Amazing Philippines Islands

Learn how this archipelago became a meeting point in Southeast Asia in the 16th Century.

By Archivos Estatales

Archivo General de Indias

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

The Philippines were a whole new world to be explored. Despite centuries of contact with other settlements in Southeast Asia, Europeans were unaware of the existence of this archipelago.

Their strategic location turned the islands into a meeting point. The same was true of the islands' gastronomy: Spanish and American influences combined with flavors brought from Indonesia and the rest of the Asian continent.

Traditional cooking of food in bamboo culmsArchivos Estatales

Some indigenous Filipinos were still using traditional cookery methods, such as the use of bamboo stalks for cooking food. This was noted in 1521 by Antonio Pigafetta, a crew member on the expedition that first traveled all the way around the world.

Tratado de las Yslas Philipinas, sus poblaciones y recursos (Treatise of the Philippines, its Population, and Resources) (ca. 1582) by Miguel de LoarcaOriginal Source: Archivo General de Indias

In the late 16th century, this small Spanish colony went to great lengths to get to know its new territories, their inhabitants, their resources, and the commercial opportunities they offered. It was in this context that Miguel de Loarca wrote his "Tratado" on the Philippines.

This interesting manuscript describes the islands' inhabitants, lands, flora, and fauna. In it, he mentions the consumption of pigs, fish, and other species, and the abundance of fruit such as coconuts, bananas, oranges, and lemons.

Display of mongos, a variety of soy native to the Philippines, in the Flavors That Sail Across the Seas exhibition.Archivos Estatales

He talks about the cultivation of rice, millet, and beans (appearing to confuse the common bean with native species such as the mung bean).

Purple Yam and TurmericArchivos Estatales

Miguel de Loarca also believed he had identified "some roots like Dominican sweet potatoes, called 'camotes,'" although it seemed likely that he was confusing native tubers such as "ubes", or purple yams, with American sweet potatoes or yams.

Treatise of the Philippines, its Population, and Resources (ca. 1582) by Miguel de LoarcaOriginal Source: Archivo General de Indias

He described the way in which indigenous people would collect the fruit or "nut" of the coconut tree, its "honey" or sap, and how "they extract wine from the palm, which is sweet and good." He also describes how they extracted palm liquor and palm vinegar from the tree, in a liquid known as "tuba."

Rice Harvested from Traditional Crops by Emil Marañon IIIArchivos Estatales

The exotic nature of some of the islands' flora and fauna did not dispel the perception that their cuisine was simple, with rice as "bread from the earth" or a staple of the indigenous people's diet, as noted by Juan Bautista Román and even Miguel de Loarca himself.

Accounts for Purchase and Distribution of Rice (1595)Original Source: Archivo General de Indias

The Royal Warehouses gathered and distributed food obtained from the indigenous people, which they bought or took in lieu of taxes. Chicken and rice are of particular note, with an annotation differentiating "clean" rice from paddy rice.

Terrace Rice Crops by Emil Marañon IIIArchivos Estatales

Today, some Filipinos still cultivate rice in the traditional way, as can be seen in the rice terraces of the province of Ifugao on the island of Luzon.

Map of the Cavite Fortress (1662) by Juan de SomodevillaOriginal Source: Archivo General de Indias

Gradually, stable settlements were established. These were the seeds of future cities in which the Spanish recreated their way of life. Manila was the capital, while Cavite City was the main port.

Indigenous villages surrounded these settlements, as seen in this drawing of the outskirts of Cavite City. It shows San Juan de Dios hospital and the town of San Roque, with its traditional Filipino houses and sown fields.

Resources from the Flavors That Sail Across the Seas exhibition (2019)Archivos Estatales

In the Philippines, the Spanish discovered exotic fruits such as jackfruit and santol, according to Loarca. However, mangoes were of particular interest. When they were introduced to the archipelago is not known, but they were spread right across the globe as part of the Manila galleon trade.

Filipino farmers growing cocoa and bananas (1734) by Pedro Murillo Velarde y Nicolás de la Cruz BagayOriginal Source: Biblioteca Nacional de España

The colonists stocked up on food from the local communities, both for immediate consumption and to ensure they had sufficient supplies for the long journeys across the sea. As a result, they became accustomed to native foods, such as carabao (or water buffalo) meat.

Purchase of carabaos (water buffalo) from various native Filipino leadersOriginal Source: Archivo General de Indias

They laid the foundations of a multicultural gastronomy, in which the ingredients, techniques, and culinary customs of different continents were passed back and forth.

Slow MotionArchivos Estatales

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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