This year, we celebrate Easter at the end of March. Though this religious celebration is observed in most Catholic countries, Ecuador’s Easter stands out for three reasons:
Food is the core of most cultural festivals and Ecuador is not the exception. Easter in Ecuador is characterized by a special dish called fanesca, a soup made up of 12 different ingredients. Its origins may stem from pre-colonial times, when indigenous communities celebrated Pawkar Raymi in March, that is, close to the equinox. From February, people harvest the first grains and beans in anticipation to the New Year or Mushuk Nina (New Fire), which represents the start of the feminine time of the year. It is said that people would make a soup called uchucuta with this first harvest and later on the Spanish added other ingredients like milk, cheese and fish. Eventually, the dish became part of the Easter celebration as the Spanish where very good at blending local traditions with Catholic events to make the conversion to the new religion easier and less obvious. Indeed, Ecuador and Latin America are full of syncretism and this dish is just one example. In this sense, the 12 ingredients represent the apostles and the tribes of Israel, and the salted codfish or bacalao represents Jesus Christ. Fanesca is eaten way before Easter week and many times during the festivities, starting on Ash Wednesday, though traditionally it would be consumed on Good Friday. Fanesca is a meal in itself, but even so it is complemented with a combination of mashed potatoes and cheese called molo, and for dessert with either figs with cheese or rice pudding. For sure, you will not be able to get up from your chair after this!
The fanesca ingredients vary from city to city, and many restaurants have their special recipe, but typically it will include: black beans, Andean lupin beans, corn, melloco (rare Andean tuber), squash, pumpkin, peas, fava beans, peanuts, lentils, cabbage and codfish. The soup can be topped with fried plantains, hard-boiled egg, cottage cheese, and mini empanadas.
Where to eat:
2. Easter procession
On Good Friday, thousands of believers gather in Quito’s old town to participate in the Easter procession of Jesús del Gran Poder or Jesus Almighty. In Quito (and Ecuador), the day that Jesus was crucified is more important than the day he resurrected, perhaps because people intend to emulate his sacrifice to rid themselves of sin. The procession starts in San Francisco Square at noon and goes around the colonial district up to the Basilica Church and back to the square after 3 hours, approximately. This Spanish tradition, brought with the colonization, is well-rooted in the hearts of the Quiteños and Ecuadorians that want to honor their Lord Jesus Christ. The main procession characters include: Jesus carrying crosses and wearing thorn crowns and/or chains on their ankles; cucuruchos dressed in long purple gowns and a pointy hat; and the Verónicas or the women that personify the biblical woman that washes Jesus’ feet on his way to the crucifixion. They also wear purple gowns and cover their faces with veils. The cucuruchos normally stand out among foreign spectators because, to many, they resemble the Ku Klux Klan, thought their role cannot be farther from it. The cucuruchos are penitents that accompany the procession to ask for forgiveness for their sins. They cover their faces to keep their penitence anonymous, since nobody wants people to be pointed out as a sinner! The purple color traditionally has represented atonement. Whether you are Catholic or not, this cultural expression ought to be witnessed. TIP: As in most crowded events, you must watch your belongings to prevent pickpocketing.
3. Sacred Music Festival
From March 18th to 28th, the International Sacred Music Festival takes place in Quito, where local musicians and foreign guests offer exquisite concerts inside theaters and churches. All events are free of charge and open to the general public. You can find the festival schedule at the website of Teatro Nacional Sucre.
Guayaquil Consort Ensemble (Ecuador)
Fatima Church, March 19, 19h00
Santo Domingo Church, March 20, 19h30
National Symphonic Orchestra & Quito Choir (Ecuador)
Teatro National Sucre, March 23 & 24, 19h30
Umbria Ensamble (Italia)
El Carmen Alto Church, March 18, 18h00
San Blas Church, March 19, 19h30
Quatuor Ellipsos (France)
La Merced Church, March 23, 18h00
San Francisco Church, March 24, 17h00
La Compañía de Jesús Church, March 25, 19h30
Kultur Rådet (Sweden)
Santa Clara Convent, March 26, 18h00
San Juan Church, March 27, 19h30
Ensamble La Sambuca (Argentina)
Santa Clara Convent, March 27, 18h00
San Agustin Church, March 28, 18h00