Note: This post got too long (big surprise if you know me) so I split it into two parts, after publishing an initial version with the huge table.
… since doing any post, but over 1.5 years since I’ve done a menu post, which was the original purpose of this blog. So here goes, but there is a back story of why now.
As I’ve mentioned I’ve gotten “distracted” from my original goal (developing a menu translation app) by actually trying to learn Spanish, which I didn’t (and don’t) believe is a requirement to actually build a translation app. But lately my chosen learning method (Duolingo) is having diminishing returns, that is, I was learning rapidly at the beginning and now have slowed down. In particular vocabulary is a big issue. Even diligent use of Duolingo is only adding about 5 words a day to my (mostly remembered) vocabulary. And only a fraction of that is vocabulary related to food, cooking and restaurants. So I’m up to about 12,000 “words” (this is raw count, i.e. each conjugation of a verb counts as a word) and in 82 online news articles I’ve analyzed over a couple of months I’ve found 15,000 unknown words or only about 3000 words I know.
So I’ve been looking at other ways to acquire more vocabulary faster and as an adult most advice I find is to read a lot (a child adds vocabulary by listening a lot), especially what is called “extensive” reading (not trying to get every word, but just get the gist). I’ve been doing the work to prepare several posts about this idea, but not now.
So one way I’ve been doing this is to read online sources that have human translations of the Spanish. There are several recipe sites that do this (more on these later, I’ve done the research for numerous posts I just haven’t gotten around to writing). But my almost daily activity is the Spanish language section of the New York Times. These articles are less than ideal in that (I deduce) most are originally written in English and then translated to Spanish which means the Spanish isn’t as “natural” as articles written directly in Spanish by fluent speakers, i.e. like articles in El País which doesn’t have English but I can tell (from what I achieved to about B2 level in Duolingo) are different than the articles in the Times.
So, long story short, I recently encountered an article in the Times that triggered this post. The links below are this article.
In case you don’t read the story (I think it is interesting) my summary is that a small town in Spain is trying to keep itself alive by having a lot of bookstores (more than students in their school) to attract tourism. Naturally I took a look, while reading the article, via Google Maps to do a virtual tour. And so of course, I found the few restaurants, in particular Mesón Villa de Urueña, (no link, have to access through search in maps) and, of course, it has some menus (just images, which means I have to type them myself to feed to Google Translate).
So that’s how I got to my work below, my traditional tearing apart of a menu and finding interesting tidbits. But before launching into that I have another observation. Given I did gain some fluency in Spanish I quickly learned that entering search queries into Google entirely in Spanish gets different (and often, better) results. So qué es revuelto gets very different results than What is revuelto. And pure Spanish queries are more likely to get Spanish language results, often recipes when I enter the names of dishes. So, in fact, some of my links below are to Spanish web pages.
Now on with the show. This is an example of the prix fixe menu common in many restaurants in Spain, in this case, the weekend menu. Anyone trying to order would have to understand this concept to even understand anything in the menu, BUT, one explanation is good enough for all menus like this. In fact, the word menú itself, in Spain, usually implies this and an English speaker (or maybe just American) would have to learn that menú is not what we think of as ‘menu’ in an American restaurant. The English is what I typed from the image and the Spanish is the Google Translate, which, btw, after lots of use I’ve found is often better than human translation, at least for the narrow purpose of learning vocabulary, since Google is very literal. BTW, WordPress is awful for precisely controlling layout so the English and Spanish only approximately align, but are always in the same overall order.
Observation #1: While castellana can found in a dictionary, just translating it to ‘Castilian’ doesn’t tell you much. This is a challenge to my app idea, i.e. translating words isn’t that helpful. So this means looking up, either Castilian soup or sopa castellana, and basically all pages I find usually adds de ajo (this restaurant didn’t because they probably assume any customer already knows this). And I will tell you just adding de ajo or somehow knowing this is garlic soup is IMPORTANT!
So funny personal story that reading this recalled. In my first year of college I drove down from Boston to New York City, mostly to go to bars (since at the time NY had lowest drinking age in USA). But I also meet my hermana mayor (older sister) and her “sophisticated” boyfriend so we went to a Spanish theme restaurant, completely with flamenco dancer on the piano. AND, we just got the house soup, i.e. garlic soup. AND, guess what, to a midwestern boy used to meat and potatoes it was awful. So I’d want to know more than just the English translation of the Spanish item on the menu before ordering.
Observation #2: I’ve seen enough Google Translates, plus lots of studying of food in Spain to know morcilla is just morcilla (blood pudding is approximately correct). It’s just a very common sausage and particularly popular in this part of Spain. So how would any app really explain this item to you?
