There are almost 4 months that I am now living in Ecuador, period after which one I finally start to be used with the Ecuadorian food. Maybe are you in the same situation than I was in before, knowing nothing about this food. Have you already heard about hornado, ceviche, corviche, bolon, churrasco, fritada or even fanesca? Probably not, except if you have already visited Ecuador. Those dishes belong to the typical Ecuadorian food. Depending on regions, specific ingredients are more often cooked than other ones. For instance, in the Coast region people would eat seafood, fishes, beans and plantains whereas in the Sierra region meat, potatoes, rice and white hominy would be preferred.
The Fanesca is a meal by itself. Because it has an interesting history and holds an important role in the Ecuadorian people lives, I have decided to emphasize on it. We will talk more about region’s food in upcoming articles.
The Fanesca dish is a soup made with 12 sorts of beans and grains. It is usually eaten during the Holy Week, especially on Good Friday because it doesn’t have any meat in. Even the idea of 12 types of beans remain the same in each family, added ingredients differ from a dish preparation to another one. Most of the time, ingredients such as eggs, shrimps, potatoes, cheese, and herbs are added. All this mix is cooked in milk. I can swear that after eating this rich and heavy platter, you wouldn’t like trying another one for diner!
Behind this tradition, there are diverse believes. Regarding to origins of this dish, 2 possibilities are mentioned. The first one talks about a French chef who would have been brought to South America by Spanish Conquistadors in order to cook a heavy dish for the Holy Week´s Rite of Penance. The second one describes a woman called Juana who would have invented it in a monastery, the reason which would explain its previous name “Juanesca”. However, a recent study proves that it origins are older than the Spanish invasion, dating back to 4,000 years old. By this time, people celebrated the “Mushuk Nina” feast or in other words the “The New Fire Day” feast. Through this event, they were commemorating the March’s equinoctial, time when the sun position is perpendicular to the Equatorial Line inhibiting any shade. Coincidence or not, Spanish people celebrate the same week the Jesus Christ death and resurrection.
After the Spanish arrival in South America, new ingredients from Spain were added to the initial dish, thus mixing traditions and cultures.
Nowadays, the Fanesca fits with the Catholic rituals. The 12 beans (e.g. corn, fava beans, lupines, peas, lentils …) represent the 12 Jesus Christ’s apostles and the Israeli tribes whereas the salty and dry fish found inside is the symbol of Jesus Christ himself.
If you want to try this dish, come to visit us by the Holy Week. If it would be difficult for you to come over in March, plenty of other traditional dishes are waiting for you all along the year!