Rondón (meaning 'run down') is a rich fish and conch casserole with yucca, yam, green plantains and dumplings, slowly cooked in coconut milk. It's most delicious dish, very popular in the Caribbean. The recipe varies depending on what ingredients you happen to 'run down', it means, whatever the fisherman brings that day. Half the fun is gathering the ingredients and the preparation itself. Rondón can be made in the kitchen or even better outside. It is certainly my favourite dish from Providencia and thank you kindly, my dear local friends, who make it each time whenever I visit the island :)
How to make rondón
Coconut milk is an essential part of a good rondón so the first task is to gather some coconuts. Open the coconuts and great the coconut meat into a large pot. Add the water and squeeze the gratings with your hands. Then separate the milk from the gratings by squeezing the gratings in a cloth sack.
Bring the coconut milk to a boil and add some Caribbean vegetables: yucca, yam/sweet potato and green plantains. Add crushed garlic and fresh herbs to taste. Season the dish with black pepper and salt. Now come the fish, conch, lobster, crab, shrimp, squid, octopus and/or whatever else you have 'run down'. Simmer the dish until the vegetables are soft and the seafood is transparent and delicate.
Rondón is best served about 20 minutes after taking it off the heat - if you can wait, of course ;) The dish is most delicious!! :)
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Providencia has its own gastronomy related to its natural resources and seafood appears almost in all meals. Native cuisine represents an important part of the island's culture and Providencia dishes have a strong Afro-Caribbean flavour which is result of the process of racial and cultural mixing that has going on for centuries. Island dishes are made with red snapper and other fish, conch, lobster and crab. Usually they are seasoned with coconut milk and served with patacones (green plantains) or yucca.
Islanders adore rondón (meaning 'run down'), a stew of fish, conch, yucca, yam, green plantains and dumplings, cooked in coconut milk. Sancocho de pescado (fish stew) is also quite popular. This hearty fish soup is made with a large white fish - sábalo or mero (grouper fish) and it includes yucca, green plantains, potatoes. Vegetables, herbs and pepper are added to the soup (see the recipe).
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The island's sweet-fleshed black crab (this is not the ocean crab most of us are used to but the land crab which is seen in abundance all over the island) is prepared in numerous ways, from a delicious soup or stew, fried crab patties and empanadas to simply cooked with butter in its shell or the crab claws for starter.
Fresh fish - grilled or fried in coconut oil - is served with coconut rice and patacónes and there are a lot of conch and lobster dishes.
Seafood lovers, welcome to heaven! :)
Islanders also have a very sweet tooth and their Johnny cake, banana cake, mango pie and coconut bread are most delicious.
Traditional music and dance of Providencia is the result of an eclectic mixture of influences, including European, polka, mazurka and waltz, combined with strong Afro-Caribbean influence, now mixed with calypso, socca and reggae music. Locals think of themselves as fully Caribbean and playing reggae is a way of keeping a living relationship with the rest of the Caribbean. It's the music that people of the islands, such as Jamaica, Trinidad, San Andres, use to tell the truth about what happens. Reggae is now playing in most of the beach bars.
Reggae tradition comes from the days of slavery when they brought their ancestors from Africa in chains to work 24 hours in cane and cotton fields. The landlords gave them only little free time and they used it for playing the drum asking the god to help them to go away from where they were. The people of Providence believe that these ancestors lived in slavery because they had a mission. The islanders can now pick those rhythms that they began with a drum. Today they have guitar, bass, drums, whistles, but always with the same line to tell the truth and thank to god for the music, that is reggae.
With the support of the Ministry of Culture, in the beginning of 2005 a group of local musicians, that I had honour to meet, started to work on the project called Rainbow Fest. With this project they wanted to reactivate the music cultural industry of Providencia. Two years later this resulted in the CD titled The New Song of Old Providence. Please have a look at the video.
The Providencian culture is the result of a mixture of inhabitants who came to the region over the period of past centuries. Most of today's native population (approximately 5.000 people) share a blended ancestry derived from English, Spanish, African and Colombian descendants. Even after the island became Colombian territory, the English influence remained in architecture, language and religion. The native language of Providencia is Creole, a kind of Caribbean English. The language originates in English but it has its own phonetic, grammar and many expressions from Spanish and African dialects. The dominant creeds among the islanders are Catholic, Baptist and Adventist.
The culture is similar to that of nearby Jamaica and very different from that of mainland Colombia. That means Rastas, reggae and a very laid back lifestyle. This is how all the Caribbean was 50 years ago. Islanders are unassuming, generous and kind. They encourage you to enjoy the slow pace of life, to forget about time and to relax in the calm and inviting atmosphere.
People of Providencia feel Colombian but most of all they feel Providencian. It's a pride demonstrated when they talk about 'their island'. Islanders are very sensitive to finding ways of encouraging tourism that will not degrade the environment and the culture of the island. Providencia thankfully remains unspoilt and is a very unique island to visit.
One of the most noticeable traditional activities of the natives is fishing. They are practised masters and never come to shore empty-handed. It is not uncommon to see children free diving the 10 m reefs for fish with a handmade pointed stick. Little wooden boats bob up and down the shore in the early morning while larger ones depart for deeper water at dusk.
One morning I was around Lover's Bridge and there were fishing boats unloading their catch of the day. There were containers full of best quality fish and some they immediately cleaned and prepared for sale. It was quite interesting to watch the fishermen at their daily routine.
Many local fishermen offer fishing tours, using nets, hooks and free diving in search of lobster, crab, conch, bream, grouper and other reef species. And then, of course, you can take for free what you have got. Ask around at Aguadulce to arrange the trip.
Islanders have an unusual connection with the black land crab. It's an important symbol of native cultural identity and generations have celebrated the link between crab and human through story, folklore and song. They even organize an annual crab festival. However, there is a truly remarkable natural event to observe in April-May. Every night thousands of black land crabs - which are huge and frighteningly clawsome - make the journey from the cool inland forest to the sea to lay their eggs. They hobble across the only paved road in the island which becomes densely covered with crabs. This extraordinary mass migration stops the traffic.
For islanders the black land crab is also an important source of proteins. They make variety of dishes, such as crab soup, crab stew and crab empanadas. One night Toribio went to the forest and one hour later he returned with a sackful of crabs. Next day he cooked them in a huge pan and then separated meat from claws. He prepared a most delicious stew accompanied with rice and patacones. The lunch was just ready when his niece and I returned from the beach :)
Isla de Providencia and Santa Catalina are notable for their traditional wooden houses and quaint English-Caribbean style architecture. The brightly painted single-storey houses of the local population sit amongst palm trees. The houses are simply framed and airy, with wooden shutters and balconies. Porches overlook leafy, bloom-filled gardens in these fine examples of English-Caribbean architecture. Manzanillo village and Santa Catalina are some of the places where you can appreciate it.
Providencia is a scruffy sort of island, at least on a cloudy day, and the rain-starved slopes are in harmony with the shabby British colonial-style homesteads. There are no big hotels or large-scale developments. Instead, the natives installed small cabins, simple apartment style houses that are rented out to tourists, in synchrony with the colourful wooden architecture of the island. Traditional architecture can be still found in other Caribbean islands, but in Providencia it is still attractive at its natural state.
more pics in Isla de SantaCatalina and Manzanillo village travelogues