Observation #3: Google is being very helpful to add ‘eggs’ to its translation of revuelto whose primary dictionary entry is ‘messy’. Understanding revuelto IS a situation where learning Spanish helps. revuelto is the past participle (-ed in English; and it’s irregular in Spanish) for the verb revolver (not a gun, but ‘to stir’). If you didn’t know any of this you might think it’s related to ‘revolting’ (not its cognate) but knowing Spanish you quickly find many adjectives are derived from verbs.
Observation #4: I’ll get to gulas below this menu analysis.
Observation #5: The links I provide are for recipes for these dishes (two are in Spanish but generally Google Translate works fairly well on recipes, yet more posts in the future). And while popular/common dishes in Spain often have recipes in English, probably the recipes in Spanish are the best.
Observation #6: I would translate the Spanish only slightly differently than Google did AND a translation (by anybody) would only be marginally useful to choose what to order. This, rather than knowing Spanish or not, is the biggest challenge in creating any menu “translator”. So what is need to help a traveler decide what to order?
BTW: In some cases I will now title my articles either just in Spanish or in both languages, so searches by Spanish speakers are more likely to find these posts.
As my longtime readers will recall I started this blog to report on my process of developing an app to translate menus found along the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Since then I’ve drifted far and wide, mostly getting buried in (now) 1127 consecutive days of doing Spanish lessons. My sister always claimed I could never understand menus if I didn’t know the language and now having made it into the CEFR B level I can say she’s wrong: it is helpful, but, as math saying, neither necessary or sufficient.
So what does it take?
I discovered there are a fair number of sources of dual language (my native English and Spanish) cooking blogs or cookbooks, online or for Kindle, that provide a much more focused look at the vocabulary that is found in menus. And rarely do menus have discourse (just some brief description, quite possibly not even a sentence) so vocabulary is mostly what one needs.
So I’ve now spent several months studying cookbook (online and print) s and collating and analyzing lots of content for raw material for posts. But somehow I just haven’t been able to push myself to write the posts. So I figured I should just get started with something simple to get the juices flowing as I have lots of material. So here is the first of a series of posts from this study. It’s unlikely any of these terms would appear on menus but again I’m just using the study of cookbooks to find material that would be found in menus and this post is just, again, to get started. Future posts will have more directly relevant material, like what is mondongo.
Now in most recipes (recetas) the first part is the list of ingredients (ingredientes) and then the instructions (preparación or elaboración). And of course in the ingredients part there is some indication of how much (medida measure) to use. Now while most recetas are in metric and thus use: g/gr/gramos or ml/litro/litros or kg/kilos as units, familiar English measures are also common, e.g. taza, cucharada, etc. And, of course, some ingredients use some other measure, such as manojo (bunch) or gota (drop).
I’ve been using a number of sources, but most recently I’ve been going through a Kindle cookbook, published in Spanish (no English translation) for Mexican recipes:
Recetario de Cocina Mexicana, Tomo I by: Diana Baker
I’ve transcribed the entire book into a working text in MSWord (where I then add Google Translations and my comments and notes and dictionary lookups, etc. to study the text). Don’t worry, I won’t violate copyright my publishing my copy and will only invoke fair use where I do some form of extraction with my own original work.
I was surprisingly unsuccessful in finding any comprehensive list of measurement terms through searches (either English or Spanish). I did get a lot of results but mostly in the form of conversions, but that didn’t help much. So the only result I can present is the extraction I’ve done from 62 ingredient lists. I suspect with a much larger cookbook I’d get a few more. [s] indicates the plural, also found in context in addition to singular.
this is common on menus as well, just meaning an amount at the discretion of the cook
without a size (volume or weight) this is vague unless markets only carry one size
in all usages I studied this was of wine, so presumably 750ml
lit: teeth, so a single clove of garlic
in reference to corn
g gr gramos
in reference to condensed milk in this cookbook which is usually just one size; otherwise rather vague
in reference to corn
a typical, to cook’s discretion, vague measure
the diminutive of raja, also a slice or strip
presumably smaller than rama
usually of bread
usually of fruit, like lemon or lime
this is not the typical meaning (usually over or about), but it can be ‘envelope’ which is what ties to sachet
As I mentioned in my previous post I recently completed 1000 consecutive days of study with Duolingo to learn Spanish. Given my goal of this project is to develop a menu translation tool obtaining a substantial vocabulary of food and cooking related terms is essential.
So how did I do? Here I’ve extracted most relevant vocabulary from 162 “skills” (Duolingo’s term for a unit of study).
Not bad, definitely some useful stuff in there. But if you compare this to some of my previous posts analyzing menus you’ll notice a great deal is missing. So my conclusion, walking the Camino with 1000 days of Duolingo Spanish won’t explain many menus.
And without even mentioning words that are very specific types of ingredients or geographical references here’s just a few words from my glossary that would be really important in Spain and were totally missed by Duolingo (the biggies in bold):
It’s almost hard for me to believe but I just recently reached 1000 consecutive days of doing Duolingo exercises, nearly three years. Yeah for me! But the real question is whether it’s worth it.
