Edward Schafer and Spice Route Travelers — III

The Manila Galleon and the Third Route
Tomatoes, Chili Peppers and Beche de Mer

“Tang cookery sounds like modern Japanese cookery — plain food, sometimes raw, with few savory mixtures or interesting sauces.” — Edward Schafer


“The best of modern Chinese cooking developed in relatively modern times under the influence of foreign taste and customs, in particular those of India and the lands of the Desert and the Isles.” — Edward Schafer

Malayan on the Silk Road

Curly Haired Man, Malayan
Silk Road, Tang Dynasty

We sometimes forget how many of the foods we associate with Pacific Rim cuisines today were not native to much of the region in the oldest times and have migrated back and forth along the ancient trade routes.We owe much of what we know about today’s recipes and ingredient lists to the work of these explorers, Schafer, Laufer, Hirt and Rockhill.

Chinese Men in Foreign Dress
Tang Dynasty Figures from the Gobi Desert

A Third Route: There was another major trade route along which ingredients and recipes moved in the old days, the one from Manila to Acapulco in Mexico.

Manila was a crossroads in the trade and contacts between East and West, especially as the Spanish and Chinese cultures met and exchanged goods and ideas. Manila was the capital of the Spanish East Indies, later the Philippines, a major base for Spanish influence in the region for more than four hundred years.

The Spanish Lake: The Spanish Crown attempted to control the trade with the Eastern and Western spheres to their advantage.  One result was the Manila Galleon, a sailing ship that made the voyage between Manila and Acapulco yearly for over two and a half centuries.

As Friedrich Schiller put it in his play Don Carlos,

“I am the richest man in Christendom,
Upon my empire the sun never sets.” — Philip II

For a time the Pacific Ocean did seem to be a Spanish lake, as Spanish vessels crossed it to trade the goods of the Orient for the silver of New Spain.  Among the goods that made the voyage were some of the foods and spices we know today.

The Manila galleons were among the largest sailing ships of the day, carrying up to a thousand passengers and build in Philippine shipyards from local tropical woods.

Some of the goods were later shipped by mule across Mexico and ended up in ships bound for Spain. We from invoices that some spices were unloaded from one of the galleons and sent to the court of the Spanish king in Madrid.

“Spices, gathered at Manila from the Moluccas, Java and Ceylon, were also sent across the Pacific.  In the later years, they exported to Mexico the tea of Asia.” — William Lytle Schurz

 “Manila is the equal of any other emporium of our monarchy, for it is the center to which flow the cinnamon of Ceylon, the pepper of Sumatra and the Javas, the nutmegs, cloves and other spices of the Moluccas.”  — Padre Francisco Colin, S.J., 1663

The historian of this route and its trade was William Lytle Schurz, who wrote the classic history of the sailing route and the Manila galleon traffic. Schurz,an executive, diplomat and explorer, was also a professor at the Thunderbird graduate school of international management.

Schurz somehow found the time to visit the Archive of the Indies in Seville and check the actual cargo manifests, bills of lading and other records of the trade between Manila, Mexico and Madrid,

The Manila route across the  Pacific lasted two and a half centuries and finally ended in 1815, just before the Mexican revolution against Spain.

By the time the Spanish colonial period ended, three great empires — Spanish, Chinese and Russian — would come into contact and sometimes conflict at various points along the Pacific Rim.

Manila and the island of Luzon were an important crossroads of the Pacific at this time.  Chinese people came from Fukien Province during the Ming dynasty, attracted by the trepang or beche de mer in the rich waters off Luzon.

Some Chinese stayed to trade, farm and practice various trades.  The Chinese taught the local Filipino people to grow rice, and also brought a number of their foods and dishes to the Philippines.  And they settled what has been called the oldest Chinatown in the world — it’s still there today.

After the Spanish arrived, they taught the local people to grow chili peppers and tomatoes and introduced a number of cooking styles, which have stayed and helped define the cooking of the Philippines to this day.

Since the Philippines was ruled most of the time through the viceroy in Acapulco, and much of the movement of people was between Manila and New Spain, a lot of the Spanish influence in the Philippines — including cooking — has a Mexican flavor rather than Castillian.

For over a thousand years, the three trade routes served to transport men, ideas and things from East to West and back and forth repeated times.  Many of the foods and seasonings we associated today with some of the Pacific Rim cuisines originated in other countries or even outside the region.

Working over a century, historians and Asia scholars in several countries — Schafer, Laufer, Schurz, Hirt and Rockhill — did a lot of the basic work that helps us understand where many of the ingredients, and some of the dishes, on our menus came from and how they got there.

For Further Information:

Edward Schafer, The Golden Peaches of Samarkand; A Study of T’ang Dynasty Exoticshttp://www.amazon.com/s/?ie=UTF8&keywords=golden+peaches+of+samarkand&tag=googhydr-20&index=stripbooks&hvadid=7204635897&ref=pd_sl_3v3g3c7cax_b  —  
William Lytle Schurz, The Manila Galleon  —  http://www.amazon.com/s/?ie=UTF8&keywords=william+schurz&tag=googhydr-20&index=stripbooks&hvadid=5662023149&hvpos=1t1&hvexid=&hvnetw=s&hvrand=720656983983385185&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=b&ref=pd_sl_24luvcxeqg_b
Friedrich Schiller, “Don Carlos,” in Schiller, Five Plays, translated by Robert David MacDonald (London: Absolute Classics, 1989) —  http://www.amazon.com/Schiller-Five-Plays-Oberon-Book/dp/1840020369
“Manila galleon,” article, Wikipedia —  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manila_galleon
Philippine cuisine,” article, Wikipedia —  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philippine


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