Fanesca is a traditional Ecuadorian soup eaten during the Cuaresma period (Lent) and Semana Santa (Holy Week/Easter). The Fanesca is made with 12 legume/vegetable ingredients, and each Ecuadorian family has their own way of making it. These 12 ingredients are grains grown in Ecuador and include: choclo tierno (corn), habas (lima beans), frijoles rojos (red kidney beans), frijoles blancos (white beans), alverjitas (green peas), chochos (lupini beans), lentejas (lentils), mote (hominy), maní (peanuts), mellocos (a small Ecuadorian potato), zapallo and zambo (varieties of squashes, like pumpkin, yellow squash, butternut squash, etc.). Additionally, this soup contains bacalao (salted cod), cooked rice and has a milk base.
The specific origins of the Fanesca are not clear, although it is said that it originated during Colonial times. The 12 legume/vegetable ingredients symbolize the 12 Apostles, although it is also said they symbolize The 12 Tribes of Israel, while the fish represents Our Savior Jesus Christ. Recall that during this time of the year, devout Catholic Christians don’t eat red meat, hence the use of fish in this soup. Also, during Lent it is common for many people to fast, so when Fanesca time comes around, eating a big, hearty soup is welcomed.