I started this project and blog to be able to read menus in Spain. I thought I could do it without knowing Spanish. My sister thought I should learn Spanish. Now that I’m somewhere in the B1 level learning the language itself has little benefit to reading menus; OTOH, discussing them with the camarero requires the language; reading recetas online or in cookbooks requires some language and a lot of specialized vocabulary. Reading menus in Spain is a quite different exercise than reading them in Mexico or Colombia. But I do understand much better the difference between comida and cocina (which, btw, is a noun for both ‘cooking’ and ‘kitchen’ and the 3rd person present conjugation of cocinar; won’t pick that up just reading menus) and thus how my title of this blog is incorrect.
And, for me, trying to reach Level 5 (so-called Golden Tree) in Duolingo became such an obsession that it used up almost all of my free time and thus caused me to neglect this project and blog. It’s not clear, to me, whether it was worth it. AND, even though potentially I should be pleased, Duolingo keeps adding new material to its Spanish course so I’m actually less finished (as of recent changes) than I was before. After 1000 days already spent I estimate about 600 more days to finish the Duolingo course. Again, given Duolingo is free (I pay the subscription since I use it so much) I should be happy to have more course material but what I’m actually feeling is the obsession to finish the course, an arbitrary goal, is of dubious value.
And, finally, while analyzing and studying menus in Spain (more fun than drilling Spanish) was a good place to start, actually developing specialized language fluency to read recipes would be the single most useful thing toward understanding menus, with also specific focus on the country where you expect to be ordering food, as in why tortilla in España is really different than Mexico or even Los Estados Unidos.
So I’ll keep plodding on with Duolingo but: 1) Duo is better for beginners than intermediates (where I am now), and, 2) learning Spanish language is marginal useful for being able to read menus and pick the food you want to eat somewhere along the Camino.
As you can see on the tabs above this post I have a list of verbs used in cooking, recipes, food and restaurants. Like many such lists I create these from all the lists I can find that other people make, consolidating many sources, some often wrong (spelling, definitions) and then looking words up in dictionaries, including the most authoritative until I think I have an accurate and comprehensive list. Needless to say this is a lot of work so if you look at my list you’ll see it’s mostly unfinished, but has a large number of verbs as candidates.
But is my list even complete? Even after combining all the sources I can find?
So in this post I’ll describe another way to find cooking verbs from original source textual material.
So I’ve wanted to get back and do more work on this blog, but alas for 898 days I’ve been almost totally occupied with trying to learn Spanish and it’s amazing that I never seem to have time to work on this blog, which, actually is more fun and potentially of benefit to others (my list of verbs is the third most referenced page on this blog; gradually my accumulated lists are being found by other people).
When I started this blog, with plan to build a portable app to decode menus in Spain, my sister said I couldn’t do that without learning Spanish. I was kinda sure that wasn’t the case (after all it is just solving a puzzle, don’t have to be able to speak or listen to do that). But I fell for her pitch and so got trapped in an almost endless cycle of all available time (really mental energy) going into learning Spanish. I won’t bore you with all that (or see other posts), but it is a trap, in that the more you learn, the more you forget and therefore have to do more drills to refresh your memory. Soon that becomes all consuming and thus other things fall to wayside.
Well, at least, as this exercise will show I got something from 898 days and over 200,000 individual drills. While my speaking is horrible and I can only understand clear and slow speech (and then only 70% of the words) my reading is not too bad. So I figure let’s use that a bit more to help with this blog.
I also realized, in previous tries at decoding menus, that actually one needs to know about the cuisine itself, the dishes, the ingredients, and how they are prepared. Even with words on a menu accurately translated there is more one needs to know in order to be able to order what you really want. And, duh, guess what the best way to do that is?
Read recipes in Spanish from Spain!
Now there is a trick to finding recipes in Spanish (as original language) but also for Spain (since food terminology in Latin America can be quite different). So don’t search with English queries! After a bit of experimenting I found
comida recetas en linea de espana
gets some good results (food recipes online from Spain, without the comida you get some strange results). So I’m going to spend a while with the results I’m getting from this but I want to start with a simple example.
Aguacates rellenos de pollo mechado (otherwise known as Avocados stuffed with shredded chicken). With simple word-for-word dictionary lookups of each word you might come close title (mechado as we’ll discuss is tough to understand) and this might sound good to try. (Question, are you eating some avocado or just using their skins as a bowel for the chicken? It there anything mixed with the chicken? Would you really want to order it?)
This just happens to be the first receta I picked (from RTVE’s recipe site (the public TV in Spain). So here is the preparation part of the recipe in original Spanish and with a Google translation I added.
Cocinamos la pechuga de pollo como más nos guste; al horno, a la plancha o cocida, y la mechamos con ayuda de dos tenedores.
