Caldosa & rum for the fiesta del barrio

“Yanisleidys! Do you have any cumin?” “Are you ever going to learn to buy cassava?” “Caballero, if you drink all the rum now, all you’ll have for the party will be water!”

From street to street, neighborhood to neighborhood throughout Cuba, scenes like these are repeated over and over every September 27th, on the eve of the anniversary of the creation of the Comités de Defensa de la Revolución (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution), better known by their acronym CDR. The organization was formed on September 28, 1960, when, in the midst of one of Fidel Castro’s impassioned speeches, several explosions were heard. The reply of the multitude was to give cheers to the Revolution and Fidel immediately proposed the creation of a neighborhood organization that would defend the young revolutionary process against internal and external dangers through the surveillance by the people of enemy activity.

Over time, surveillance would be accompanied by other activities, such as polio vaccination campaigns, blood donations, collecting waste material for recycling, etc., but the tradition of the party remained unchanged.

Days before the “fiesta del Comité” a group of enthusiastic members raise money with the help of the neighbors and divide the tasks among them. One buys rum, another is responsible for the lights, others decorate the block…However, the undisputed star of the show is the person responsible for preparing the “caldosa.”

Caldosa is an enigmatic stew, a poor relative of the ajiaco, a traditional Cuban stew that contains large chunks of pork, beef, chorizo and a medley of vegetables. For the caldosa, alas, there is no fixed recipe. It takes whatever you can find in the market: potatoes, cassava, sweet potatoes, plantain, onion, garlic, pepper, oregano, cumin, salt, sausage of any kind, chicken giblets, mutton or pork ribs or pork head, water and its ready to be cooked. Everybody on the block contributes something from their fridge or pantry to the caldosa of unpredictable flavor. This jumble of meat and vegetables is then cooked in a huge pot outside right on the street. Placing the pot, filling it with the uncooked food, lighting the fire, and taking turns stirring the stew is a ritual in itself. When it’s done, it’s time to start the party.

This is the fiesta del barrio. Neighbors who don’t even glance at each other throughout the year may get deep in conversation with intimate details. A family who has recently moved has the chance of getting to know the people on their block. Others catch up on some juicy story. Meanwhile, the little ones run around, happy to be able to stay up late, and the teenagers play their favorite music that ranges from salsa to timba to reggaeton. While fruit punch is the usual beverage for kids and senior citizens, the omnipresent rum is coveted by the men—and some women.

The party may go on past midnight at least for a couple of hours more. Some people leave early, some at the stroke of midnight, while diehards may probably stay up until the break of day—as long as there’s rum to keep them company!

  • 2014 Serie Nacional de Béisbol Play-offs

    2014 Serie Nacional de Béisbol Play-offs  LH 5

    Simplicity is the key word for baseball in Cuba, with no luxury boxes, huge electronic scoreboards or celebrity baseball players. As in many things in Cuba, there is no shortage of passion and this se …

    Marabana—The 2012 Havana Marathon

    Marabana—The 2012 Havana Marathon  LH 5

    Marabana is Havana’s annual marathon. Typically an exercise for me in making resolutions to get fit and participate in the race the next year, or a reminder that last’s year’s resolution is now forfei …

    Cubadisco: Cuba’s premier music awards show

    Cubadisco: Cuba’s premier music awards show  LH 5

    Nothing to do with discotheques, the International Cubadisco Fair begun in 1997 as a way to bring to national and international attention what the Cuban recording industry has been up to. It includes …

    1st Havana World Music Festival

    1st Havana World Music Festival  LH 5

    Organized by a nonprofit group led by young Cuban singer and composer Eme Alfonso, the 1st Havana World Music Festival (February 7-8, 2014) sought to open a window from Cuba onto the world and from th …

    The Marabana – Run Charlie run

    The Marabana – Run Charlie run  LH 5

    Race experience (Nov 2010) It is dark outside, 5.30am. Wishful thinking that I could simply sleep in and let the Havana marathon wait another year. I have, after all, been signed in various times over …

    64th Ernest Hemingway International Billfish Tournament

    64th Ernest Hemingway International Billfish Tournament  LH 5

    Like all the best fishing stories, mine began in a bar. One evening in Havana, I was introduced to a man called Stewart, an affable commercial manager in a London building firm. It turned out he was p …

    Harley Davidson Varadero Rally, 2012

    Harley Davidson Varadero Rally, 2012  LH 5

    Part of Cuba’s attraction undeniably is its pre-1960s vintage from the classic American cars through Tropicana and Buena Vista Social Club to simply the feel and look of the place. That it also harbor …

    The Rotilla Festival in Jibacoa

    The Rotilla Festival in Jibacoa  LH 5

    Founded in 1998, the Rotilla Festival started as a rave between friends and grew over the years to become Cuba’s largest annual concert (attracting over 20,000 people in 2010). While it started out li …

    Cine Pobre: Cuba’s alternative film festival

    Cine Pobre: Cuba’s alternative film festival  LH 5

    Cine Pobre is authentic, charming and off-the-beaten track even in Cuba. Traditionally held in Gibrara, a small fishing village which sleeps the rest of the year away, for a week in April, this become …

    The Lucas Music Video Awards

    The Lucas Music Video Awards  LH 5

    Lucas, the Cuban TV show dedicated entirely to national music videos, will have been on the air for 16 years in 2013. Passionately championed by some and flatly rejected by others, almost no one remai …

    1 of 8 pages »