Travelling Food

Discover how Spanish food traveled across the seas in the 16th century.

By Archivos Estatales

Archivo General de Indias

Flavors That Sail Across the Seas Exhibition (2019)Archivos Estatales

This exhibition looks at documentary sources to explore the history of Filipino cuisine and its relationship with Spanish gastronomy. The multicultural cuisine of the Philippines was the result of centuries of shared history, and European, Asian, and American influences.

Spanish cuisine in the 16th century was complex and rich, and this richness had in turn been brought from elsewhere. Wheat, olive trees, and vines had arrived in ancient times, while the Muslims brought with them a variety of spices, rice, and several types of fruit tree.

The result was a varied diet, characterized by the seasonality of many food types and the development of preservation techniques in which ingredients such as salt, vinegar, aromatic herbs, and spices were key.

Sustenance for the Whole Fleet (1519)Original Source: Archivo General de Indias

Five hundred years ago, Ferdinand Magellan and his crew set off for the Spice Islands, taking with them their customs, language, culture, and food.

The fleet of five carracks left Seville in 1519, loaded up with enough provisions to feed their crew: bread, wine, oil, vinegar, vegetables, lard, cheeses, salted meat, fruit, and dried fruit and nuts.

Sustenance for the whole fleet and related expenses (1519)Original Source: Archivo General de Indias

The bread was "hardtack": this was a substance that was cooked twice to ensure its durability. They bought wine from Jerez, vinegar from Moguer, and oil and vegetables from places around Seville.

The fish was dried or salted, and bought on the coast in places such as Ayamonte and Huelva. The anchovies came from Malaga, beef for salting from Sanlúcar, raisins from Almuñécar, and figs and plums from Huelva. Andalusian products featured heavily in their provisions.

Theatrum orbis terrarum (Theater of the World) (1588) by Abraham OrteliusOriginal Source: Archivo General de Indias

European expansion throughout the 16th century was dominated by the Spanish and the Portuguese. It led to the discovery of new lands, encounters with new peoples, and a new way of understanding the world.

Abraham Ortelius was a Flemish cartographer. His knowledge earned him the trust of Philip II of Spain, who appointed him Royal Geographer. This gave him access to the information gathered through expeditions such as the first voyage around the world.

Spices on facsimile (2019)Archivos Estatales

Coveted Oriental Spices

Known for their nutritious and medicinal properties since ancient times, the spices of the Far East were shrouded in mystery until the late 15th century.

Account of Maluku matters (1607)Original Source: Archivo General de Indias

In the 16th century, the Spanish and Portuguese discovered the routes that would grant them access to the places that produced these spices. The combination of their flavors and medicinal properties meant that they commanded a high price, making the trade in them extremely lucrative.

Theatrum orbis terrarum (1588) by Abraham OrteliusOriginal Source: Archivo General de Indias

The first voyage around the world achieved what it had set out to do when it reached the islands that produced cloves and nutmeg. Before long, they had reached other ports in Indonesia, India, and Ceylon.

The colonization of the Philippines by the Spanish attracted merchants from all over the world, with the result that spices such as pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger became more widely available.

Philip II's Royal Decrees (2019)Original Source: Archivo General de Indias

Philip II of Spain, concerned for the health of his heir, Charles, demanded that officials of the Real Audiencia of Mexico (the high court of New Spain) send him all the available cinnamon "in tortillas or rolls."

By then, he knew that the galleons could bring these treasured Asian spices from the faraway "Islands of the West," as the Philippines were formerly known.

It was for this reason that he also sent Miguel López de Legazpi, the first governor of the Philippines, who was responsible for facilitating regular communications between the archipelago of the Philippines and New Spain.

Letter from Juan Bautista Román (2019)Original Source: Archivo General de Indias

Juan Bautista Román was Attorney General of the Philippines in the late 16th century. He took an interest in the commercial value of its resources and in the possibility of cultivating these spices in the Americas.

He realized that most of them were endemic plants that were not suited to being transported to other places; a fact that had already been observed in the case of pepper, clove, and nutmeg.

Theatrum orbis terrarum (Theater of the World) (1588) by Abraham OrteliusOriginal Source: Archivo General de Indias

America: The Promised Land

The Americas were a land of opportunity. The colonists wanted to start new lives, make their fortunes, or, at the very least, survive, exploiting the resources available to them in the New World.

Note on the purchase of corn charged to the Caja Real of Acapulco (1590)Archivos Estatales

The Spanish settlements in Asia and the Americas and the frequency of ocean voyages made it possible to take foods discovered in the newly discovered lands all over the world.

List of Food Purchased (1564)Original Source: Archivo General de Indias

Miguel López de Legazpi's expedition reached the Philippines, having set sail in Mexico. Once there, work began to organize the return journey, which would be led by the more experienced Friar Andrés de Urdaneta.

The accounts kept by the fleet are a good illustration of how the Spanish adapted to the foods of the New World. The supplies or "provisions" included "new corn,"...

... "beans," and "nine very large baskets of chilli," dried pepper and paprika.

Other sources show that they ate turkey, pumpkins, tomatoes (both green and red), sweet potatoes, yucca, and potatoes.

Display of American FoodsArchivos Estatales

The path to a new Hispanic society and a new gastronomy was forged in this way; the result of the meeting of Europe and the Americas. The beneficiaries would be the people of the Old and the New Worlds.

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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