We cook the chicken breast as we like best; Baked, grilled or cooked, and we mix it with the help of two forks.
Abrimos los aguacates por la mitad, retiramos el hueso y, con ayuda de una cuchara, vaciamos parte de su pulpa para poder rellenarlos con facilidad.
We open the avocados in half, remove the bone and, with the help of a spoon, empty part of its pulp to be able to fill them easily.
En un bol, machacamos la pulpa del aguacate que hemos retirado.
In a bowl, we mash the pulp of the avocado that we have removed.
Picamos las hortalizas en brunoise y las mezclamos con el pollo mechado, la pulpa del aguacate, el cilantro, el maíz y la mayonesa.
We chop the vegetables in brunoise and mix them with the shredded chicken, the avocado pulp, the coriander, the corn and the mayonnaise.
Para hacer la mayonesa, en un vaso de batidora disponemos los ingredientes. Introducimos la batidora de mano y comenzamos a batir sin mover la batidora, pegada al fondo.
To make the mayonnaise, put the ingredients in a blender glass. We introduce the hand mixer and begin to beat without moving the mixer, glued to the bottom.
Cuando observemos que la emulsión comienza a crearse, comenzamos a hacer movimientos suaves hacia arriba y hacia abajo con la batidora de mano.
When we observe that the emulsion begins to create, we begin to make smooth movements up and down with the hand mixer.
Rellenamos los aguacates con esta mezcla y ¡disfrutamos!
We stuff the avocados with this mixture and we enjoy!
Now since it turns I can “read” (at least parse the sentences and know enough vocabulary) I’ve marked all the verbs, which is the point of this post, i.e. how to find verbs related to cooking. I think you should be able to do what I just did when you reach about the A2 level (basically one year of high school Spanish). To skip to the chase here are all the verbs (infinitive) that can be extracted from this receta:
abrir batir cocinar comenzar crear disfrutar disponer gustar hacer haber introducir machacar mechar mezclar mover observar pegar picar poder rellenar retirar vaciar
Of these verbs the ones marked would be likely in cooking prose and many of the others are either common verbs in Spanish (hacer, gustar, haber, poder) or used in many contexts other than cooking. IOW, if one is trying to accumulate a list using this approach (analyzing an appropriate corpus) you need to apply some human intelligence, which, thus as my sister claimed, requires some amount of fluency in the language. Of the verbs I marked, all are in my list at this blog, but finding them used in context can be helpful to focus on the translation most relative to comida.
In fact picar is a good example as the primary dictionary definitions are to sting, to itch, but in culinary context it is to chop, or as I have mentioned in previous posts in a restaurant setting the to peck (like a chicken) fits because this describes basically snacking finger-food appetizers. So context matters and dictionary lookups can be misleading (or what you learn in Spanish course that might be more likely to teach the more common meaning)
The Google translation is pretty good (given my ability to read the Spanish and compare) with just a couple of bad choices: while hueso has bone as primary translation, it is also pit which fits the context, The other two, pegada (stuck) and crearse (create) are a bit more subtle and I’ll cover those later. And vaso de batidora (blender glass) really takes some analysis as GT translation is very literal and not very helpful (we’ll cover this later as well)
Now I also marked a couple of words that are either not verbs or being used as verb in the context: for instance, in the first line ” con ayuda de dos tenedores” ayudais a noun (help), but it is also the third person singular present conjugation of ayudar (to help). Given subject pronouns are often omitted in Spanish, he helps would be translated just as ayuda. So how do you know whether it’s help the noun or help the verb? Context, which means some fluency in Spanish.
Another example is batidora, which is a case of making a noun from a verb root (IOW, knowing just verbs gives you a shot at guessing nouns). Most of the time a word ending in -dora is some kind of tool to do the action implied by the verb part, i.e. computadora, a tool that computes (computar), or in this case a tool that beats (batir).
con el pollo mechado and pegadashow another common construct in Spanish. The past participle of a verb, for instance cocinado (cooked) from cocinar (to cook) can often be used as an adjective. Since the participle ends in -o, which is usually masculine, it becomes cocinada(feminine) when used with a feminine noun, which is why it’s carne asada and pollo asado, from asar (to grill). While mechado follows this pattern and gets translated (accurately) by Google as shredded, mechar is a bit mysterious to produce shredded. And pegada, used here as adjective, is really tricky, with -a there is dictionary entry of ‘punch’ (no fit in this context), but pegado is stuck or glued, from the verb pegar (to hit, to paste). So Google translated this as glued, which is kinda right, but this is referring to a mixing bowl and that one wants to have firmly “stuck’ to a surface so you can mix the stuff inside without the bowl spinning all around or sliding over the surface.
The point of a lot of these details I mention is that you can’t just grab a Spanish dictionary (in paper or on your phone) and type in a word and get a definition and, often, get a meaning that really tells you something. That’s why reading lots of recipes could help a lot to them reading menus. Menus don’t usually contain cooking instructions BUT they do often contain derivatives of verbs (as adjectives or nouns) to do tell you something.
