, conch soup, fried conch, conch fritters, every preparation imaginable could be had.

There was also a band playing upbeat but relaxing islandy music while many white people danced poorly. This weekly event is definitely an attraction designed for tourists. Not only were the prices for food and drink high, but the cabs in Turks were more expensive than any where else I’ve been in the world. Despite all that, it was still really fun.

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The Fish Fry

To kick off my conch quest, I stopped at Miss Moonie’s stall and got an order of Chunky Conchy Fritters. Their conch fritters were clearly not fried to order. The brown balls had a heavy, dense, almost gummy exterior and didn’t have very much seafood texture inside. Unfortunately my first conch dish wasn’t very inspiring, but I wasn’t going to give up that easily.

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Chunky Conchy Fritters

The second stall, called Hole in the Wall, was MUCH better. Their fritters were much lighter inside, crispier outside, and had a really nice seafoody texture that felt similar to diced shrimp. Simply adding a little bit of spicy, creamy dipping sauce led to fried seafood ball perfection.

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Conch Fritters

Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel to the Infinity Bar for a drink and a snack before calling it a night. The cheese plate was huge but pretty straight forward. Those local grapes were awesome and the bar area looks absolutely incredible at night.

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The Infinity Bar and Cheese Plate

Day 2:

This morning we set an alarm and woke before the sun was up to get out to the beach for the 6:35 AM sunrise. It was incredibly beautiful and a great opportunity for a photo shoot in the dawning light.

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Sunrise at the Beach

It was really just the two of us out there until THIS YETI IN A BIKINI showed up for his morning stroll.

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Yeti Spotted

From there, we made a bit of coffee back at the room and headed down to the gym once again to kick off the day. After our workout, Amy’s parents joined us for a beachside meal at the resort’s continental breakfast. I had a really nice omelette with salmon, shrimp, spinach, herbs, and Swiss before showering up and getting situated on the beach to eliminate my disgustingly pale complexion.

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Shrimp and Salmon Omelette

We returned to the the same beachfront cafe for lunch a few hours later, this time with the whole crew. Amy and I began with a Conch Chowder which was deep red, hot, creamy, and loaded with soft, stewed root vegetables and huge hunks of tender conch. In this dish, the conch felt similar to clams with a bit of scallop texture thrown in.

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Conch Chowder

For my main, I had an Ahi Tuna Burger. They placed an entire, whole tuna steak onto a hamburger bun with avocado and a grilled green bell pepper with a side of fries. I was worried that they were going to overcook the tuna but was happy to find the inside bright pink and rare as requested. I did, however, find the dish to be pretty mild flavorwise. I think a kick from spicy mayo would have improved this sandwich.

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Ahi Tuna Burger

From there, Amy and I headed to the resort’s famed Infinity Pool to lie out in the sun for a bit. Once we saw the pool for ourselves we knew we had to take a quick photo shoot. At on end of the Infinty Pool, the wall is completely made of glass. Modeling underwater felt like an episode of America’s Next Top Model. Call me Tyra!

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Turks & Caicos’ Next Top Model

As the sun began to set, we realized it was time to get ready for the evening. It was Amy’s sister’s birthday, so all six of us regrouped at the Infinity Bar fireplace for some drinks before heading to Grace Bay’s upscale restaurant, Anacaona, for dinner. The restaurant was outdoors and beachfront so the menu was actually backlit, something I’d never seen done before.

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A Martini and the Outdoor Fire Pit

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Dining outside at Anacaona

At Anacaona, I began my meal with a Scallop & Lobster Sausage in Cheese Fondue Sauce which was certainly pretty unusual. I’ve learned that since seafood doesn’t ordinarily take this form or consistency, it’s known as a forcemeat (which I shall henceforth take as my middle name). The sausage had a pretty strange texture, lacking any of the snappy exterior or interior meatiness I usually associate with sausage, but I really did enjoy the oddity of it.

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Scallop & Lobster Sausage in Fondue Sauce

For my main, I had a Lobster Pot Pie with a Truffle Studded Crust. The dish was prepared tableside by cutting into the flaky truffle crust and transferring it and the large hunks of tender lobster tail meat to the other bowl of simply steamed vegetables. The liquid inside was a red tomato based broth instead of the creamy white substance you’re used to seeing. The lobster was plentiful, the crust flaky, and the truffles fragrant. It certainly hit the spot for me.

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Lobster Pot Pie with Truffle Crust

We made it an early night to prepare ourselves for the early boat tour the following day.

Day 3:

So we had a quick breakfast before heading to our boat pickup point. Our catamaran was staffed with two friendly locals who would be taking us way out for reef snorkeling, fishing, and conch diving. As soon as we boarded and headed out, they hooked us up with rum punch and local beers. What a hell of a way to start a morning.

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Our Boat

Now, I’d never snorkeled before and I actually really don’t like the idea of breathing through a tube, but I was going to give it a shot on this trip. They got us set up with fins, snorkels, and masks and basically just sent us out into the open water to explore with minimal instruction.

Trying to use a snorkel for the first time in the deep, open water nearly gave me a panic attack. I could feel myself begin to hyperventilate immediately. The process of trying to keep water out of my goggles, mouth, and snorkel while also avoiding breathing out of my nose and keeping myself afloat was absolutely terrifying. It definitely felt like mama bird pushing me out of the nest on this one. But I struggled my way through it and was able to see some gorgeous sealife swimming through the reef and past my feet.

Shortly after, we returned to the boat and I tried to regroup and calm myself while we cruised to our next location. The drivers got us set up with fishing rods so that we could try our hand at that too. I had my bait frustratingly stolen four or five times, hooked my line on the reef a couple times, and ultimately came up empty handed. Oh well, next time.

