Magellan may not have brought his culinary bounties, but everyone after him surely did.
Nobody in the Philippines would have expected the arrival of the Spanish expedition. Filipinos, who before the Spanish colonial period, were indulging not just indigenous spices, but as well as those from the southern trade routes, and utilizing cooking techniques and ingredients brought over on small boats from the Chinese mainland. Magellan himself may have not brought a wealth of culinary expertise to the islands, but those who followed after him surely brought bounties from both the old world and new.
Spain, and Europe as an entire continent were undergoing some drastic culinary changes. Potatoes, tomatoes, corn, and chilies were at first shunned by the Europeans, but rising poverty and colder climates allowed botanists and agriculturists to realize their full potential. In fact the first record of a potato being eaten in Spain was in 1573, in Seville. It would be quite hard to imagine Spanish cuisine without its frittatas made from potatoes and tomatoes, or paellas fragranced with bell peppers and paprika. The colonization of the Philippines just happened to coincide with the huge culinary revolution, and new agricultural techniques being used around the world, known as the Columbian Exchange.
It is also important to note that during those times, the French court was a crucial entity in promoting certain ingredients such as the Potato. The dishes that we think as authentically Spanish actually evolved during this time in Spain while the courts were dominated by French influences. The Spanish peninsulares ate their favada stews at home and taught their Filipino servants how to make it for them. But perhaps the most important and lasting influence on Philippine cuisine was the introduction of new domesticated animals such as the pig, cow and chicken.
What we now understand as Spanish food, at the time was actually a cuisine in transition.
Latin American countries have had a more long term Spanish influence than the Philippines, probably because their peoples were forced to learn the Spanish language. Filipino food has less Spanish flavors that that of its other colonies. The influence was definitely present, but generally when we think of Filipino dishes such as sinigang, paksiw, kinilaw and the like they outnumber the more obviously Spanish dishes such as menudo, afritada, morcilla etc. This is partly due to the fact that the Chinese laborers and cooks also had much influence on this new emergent Filipino cuisine.
During the late Spanish colonial period all the way to the time we entered the American era, Most Filipino cooking was still “Filipino”; Spanish cuisine was cooked in traditional Spanish and mestizo households, and restaurants surprisingly were mostly French. Now on the other hand of society, some of the oldest restaurants in Manila were Chinese noodle houses. Believe it or not Spanish restaurants were only popularized during the days of the American era when mestizos who were left with nothing after the war were in search of a new trade, and had to resort to selling their home cooking to the general public. These Spanish restaurants were generally a step below the already established French restaurants throughout the city of Manila.
Spanish food has a special place in the minds, hearts and stomachs of the upper class here in the Philippines, but it is an old fashioned idea. Spanish restaurants are slowly emerging and transforming from the cliché image of taverns that heaped huge servings on oily, long simmered stes and roasts, and comfort foods. We now see more pintxos and tapas bars, and more creative new ways of presenting Spanish dishes. People are now looking to Spanish cuisine as a new venture. Not just because it’s the cuisine that the colonial masters ate, but because it’s one of the most brilliant, exciting cuisines in the world today; constantly reinventing itself as a light, flavorful, aromatic, and versatile cuisine.
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