So learning a selection of verbs, like from my list if I ever finish it, can help a lot in reading a menu.
And knowledge of Spanish help to figure out something like hemos retirado. Again, you might guess retirado is a past participle (and guessing it’s regular, thus the verb is retirar). Guess what, that’s right! retirar (to remove) is directly used in the instructions as the conjugated form retiramos, which (again missing subject pronoun, but deduced from conjugation is ‘we remove’). It’s interesting the style of writing this recipe used we do xxx a lot, which is a polite form of language (instead of the imperative, commanding you (the cook) to retira (if being familiar and addressing you as tú) or retire (if being formal and addressing you as usted). This is also a good example of false cognate (not so obvious with retiramos, but you might guess retirado is retired and it’s not). Now hemos is the present we conjugation of haber, or we have. As in English this is one of the “moods” in Spanish (the perfect as spanishdict.com calls it or Pretérito perfecto in Spanish). So I have removed and I removed (retiré or retiraba, which gets into the messy distinction between imperfect and preterite (both for action in the past) are different in Spanish, just as in English and have slightly different meanings.
And finally I’ll show off a bit more of 898 days of studying Spanish to explain poder rellenarlos. poder is used a lot in Spanish and basically means ‘to be able’ (aka ‘can’). But the -los on rellenarlos is one of those things that defeats looking up derivative words in a dictionary. The -los is for an indirect object pronoun, in this case, them, which we affix to the verb infinitve rellenar (to stuff). There is quite a bit of this in Spanish and it can be confusing.
For instance dámelo is three words stuck together (the accent just shows it’s not pronounced with the same stressed syllable as normal). dá is the imperative polite ‘you give’ (a command to you (usted) to give) from dar (to give); me is just me as the indirect object, and lo is just it (the object), IOW, give it to me. So, of course you can figure out that estas manzanas, dáselas is ‘those apples, give them to them’, right?
So why am I “showing off” so of what I learned and pretending I could teach you some Spanish. Instead of that interpretation what I am showing is how knowledge of the language does facilitate reading. Even if you don’t know all the root words in a piece of text (like cooking instructions) all these little bits of Spanish grammar and conjugation and sentence construction can let you find the words that really tell you something.
And for this post my lengthy discussion also demonstrates how to get a really good verb list – go through lots of recipes in tedious detail, finding verbs in context and then with a combination of the not-too-bad but often flawed Google translations and the rest of the context you can build up a reasonable corpus, i.e. the infinitive form of a verb and its (possibly multiples) meanings you extract from the translation and deduction.
So I’ll finish with something basic in this recipe, from its title; pollo mechado
mechado is the past participle (so -ed in English) of mechar. But a dictionary lookup of mechar (several good online dictionaries) doesn’t yield ‘to shred’. Instead you get to stuff, or to throw into, neither of which fit shredded very well. There is an additional meaning to lard that is intriguing (certainly sounds like a cooking term).
In fact from an excellent source I mention on my cooking verbs page, www.mamirecetas.com/glosario. The somewhat crude Google translation yields this
At the time of wicking , holes are opened in the selected piece, and then they are filled, introducing in them foods that compensate for this tendency to dry out, usually bacon or bacon type fats , these are called wicks. Likewise, you can add elements that help make the piece tastier once cooked, such as aromatic herbs , vegetables, dried fruits, etc.
If you’re familiar with cooking, this is a description of the process of larding. Excellent, got it, but how does this get to shredding. The closest match in the dictionary (under culinary contexts) for ‘to shred’ is cortar en tiras (cut into shreds) or triturar (to grind).
Now in the past when dictionary searches fail to reveal a clue, I do just ordinary searches. Why try mechado , you’ll find a Filipino dish. So the best I could find, which fits this recipe is (from a user contributed site, just like this, attempting to explain Spanish phrases, but therefore often wrong)
Carne mechada is “pulled meat”…generally it is pork shoulder meat slowly cooked and then “mechada” (pulled) with a fork…like the pulled pork you put in a bun. Mechas is slang for hair threads….
It’s the ” y la mechamos con ayuda de dos tenedores ” in the first line (btw, that la before mechamos is not ‘the’, but an indirect pronoun it, which in this case precedes the verb, not affixed to it). So I guess. I have made pulled pork before, when the pork was too hot to shred by hand so I used forks, but wow, this one is tough. Given the “slang” is not used in Spain, presumably this must be a Latin American recipe.