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The beautiful remote parts of Turks & Caicos

We then drove to another remote, but much shallower part of the island to try our hand at diving for conch. This water varied between knee and waist-high, but we still wore flippers, snorkels, and masks so we didn’t step on any sea urchin while hunting for conch. Between the six of us, we found three living conch to bring back to the boat for the next part of our adventure.

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The fruits of our labor

We were driven over to Iguana Island where we exited the boat for some exploration and a tutorial on butchering our freshly caught conch.

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Removing conch from its shell

Midway through the process, our instructor pulled out a long, thin, translucent part of the female conch and asked if anyone would like to eat the conch’s reproductive parts. Of course Amy’s whole family looked at me, the resident food adventurer, so I stepped up to the plate and took it down. Our guide told us that it’s known for its aphrodisiac qualities and made a joke about making sure I was wearing two pairs of pants three hours from now. Andrew Zimmern would be proud.

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Eating conch pistol

After wandering around the island and finding some iguanas, we returned to the boat for a freshly prepared lunch made with the conch we had just caught.

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Iguana Island

The staff whipped up a Conch Salad that was essentially Conch Ceviche. The combination of diced tomato, onions, lime juice, salt, pepper, and fresh conch couldn’t have been better. It doesn’t get fresher than this and it was so extremely refreshing on a hot day in the sun. The conch was diced into small seafoody bits that had a similar flavor and texture to squid. I even added a bit of vinegary Louisiana-style hot sauce to make it even better.

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Conch Ceviche

We returned to land for some more time in the sun before getting showered up for the evening adventure. We hitched a cab to head to the other end of the island to watch the sun set and hopefully see sharks swim by us at Sharkbite Bar.

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Sharkbite Bar

As soon as we arrived at this nautical sports bar, we put in an order of Cracked Conch. The dish was actually really similar to fried calamari and that’s not a bad thing. These deep fried shellfish were very tender and came with a thick, crispy, deep fried crust and two dipping sauces. I stuck to the slightly spicy aioli and thoroughly enjoyed every bite of this dish.

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Cracked Conch

We also ordered a few rounds of tropical, frozen drinks. I went with the Bahama Mama, a cocktail loaded with light and dark rum along with an orange juice, pineapple juice, and grenadine slush. This drink was really excellent. I can’t think of a time I’ve ever had a better tropical drink.

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Bahama Mama

While we waited around for the sun to set in hopes of spotting some sharks we ordered another dish. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to try a new preparation of conch, so we got a dish called Firecracker Conch. I’d later regret this decision when I awoke in the middle of the night to severe gastrointestinal distress.

Anyways, this dish looks very similar to the simply fried Cracked Conch except each battered piece has been tossed in some sort of red hot sauce and was served with lime yogurt dipping sauce. The way the conch came smothered in hot sauce which made the breading a little bit soggy compared to the the unsauced cracked conch, but that’s not my biggest issue with the dish.

The first few bite were hot but didn’t seem too crazy. Soon I noticed a creeping burn, the kind that comes from the combination of jalapeño and habanero. With every successive bite, the unrelenting wrath of habanero continued to engulf my mouth and entire face. Maybe I was hallucinating from the heat, but it felt like my body was rocking back and forth even though I was firmly seated on solid ground. This dish was excruciatingly hot but also addictively delicious. If only my body allowed me to enjoy hot things as much as my mouth does.

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Firecracker Conch

After downing our drinks and polishing the plate of Firecracker Conch, we decided we wanted to go to the casino. A little known secret is that the casino will pick you up from anywhere on the island via private shuttle so that’s what we did. We got a free ride all the way back from Sharkbite Bar to the casino, which just so happened to be super close to Grace Bay. Like all good casinos, they offered free drinks to everyone who is gambling which helps me mentally offset potential losses. The casino was pretty small, but if you enjoy gambling like we do, it’ll serve its purpose well.

Once we finished up there, it was a short five minute walk back to our hotel where we had a quick dinner. I stuck to seafood and ordered the Turks Seafood Pot which came loaded with shrimp, mussels, clams, snapper, and scallops in a tomato-based broth. It was pretty good but also pretty simple tasting.

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Turks Seafood Pot

Day 4:

On our final day of vacation we woke up early for one last morning gym visit before beachfront breakfast and our last chance to get some sun on our faces.

Later, we packed up and rode to the airport before learning that our flight was delayed by two hours. Given the situation, before going through security we decide to instead take a long, leisurely meal at the airport’s only restaurant, Gilley’s.

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Gilley’s: The Only Restaurant at the Turks & Caicos Airport

I noticed that their menu featured one last new version of conch I could try, a Conch Burger. What arrived was a large, battered and deep fried mass of tender conch similar to a cluster of fried calamari served on a hamburger bun with tartar sauce. It was actually really excellently done with plenty of herbs dotted throughout the batter. This dish certainly joins the pantheon of the best airport food I’ve had.

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Conch Burger

So that’s the story of how I ate every style of conch I could over a four day span in Turks & Caicos. Between the Conch Fritters, Conch Chowder, Conch Ceviche, Cracked Conch, Firecracker Conch, Conch Burger, and of course Raw Conch Pistol I think I did my due diligence. I think I liked the fried preparations like Conch Fritters, Cracked Conch, and Conch Burger the best and I’d have any of these varieties again… except maybe the nearly fatal Firecracker Conch.

Grace Bay Club
@GraceBayClub
Bonaventure Crescent Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands

Infinity Bar
Bonaventure Crescent Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands

Anacaona
Bonaventure Crescent Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands

Caicos Dream Tours
Bonaventure Crescent Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands

Sharkbite Bar
Lower Bight Road Providenciales, Turks & Caicos Islands

Gilley’s Cafe
Airport Providenciales, Turks & Caicos Islands

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