Ask any Ecuadorian what is their favourite aspect of the traditions of Easter in Quito and you’ll most likely get one resounding reply: fanesca. That creamy, oozy, gut-buster of a soup that transports them back to their grandmother’s dining table, matching crockery, family lunches – and leaves them unable to eat for a week afterwards.
Traditionally eaten on Good Friday but now widely available for several weeks leading up to Easter in Quito, fanesca is a soup that packs a punch, expressly invented, seemingly, to fatten up the penitent to pre-starvation levels after the culmination of Lent. Though exact recipes differ from household to household (and each family will swear blind that theirs is the best), many ingredients are consistent with a time-honoured version.
These include: 12 types of beans and grains (they must be 12 – more on that later) like peas, red beans, sweet corn and lentils; pumpkin and squash; lots of milk; peanut sauce; salted cod and eggs. That’s just the base. To garnish, there’s a choice of parsley, hot peppers, cheese, sweet plantain, deep-friend dough balls, empanadas, avocado, and hard-boiled eggs. The result looks like a sort of party finger buffet floating on a steaming yellow pond, which is oddly appealing.
With so many ingredients, marketplace sellers – and even large supermarket chains – helpfully arrange products so that locals can buy them all in one go as they prepare for Easter in Quito – purchasing enough food to feed a starving army.
One thing that makes this Easter in Quito custom such a source of pride for Ecuadorians is that no other country shares it. Though there is similar dish in Portugal made with beans and cod, some locals like to muse that it was created in the colonial era in a mythical Andes hacienda by a woman named Juana, branding her invention “Juanesca”.
Others fancy its origins are pre-Hispanic, harking back to the ritual of Mushuc Nina or The Day of Fire, a celebration of the Andean new year when grains are harvested. In Kichwa, there is a dish that is traditional to the festivities called uchukuta: soft beans cooked with chilli and herbs. Like its modern interpretation, this dish was supposed to include squash and pumpkin, peas, corn and beans. Wild guinea pig was served in place of today’s cod.
It’s unsurprising that when the Spanish arrived, they piggy-backed off the local festivities (held at roughly the same time as Easter) and attached their own Catholic symbolism, declaring that the 12 beans and grains represented the 12 apostles. The strong-tasting fish embodied Christ – an aspect sometimes skipped during Easter in Quito when there are children or picky eaters at the table. Meat is the only food-stuff, it would seem, that is not an option.
So earnestly is this tradition of Easter in Quito taken that there’s an annual contest in which local restaurants compete to be crowned the city’s best fanesca. Each applicant is judged on their presentation, garnishes, and of course, taste.
Come and try our traditional Fanesca at Casa Gangotena!
Come and try fanesca for yourself! On the weeks leading to Easter, Casa Gangotena will be serving its own heavily heavenly interpretation. Usually it’s on the menu during the months of March and April, depending on when Easter begins. If you manage to finish it all and feel like you can take on more, we’ll give you a little extra – just to ensure you don’t have to eat for another month…
Soups of Ecuador
Ecuador is known as the Country of 1,000 Soups and if there’s one thing that Ecuadorians cannot agree on, it’s which is the best. Some favourites include:
- Encebollado – a breakfast soup with a base of fish stock with tuna and onions, originating from the coast.
- Locro de papa – a silkily creamy potato soup served with cheese and avocado, hearty enough for the Andean cold.
- Sancocho – a broth base with corn, yucca, other vegetables and either chicken, fish or meat.