You keep getting this feeling that you can’t quite define. You’ve been on vacation in Nassau/Paradise Island for the past three or four days. You’ve been having nothing short of a great time! Wonderful beaches; excellent duty free shopping; unforgettable watersports; casinos and night life. You’ve sampled it all. But there’s still this lingering feeling that you’ve missed out on something. Your sixth sense is always right! There is an experience —a truly authentically Bahamian experience — that has eluded you until now.
Tucked away, under a bridge, in the shadow of the towers of world famous Paradise Island Atlantis Resort, is Potter’s Cay. Potter’s Cay is a place you could easily bypass. Several yards east of the first bridge to Paradise Island, on East Bay Street, just before the second bridge, the sign on the far left, “To Potter’s Cay”” ushers you into a hub of activity that will surprise you by its contrast to what you’ve seen thus far of Nassau/Paradise Island.
The half square mile area under the foot of the bridge for traffic exiting Paradise Island is the world of Potter’s Cay. This is where Bahamians come to buy seafood from the day’s catch or to select the freshest in produce from stalls piled high with fruits and vegetables of every color and description. On the eastern water front of this market place, mailboats disgorge a steady stream of passengers and freight from the far flung islands of the Bahamian archipelago. Potter’s Cay is a beehive of activity but it is mostly a place to hang out and enjoy good, down home Bahamian food.
The aromas that greet you as you enter Potter’s Cay signal that you’re in for a culinary treat. Lining the western water front is a row of about twenty wooden food and fish stalls that go by such names as Doc Sands, Bethel Dem, Bones, the Burning Spot, Super Fresh, Drift Wood Café, Old Q and Bird’s Eye. Stalls vary in size; from small take-away stands operated by a sole vendor to outfits with interiors large enough for a kitchen serving a full course menu.
At the stalls of Potter’s Cay, fresh seafood is king. Conch, that ubiquitous Bahamian mollusk, is served in all its variations. Cut in strips and seasoned with salt, red pepper and lime juice as Scorched Conch. Diced and mixed in with onions, sweet pepper and celery and drenched in lime juice as Conch Salad. Pounded, lathered in egg & flour mix and deep fried as Cracked Conch. Mixed in spicy herbed batter, and deep fried in balls, Conch Fritters. There’s grilled conch, steamed conch and conch chowder. Fish and lobster – fried, steamed or grilled – are two other seafood items big on the Potter’s Cay menu. The choice of side orders include hearty servings of savoury peas & rice, macaroni & cheese, fried plaintains, cole slaw, lettuce & tomatoes or Bahamian bread called Johnny cake.
At Potter’s Cay, there’s take-away, but to really savour the ambiance of this sea-side food village, you need to take a seat. Along the concrete sidewalk that stretches the entire length of the row of shacks, every few paces, there are clusters of tables and chairs. Nothing fancy. A wooden or plastic table with seating for four or six, in the warm sunshine refreshed with light breezes wafting in from the surrounding sea. No wonder this is one of the first places Zach and Sue Soiya head for as soon as they land in Nassau. Zack Soiya, a dentist from Chicago and his wife Sue, have been coming to Nassau for the last five years. This is their tenth visit, and Bones Stall at Potter’s Cay is where the Soiyas come to unwind in Nassau. “The true spirit of the Bahamas is here. We always feel welcome. People are so friendly,” is how Sue describes her and her husband’s experience at Potter’s Cay.
Potter’s Cay is not a place of pretentions. According to Archie McPhee, a former president of the Association of Vendors at Potter’s Cay, the objective for Potter’s Cay has never been compromised. It was always meant to be a native seafood village. Mr. McPhee has been a fisherman for over fifty years, and is one of the original fishermen who launched the sale of fish from this area. Smiling broadly, he proclaims, “Restaurants serving native food come dime a dozen in Nassau, but there’s no place like Potter’s Cay.”
