What Is Fanesca?

P.M. Willers

Fanesca is an Ecuadorian soup that is traditionally served during the week of Easter. The process for making it requires many complicated and time consuming steps, which most likely influences the infrequency with which it is made. Making and eating fanesca is a large scale social activity, so it is almost always made in large portions. Most recipes yield servings for 20-25 people.

Queso fresco, which is used to garnish fanesca.
Queso fresco, which is used to garnish fanesca.

The ingredients of fanesca typically include pumpkin, cabbage, corn, and fig leaf gourd, also known as malabar gourd. In addition, at least 12 different kinds of beans and potatoes are used. Bean varieties used typically include fava, tremoco, and cannellini beans.

Cannellini beans, which are used to make fanesca.
Cannellini beans, which are used to make fanesca.

Traditional fanesca broth contains no water, instead using only milk. Some cooks prefer to substitute water for some of the milk. Dried salt cod must be soaked in the milk for 24 hours. The flavor of the cod can be quite bitter, so depending on personal taste the cod may or may not be eventually added to the soup. Only those who truly love the dish will enjoy the flavor of the dried salt cod in the soup.

Due to the multitude of ingredients and their complex cooking requirements, cooking fanesca is usually a group activity. All of the ingredients are cooked separately for varying lengths of time, so different parts of the cooking process are carried out by different people. After all ingredients are properly cooked and then mashed or pureed, the cod milk is added and the ingredients are cooked together in order to allow flavors to blend. The soup is served well garnished with sliced hard-boiled eggs, fried plantains, hot peppers, queso fresco, and spicy sauce. Lime-cured onions and fried empanadas are often served on the side.

In Ecuador, all ingredients used in fanesca are fresh and purchased from markets just before the cooking begins. Many of the numerous ingredients required for fanesca are only found within the Southern highlands of Ecuador near the city of Cuenca. Most ingredients are grown by the indigenous population in southern Ecuador and are distributed primarily to local markets.

At times, it is difficult to find the ingredients in other regions within Ecuador. One such ingredient is the small and starchy mellocos potato, which is specific to the Andes. Attempts to make the unique Ecuadorian dish in other parts of the world require substitution for certain ingredients, making authentic fanesca that much more elusive.

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