Gastronomic Migration - The Spanish Treasure Fleet

Gastronomic Migration - The Spanish Treasure Fleet
To read about the Manila Galleons’ outward journey to the Philippines, follow the links at the bottom of this page.

Now we follow the galleons on their return trip across the Pacific.

The summer monsoon began to blow in July and carried the Manila Galleons out of the Philippine Sea on their return journey to Acapulco. They sailed north towards Japan until they hit the Kuroshio Current which in turn swept them into the North Pacific Current. The Westerly trade winds would then fill their sails and bear them across the Pacific Ocean to the coast of southern California, where they would turn south towards Acapulco.

The first ships to make the passage from the Americas to South East Asia, however, could not look forward to such an easy passage home. The North Easterlies which had sped them so generously across the Pacific did not serve them in the opposite direction, and the only option in the mid-1500s was to sail east, across the Indian Ocean towards Africa, around the Cape of Good Hope and into the Atlantic – a perilous and costly journey which lasted for months. Fortunately, Andrés de Urdaneta, an Augustinian friar and navigator, was a lateral thinker. The Pacific trade winds must surely blow in a circular pattern, he reckoned, and if the North Easterlies had brought his ship to Manila, there must surely be corresponding winds blowing in the opposite direction. He was right and in 1565, having sailed northwards to higher latitudes and then turned East, he encountered the blessed Westerlies which carried him back across the Pacific – the return passage for the Spanish galleons had been discovered and the reign of the Manila Galleons had begun.

In December, or hopefully January at the latest, the galleon would be sighted approaching Acapulco, and the news of its imminent arrival would spread swiftly. Merchants from far and wide would converge on the port and the famous Feria de Acapulco, the great Acapulco trade fair, would soon be in full swing. Rich and poor alike would flock to see the treasures of the fabled Orient, displayed in their full magnificence. The prices would be well beyond the reach of most visitors, but many deals would be done and much merchandise would change hands, before being disseminated into the large provincial cities throughout Mexico. A large portion, however, would be held back, destined for Mexico City and Europe - at the close of the Feria, silks and ivory, spices, lacquer and all the remaining riches stowed in the holds of the Manila Galleons were loaded onto mules and began their journey east across “New Spain”, along a route which was effectively a bridge between Asia and the Old World. The mules climbed steadily through the inhospitable Sierra Madre mountains until they reached Mexico City, where yet again the opulent eastern merchandise went on show at the Parián de la Plaza Mayor, on the site of the present day Plaza de la Independencia. The mules’ trek, however, was far from over.

From Mexico City, their route crossed the Sierra Madre Oriental and dropped down towards the Gulf of Mexico and Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz, founded by Hernán Cortés in 1519. Veracruz today is a bustling, raffish port whose strategic location made it the most important port in New Spain during the colonial period and turned it into a vast melting pot of cultural, let alone culinary influences. It was the home of the great Spanish Treasure Fleet or Flota de las Indias, whose galleons had been plying back and forth across the Atlantic since the discovery of America, and to Veracruz came the “Silver Train” from the Mexican mines, and the mule train from Acapulco and Mexico City. The remaining jewels of the Orient as well as the Mexican bullion, to be transported across the Atlantic to Spain, were loaded into the ships’ holds, and the fleet set sail across the Gulf of Mexico towards Cuba and the “Spanish Main”, the lawless domain of the pirate and the buccaneer. The majestic galleons were an irresistible temptation, and woe betide any ship which was unwise enough to drift away from the heavily armed and defended fleet. Weighing anchors in Havana, the galleons would set off across the Atlantic, picking up the great Westerly Trade Winds which blew them home to Spain.

While the Mexican gold and silver and the oriental riches made up the most valuable part of the cargo, all the gastronomic treasures of the Americas also found their way into the holds. They docked in Cadiz and thence began their journey into Europe and along the historical Mediterranean trade routes. They were carried by the merchants – Genoese, Venetian, Greek, Turkish – who spread them the whole length of the Mediterranean coastline, into North Africa, the Middle East and southern Europe. They crept northwards into central Europe, and eastwards into the Black Sea as well as south into the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. They crossed the deserts of Africa and Arabia and the high peaks of Persia, pushing their way towards the Indian subcontinent – and somewhere along the way, they undoubtedly met their counterparts which had been just as steadily pushing their way West from the Parián de los Sangleyes in Manila. The stars of the pre-Columbian Mexican cuisine had spread right across the world and come full circle.

Chilli and Chocolate Stars of the Mexican Cocina by Isabel Hood is available from

Just The Two of Us Entertaining Each Other by Isabel Hood is available from and

You Should Also Read:
Gastronomic Migration I - The Manila Galleons 1
Gastronomic Migration II - The Manila Galleons 2
The Spanish Influence in Mexican Cuisine

Related Articles
Editor's Picks Articles
Top Ten Articles
Previous Features
Site Map

Content copyright © 2023 by Isabel Hood. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Isabel Hood. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Mickey Marquez for details.