All this work and now to summarize it all into a corpus and then do it a few hundred more times and I might be able to build a really good page that meanwhile a fluent Spanish speaker attending culinary school could create from memory.
p.s. In a little proof reading I notice I forgot to discuss nos guste (in the first line) so I’ll leave this as an exercise for the reader to deal with verb gustar and how to say you/someone/we likes/liked/will-like/would-like in Spanish. Hint it involved the rarely taught in beginner Spanish subjunctive mood conjugation, but the often taught reflexive form.
te gustarás esta entrada de blog, sí
and you will say, por supuesto, excelente, me encanta.
Most of my posts in this blog have been about restaurants in Spain, mostly because of my interest in the Camino de Santiago and in doing a “virtual pilgrimage” along it (the idea of doing things virtually has become not so strange any more but I was doing it before it became commonplace). Seeing (on Google maps) every town and thus restaurants along that route (via a GPS trace) was the source of menus I studied and discussed.
But more recently, since actually taking a “live” (Zoom) Spanish class with a flesh-and-blood teacher in Cuernavaca Mexico I’ve switched some of my focus to looking at restaurants in Mexico, to extract food vocabulary to add to my corpus that will train my automated translator I’m slowly creating. But unlike Spain I don’t have any geographical focus in Mexico, i.e. a path I can plod along virtually and see what I find. OTOH, I actually like Mexican food a lot more than Spain (one thing I learned with previous years of posts is that food in Spain is pretty unexciting). And now with travel so curtailed it’s entirely possible that a trip to Mexico is more likely than Spain (I’ve just barely been in Mexico, a touristy area just south of San Diego, where I’ve only seen Spain while still in Portugal). So without a plan for study I just stumble onto interesting restaurants which then become my post.
Anyway, as I’ll expand below circumstance led me to another interesting restaurant and so most of the day I spent doing research. My first Mexican restaurant post came as a direct result of my Spanish teacher telling me about a fun town (Tepoztlán) where many locals go for R&R and thus I found an interesting restaurant. While Mexican restaurants can have very interesting food, thus far, at least in smaller towns, they are less likely to have websites and especially online menus where I can easily extract text of the menu and then do my analysis. So it’s a lot more work, but fun work.
So in this first part let me explain how I found this place. I’m a fairly big fan of tequila and recently I exhausted my supply of bulk (but good) Hornitos reposado from Costco. So despite trying to avoid shopping I had other stuff to buy so I also shopped the liquor section of my local grocery store. Right next to the Hornitos was an intriguing bottle of Correlejo Reposado. I haven’t had a chance to make my own photo of the bottle but it’s easy to find online. The tequila was pleasant and I ended up sharing it with my esposa and we found it a bit too good so that it too is gone now (without the ill effects that sometimes, especially silver tequila, can cause). So after already buying it I started doing a little research online.
It’s a bit tricky to read the label to figure out who actually makes this (is Correlejo a brand (yes) or a distillery (yes) or a location?) but I eventually found it geographical origin to be Pénjamo Guantajuato. Being almost completely ignorant of Mexican geography and place naming, fortunately Google Maps easily found this where Pénjamo is a small village in the state of Guantajuato (Estado Libre y Soberano de Guanajuato). When looking at the Google Map result a point of interest, Ex hacienda corralejo, showed up a few miles away. Looking at what information Google had plus all the user contributed photos, this is at least the place where the tours related to Correlojo Tequila happen. It’s cool, take a look yourself.
But now that I had Pénjamo up on the map I started looking at both hotels (shocked at seeing prices < $30) and also restaurants. Google Maps has a useful feature that if you just click a POI on the map for either restaurant or hotel Google also shows up a few similar place with their ratings. So I’ve learned (did this is Spain along the Camino) this is a good way to find the “best” (i.e. most expensive) restaurant or hotel in the same vicinity.
So that process led me to the hotel, Hotel Real De Piedra, that has a 4.6 star rating and a whopping price of $36. The photos, however, show a charming place where I’d happily stay. It would be nearly impossible to find a decent place for that price along the Camino, much less something this nice. However, a few of the photos of food were confusing, hardly the usual B&B type items. A bit more searching and a bit of coincidence then led me to Remedios Restaurante, which is just across the street from the hotel, but requires almost maximum zoom in in Google for it to appear, which is strange, given it has a 4.8 rating and looks to me to be the best restaurant in Pénjamo.
So take a quick virtual paseo there by just searching for ‘Remedios Restaurante Pénjamo’ in Google Maps. The pictures are fun and scrolling down a ways you finally encounter photos of several different menus, which I could then study, finding such interesting words as xoconostle which doesn’t look very Spanish (and isn’t).
And menu study and vocabulary will be the subject of the next post, but I’ll provide a teaser now.
It is generally my policy not to put material from other people’s web pages in my posts, but in this case: a) I doubt the restaurant will disapprove of the limited publicity I’m giving them, and, b) sorta like quotes in a term paper I’ll just do snippets of images with this attribution to both Google and Remedios, and thus fall into “fair use” instead of copyright infringement.
