Globalization of Flavors

How the Manila galleon helped to enrich the world's cuisine.

By Archivos Estatales

Archivo General de Indias

Facsimile of the registry of the frigate San RafaelArchivos Estatales

From the 16th to the 19th century, the Spanish lived in a changing world. Ships regularly crossed the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans, bringing with them a wide range of products with large quantities of food and drink.

Carta Hydrographica y Chorographica de las Yslas Filipinas (Hydrographic and Chorographic Map of the Philippines) (1734) by Pedro Murillo Velarde y Nicolás de la Cruz BagayOriginal Source: Archivo General de Indias

A Meeting Point

Far from being a remote, isolated archipelago, the islands of the Philippines were a well-connected settlement. They served as a meeting point between continental Asia, Indonesia, and the Maluku Islands (known as the spice islands).

Map of Manila (1671)Original Source: Archivo General de Indias

The capital, Manila, was known as "the Pearl of the Orient." Located at the end of the bay, with the river Pasig and its estuaries running alongside, it had a solid city wall and several defensive forts.

Inland, churches and convents were built, as well as the seats of the governor, the local council, and the "Audiencia" (high court). The city was transformed as its businesses grew, while outside the city, several suburbs sprung up. These suburbs housed indigenous people and some foreign communities.

Intendant's House (1847) by José H. LozanoOriginal Source: Biblioteca Nacional de España

It was a cosmopolitan city, with both its permanent and transient populations originating from a variety of different places. A multicultural society was forged, in both the private and the public sphere, and this was also apparent in its gastronomy.

Evidence of registry of the frigate San Rafael (1800-02-17)Original Source: Archivo General de Indias

The comings and goings of the Manila Galleon

Spanish ships played a key role in these long crossings.

Map of the bay, port, and castle of San Diego de Acapulco (1712-04-07)Original Source: Archivo General de Indias

The journey from Manila to Acapulco took five or six months. Once past the Mariana Islands, the ships veered north in search of favorable winds. Then they sailed on, not touching dry land until they reached the shores of the Americas.

In Acapulco, the galleon's arrival was eagerly anticipated, and marked with a great celebration and trade fair. This is captured in this drawing, which shows the city, defended by Fort San Diego, and ships anchored in the bay. They were waiting for the Manila galleon.

Summary of the cargo of the galleon Nuestra Señora de Begoña (1714-02-28)Original Source: Archivo General de Indias

The galleons carried all types of products. The ship Nuestra Señora de Begoña (Our Lady of Begoña) set sail from Acapulco with blocks of chocolate and two types of cocoa: cocoa "from Maracaibo" and cocoa "from the coast." It was also carrying Spanish oil, olives, and wine.

It had plenty of European aromatic plants such as rosemary, oregano, and anise, also used in cooking. Of particular note was annatto, a very popular food coloring, and vanilla, essential for making chocolate.

It also had cheese, flour, and chilli. Peppers became a highly sought-after ingredient across the whole of Southeast Asia. Here, it seems that paprika, or dried chilli pepper, is distinguished from peppers preserved in vinegar.

List of foods (18th Century)Original Source: Archivo General de Indias

Eating on the Journey

Life on a ship was hard, and those on board had to get used to what was available to eat.

List of supplies (18th Century)Original Source: Archivo General de Indias

The ship Nuestra Señora de Covadonga (Our Lady of Covadonga) was en route from Acapulco to Manila when it was captured by the English. The schooner San Antonio de Padua (Saint Anthony of Padua), chartered by Chinese merchants in Manila, came to its rescue. Its records are an excellent illustration of the type of food that was usually available on ships of this type.

The food on board included salt pork, salt beef, some Spanish oil and wine, rice, and mung beans (a local pulse).

Asian fish, such as dalag and bakoko, were dried or smoked using traditional Chinese or European methods. Shark fins were also recorded (these were eaten by Manila's Chinese community), as well as salt, and coconut wine and coconut vinegar (known as "tuba").

Edict of the Captain General of the Philippines (1755-12-09)Original Source: Archivo General de Indias

Agricultural Expansion

The Spanish authorities' interest inincreasing their profits through the trade of particular productsled them to incentivize the production of certain crops.

This applied to cocoa trees, coconut trees, bonga trees, and pepper plants, whose cultivation was encouraged by the Spanish authorities in the Philippines, as seen in this announcement from 1755.

Cocoa: Seeds and powderArchivos Estatales

Cocoa was introduced to the Philippines in the 17th century, and chocolate became a popular drink. Its consumption gradually became widespread across the whole of Southeast Asia.

Plano del archipiélago y costas orientales comprehendidas entre la ysla Sumatra y las Filipinas (Map of the archipelago and eastern coasts between Sumatra and the Philippines). (1787)Archivos Estatales

A Meeting Point for Southeast Asia

The city of Manila was a destination for Chinese, Malaysian, and Indonesian merchants, all of whom were in contact with far-flung trading centers.

Silks and Chinese porcelain, spices, textiles, Indian ivory, and mother of pearl all reached Cavite City and Manila, along with ingredients and culinary traditions that the growing foreign community demanded.

Chinese Chanchaulero (1847) by José H. LozanoOriginal Source: Biblioteca Nacional de España

Of the numerous Asian communities who settled in Manila, the "Sangleys" merit a special mention. They arrived as merchants, converted to Christianity, and were assimilated into Spanish culture. They lived in various different places, in particular Parián and Binondo.

Chinese pansietero (1847) by José H. LozanoOriginal Source: Biblioteca Nacional de España

The "Sangleys" grew in number and brought several ingredients, techniques, and culinary traditions to Filipino cuisine, with "pancit" being one of the best-known recipes.

List of food supply on the brigantine Purísima Concepción (1812-03-16)Original Source: Archivo General de Indias

The logs of the ships that sailed around the Philippines attest to the variety of foods carried in their stores, as well as demonstrating the tastes and habits of a cosmopolitan society. The provisions list of a brigantine that set sail from Manila to Jolo Island is a good illustration of this.

The list of supplies includes salted eggs (both duck and chicken), ham and salted or marinated pork, Filipino longanisa sausages, broa (a type of corn and rye bread), and some rice rolls that were mixed with European cake.

Some sweets, liquor, garlic, onions, and oil sat alongside examples of local products such as mung beans. Their supplies of salted fish included lawlaw and gibe (prawns). There were also foods imported into the Filipino diet from the Americas: peanuts and chocolate.

PeanutsArchivos Estatales

As new crops were grown, the diet of the population began to change. The flavors in their food were enriched with condiments brought from faraway lands, and foreign fashions influenced what they ate and drank. It was a culinary revolution on a global scale.

Food exchange routes between Spain and the PhilippinesArchivos Estatales

Spain and the Philippines, connected by sea routes: the trading of goods via the Route to the Indies, the Manila Galleon and other trade routes.

Credits: Story

Curator: Antonio Sánchez de Mora, General Archive of the Indies.

Digital adaptation of the "Flavors that Sailed Across the Seas" exhibition, organized by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, via the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) and the Spanish Ministry of Culture and Sport, via the Sub-directorate General of Spanish State Archives.

This exhibition is part of the First Voyage Around the World project.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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