It is one of the most famous and typical dishes in Ecuador and loved by everyone who tastes it: The Fanesca.
The soup is traditionally prepared only once a year during La Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Ecuador, the South of Colombia and in the North of Peru. The typical dish is cooked and consumed on el Viernes Santo (Good Friday) together with the whole family. It is said that the rich soup contains a lot of vegetable protein and fibre, which prevent diseases like diabetes, obesity and hypertension.
The recipe and preparation of the soup vary from region to region and from family to family but its main ingredients are always pumpkin, rice, different grains, some of them only available in the Andean highlands of South America, lentils, peas, corn, codfish and 12 different kinds of beans. Those 12 beans stand for the 12 apostles. The codfish, which is cooked in milk, is a symbol of Jesus Christ himself. As a sign of decomposition, the codfish is salted and then dried.
In some of the recipes you can find the soup mixed with hardboiled eggs, cheese, fried plantains, avocado, parsley or empanadas. Because of the religious rule not to eat meat during the Semana Santa, the soup never contains meat or animal fats.
The origin of this dish is not particularly known. There are many legends and tales about it. One says that the Spanish forced a French cook to create a rich dish for the Semana Santa (Holy Week) that symbolizes the penitence of the Christs. Another one says that the soup was invented by a woman, Juana, in a convent in Quito, therefore the soup was called Juanesca at the beginning.
However, the group of “Rescate de los Sabores Tradicionales del Ecuador“ (Rescue of the Traditional Tastes of Ecuador) found out that the origins of the soup are Pre-Hispanic. The first version of the soup was a traditional dish made out of grains for different festivities and had existed for 4000 years already. Since then it has been complemented with different ingredients, some of them imported by the conquistadors. As the Spanish people made trading between the Coast and the Andean Highlands possible, many new ingredients were added to the soup, for example bananas, peanuts and sea fishes from the Pacific Coast.
If you ever visit Ecuador during the Semana Santa, don’t miss to try the Fanesca to taste the feeling of Ecuadorian history, culture, tradition and most of all, family.
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