The title of this snippet of menu is BEBER EN REMEDIOS, which should be fairly obvious Spanish. COCTELERIA also is no mystery, right in dictionaries, cocktail bar, from cóctel (cocktail) and most any type of store in Mexico is a xxx-ría. The few items above that line are from the CERVEZAS portion of this menu.
BTW, the prices are pesos, often shown in Mexico with $ which really used to scare me but I challenge you to find any place that would serve a Modelo Negra for a mere $1.42 or any beer in Spain for 1.17€.
Note that my tequila (made nearby and on this menu) that was the coincidence that led me to this restaurant shows up here but I’m not sure what it means to mix it with tonic (or just call a shot that) and then sell it for $4.30 (the entire 750ml bottle only cost $30 here in Omaha)
So the interesting items here (that I researched) are:
Micheladas (corono clara, obscura, light o pacifico)
Bugambilia Rosa (ginebra)
ginebra is a word I’ve frequently found and easily found in dictionaries as gin but bugambilia isn’t in dictionaries (rosa, easy, just pink or possibly rose). When I can’t find something in a dictionary my next step is off to Google search which reveals lots of items about Bougainvillea. I’m quite familiar with this pretty but nasty plant from my backyard in Los Altos California and then tons of it on the big island in Hawaii. But what does it have to do with a cocktail?
So this is where you have to get more creative with search to solve the mystery. Adding rosa to the search, no help. Adding cocktail to the search, no help. But finally ‘bugambilia rosa gin cocktail’ gets the job done and shows various recipes. Which coincidentally led me to figuring out a word in another part of the menu “aderezo de Jamaica” which Google thought was Jamaican dressing, but, da-ti-da, thinking in terms of flowers it’s much more likely to be hibiscus. I’ll come back to this.
So one mystery solved but then what is micheladas? Now an obvious (and wrong) guess is it has something to do with a brand of beer, possibly what Michelob is called in Mexico (the stuff inside the parenthesis kinda disputes that idea). Well, despite being a reasonable fan of cerveza, but less of a fan of mixing it with anything I learned this is a popular mix (even with a Wikipedia entry; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michelada) of beer, lime juice, Worchester, hot sauce and tomato juice (might try it, perhaps OK mix of beer).
Now maybe dedicated drinkers would know both these items but a casual reader of this menu might skip these.
btw: This leads to a small personal joke. Omaha has several good mercados for Latino products. Years ago we went looking for something someone told us apart TAYJEAN (phonetically). Eventually we found something called Tajín, which is a brand name and product that is a wonderful spice and salt mix, great for putting on cantaloupe or other melons. While trying to find this a kindly gentleman who didn’t seem to speak any English understand our conversation and came up and pointed – “muy bueno” which was enough. One recipe formicheladas shows using tajín on the rim of the glass instead of salt as used in margaritas. Everybody in USA knows a tiny bit of Spanish from contact with Mexico, but this was fun because there was a billboard along 101, near Santa Rosa, California, advertising milk, with the cute slogan “moo-ey bueno”, my little inside joke, since at the time I didn’t know what it meant, but not exactly difficult Spanish.
So this is enough lead-in and digression that soon I can do the remaining part. But for now I’ll just give you some homework. Here is a sign in front of the door of this restaurant – what does it mean?
See you soon with part 2, with an answer and more fun food puzzles.
The topic of this blog is rather esoteric and thus not likely to generate much interest. I don’t write these posts to try to attract a lot of readers. Native Spanish speakers, in Spain or Mexico, and especially foodies, already know all the menu and cooking terms I discuss, so they’re unlikely to be searching for the kind of information I discover. Also most non-Spanish speakers probably think they can get by just fine with only knowing a few bits of phrasebook Spanish. So what audience is really interested in fairly obscure food terms, not available from dictionaries, on menus? Not many?
But I might expect, every now and then, someone struggling with the same words/phrases I’ve encountered and thus searches might bring them here. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. In fact, even when I’m searching for something obscure Google never sends me to this blog even though I have far more extensive information than anywhere else Google finds.
So I don’t expect a lot of traffic, but like any writer it’s interesting to see if anyone comes to visit and WordPress does provide some simple statistical analysis. Long ago I actually wrote code to process the logs that web servers create so I know what can be extracted from them, a bit more than WordPress provides, but not a lot. So I do find it curious to check from time to time. Which means I have a fairly good sense of what steady state level of visits are.
So it was very surprising that during December I registered a fairly large pulse of hits, both page views and visitors. Unlike the case where a particular post attracts attention I saw: a) much larger number of unique readers (as contrasted to one reader viewing multiple posts), b) most readers read only one post and conversely the posts that were read only had one reader, and, c) there was no apparent pattern in which posts were read (not in any single category or under a tag nor in any list). The data almost looks completely random (and perhaps it is, maybe someone experimented with web spidering, i.e. a bot doing the reads).