Visitors to Potter’s Cay will not be impressed by any physical installation. The wooden construction of most stalls is fairly rudimentary. The facades of many are freshly painted and tiled. Some are roughly hewn, but all are clean and presentable. But very quickly, what becomes more noticeable is the atmosphere of the place. There’s the sunshine, conviviality, good food and a palpable sense of pride exhibited by the food vendors who are all proprietors of their operations. You sense this same pride in the manner in which the food vendor prepares your order. After a few minutes, you begin to feel like an appreciated guest at the table of a good friend. And that’s just the mood at Doc Sands Stall. All the seats at this stall are taken by a dozen patrons from the Fantasy Cruise Ship, who’ve just been dropped off by Driver of Taxi 235, Tyrone Wilson alias “Cheap Charlie”. One of the Fantasy Cruise passengers, a buff, twenty something young man, has no loss of words to describe why his group is having such a good time at Doc Sands “We’re all originally from the Dominican Republic, and this is just like home for us.”
A stroll along the sidewalk takes you pass an eclectic variety of stalls. The Burning Spot calls the attention not only by its arresting name, but its unusual appearance that’s a mix of garage sale-museum-souvenir shop. The two large gaping shark jaw bones hanging from the ceiling of Donny and Bernadette Farrington’s stall make you wonder about the creatures to which they belonged. “This is the Tourist Mall,” exclaims Bernadette, who, in addition to a full seafood menu, offers for sale, wind chimes, star fish, straw hats and bags. The ambiance at the”Burning Spot is downright homey. A collection of pots, and frying pans hang on the back wall of the Farrington’s stall.
Donny and Bernadette are preparing an order for a family of four from Bolton, Massachussetts. The family is starting with an order of conch salad and conch fritters. How did this couple and their teenage son and daughter find their way to Potter’s Cay all the way from Bolton, Massachussetts? “Right there on Page 27,” the mother points out in her Fodor’s Guide to the Bahamas. As far as culinary adventures go, the teenage daughter is not as daring as her mom. “Come on, honey. You’ve gotta try this.You can’t come to the Bahamas and not eat conch salad.”
Interspersed among the row of stalls serving cooked food are several stands selling fresh fish. Business is brisk at the fish stalls. At Super Fresh, Jeremiah Rolle’s (Rasta Jerry) constant calls of “Fresh Fish…. Fresh Fish,” are heeded by car after car of customers who pull up next to the street side stall for plastic bags of fresh snapper.
Fresh fish stalls make for an interesting site and contribute to the general “out door” market feel of Potter’s Cay but the food stalls are most memorable. It is on the recommendation of a friend that the Northern Virginia couple staying at the Holiday Day Inn on Paradise Island came to Potter’s Cay. The couple’s friend advised them to stop in at Mckenzie’s Fresh Fish and Conch, a stall located about half way down the side walk. The Northern Virginia couple feels particularly lucky for their friend’s tip on Potter’s Cay, because as the wife remarks, “it’s not highly advertised.”
Once the meal is finished, patrons to the tables of Potter’s Cay need not hurry away. Take some time to walk off a few calories. Just across from the row of food stalls are other sights and sounds that complete the Potter’s Cay experience. Friendly female vendors sit placidly in front of fruit and produce stalls teeming with bananas, plantains, pumpkins, papaya; red peppers, tomatoes, cassava, yam, eddoes. In front of many stalls are cages of swarming black crabs, a popular ingredient in stews and soups. Fishermen in rubber work boots hoist giant bags of fresh fish from the well of fishing smacks anchored dockside. A crowd of local customers close in on a crew of fishermen scaling and cleaning the catch of the day.
Farther along the eastern edge of Potter’s Cay, mailboats identified as the Lady Frances, the Captain Moxey, the Nadine and the Current Express take on freight for islands with quaint sounding names like Eleuthera, Andros, Cat Island and Long Island, a few of the many island destinations in the chain of Bahamian islands that beckon for a visit, on your next trip to The Islands Of The Bahamas.
Recipe for Bahamian Conch Salad Ingredients: 8 oz fresh conch 6 tbs freshly squeezed lime juice 1 ripe, firm tomato, peeled, seeded & diced 1/4 cup diced onion 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced 1 bell pepper, cleaned and diced 3 bird peppers (or scotch bonnet), minced Salt and pepper to taste Preparation: Cut conch into 1/4-inch cubes and put into a non-reactive dish. Add lime juice to conch. Add all of the diced vegetables and salt and pepper. Serve with lime wedges. Serves 1