Now my hypothesis was that perhaps some teacher (possibly for cooking instead of Spanish) had stumbled onto my blog and recommended to students to take a look, but the data didn’t support that. Likewise I thought, until seeing it was many people only reading one post, that someone discovered my blog, possibly writing a cookbook, and so found a ton on interesting material, also an idea not supported by the data.
So, IOW, I have no idea what this pulse, about 300% more than normal, was all about and I didn’t get any new subscribers and the pulse has disappeared so it is just a mystery. So back to the normal.
As a break from tedious discussion of Spanish, I found something else to talk about for this restaurant (MESÓN LA TABERNA in case you didn’t read the previous parts) One interesting photo that appears on Google Maps in the photos section for a restaurant is a copy of the check (cuenta). I guess people think they are doing a favorite to readers to see what a meal might cost in the place, which could be handy, since there are already tons of pictures of the food.
Normally I don’t copy photos from public sites as even though people take these pictures and contribute them free to the site (thus relinquishing their IP rights) most websites consider their content to have IP rights. There is a doctrine of “fair use” I won’t bore you with it (simple case, quoting a few lines from a book in your paper giving credit and source), but I figure all parties involved like publicity. I’ve given Google seven photos that Google keeps telling me that one has 95K views and all of them together have 240K views. So the small number of views of this photo I clipped from Google is a tiny fraction of what I’ve given them. So sue me, Google. BUT I do advise readers not to follow this example.
I chose this particular check because it’s a hefty total, but also because it has a lot of line items to talk about. The fun part of this is that the receipt is fairly narrow and thus the entire name of the food item can´t fit, so for those what was the item? We’ll get a few of those to talk about.
But first, the text at the top of the check is fairly straight forward, but there are a couple of abbreviations as the labels of the columns, which require the full vocabulary to understand. Also, for my USA readers, remember , is used in Spain (and most of Europe) where we’d use . AND € is Euros, now the only currency as the peseta was abolished in 2002; for your info today the € is about $1.17, so IOW about the same as the item would be in USA with the tip which, usually, is included in the bill in Spain, as is the IVA tax, so you can just think of the price as essentially the same.
the number of this particular item ordered
description and it appear their printer can’t handle accents
simple enough, the price of an individual item
cant x precio
We deduce there were four people for this ticket from four big dishes, 8 (two per person) orders of bread, but five desserts and only three drinks. So $42 each isn’t cheap, but certainly not a luxury restaurant.
Moving to the items ordered by this group I’ll repeat the all uppercase descripción from the cuenta and then complete the item with the remaining letters/words in lowercase in red. Our first item is MENU FIN DE SEMana, which doesn’t mean anything specific, but whatever the weekend menu is (remember, in Spain, el menú is a set combination of (usually three) items and carta is the list of individual items).
The next one took some work, BOTILLO CON CAChelos which is not an obvious answer. It took careful scanning of multiple online photos of the restaurant’s menu (no online text) to find botillo con cachelos, verdura, garbanzos, y chorizo 15,00 €. This was my best guess as it means “chunks of potato” which this dish usuallycontains, but it might also refer to cachetes (cheeks) as we’ll find when we look at preparing this “classic” dish of Ponferrada. At least one preparation of this dish contains cachucha de cerdo, which is a vulgar body part in Latin American but in Spain it’s instead an awful looking dried head of a pig (ears, snout, skin and all).
We’re going to have a whole post on what this dish is, since it is “famous” in Porferrada in the next post.
So let’s try a few more, which are the starters, completing the truncated descripción from the carta posted outside the place: a) CROQUETAS DE BOletus, on the Tapas Tradicionales section of the carta, where boletus is actually a Latin term (and a genus of mushrooms), so, IOW, wild mushroom croquettes, b) HUEVOS ROTOS COn patatas … (four different possibilities), while rotos literally means broken, this is closest to a scramble, from the Toque el Huevo section of the outdoor carta, c) SALTEADO DE VERduras de temporado, sauteed seasonal vegetables, from the De La Huerta (Of the garden) section of the carta, d) CACHAPO DE TERNera con queso de cabra and cecina (no translation for cachapo, just an Asturian dish, typically of two pieces of veal (ternera) and cheese and ham (or cecina, sorta jerky), in this dish, breaded and fried from the Las Carnes section of the carta, e) ESCALOPINES DE ternera al cabrales, veal scallops (thin pounded cuts of veal) with the famous Spanish blue cheese, also from the Las Carnes section, f) CALAMARES A LA andaluz, squid in Andalusian style, from Tapas del Mar section of the carta.
Wow, these people ate a lot, two appetizers each and a full main course. I get llenísimo just thinking about it! A few of these items I can match up with the photos at Google maps or TripAdvisor and they are a substantial serving size. For fun you might to see if you can find these dishes in the photos.
But they’re not done. Either someone had two desserts or I’m wrong and there are five guests, because they finished with these postres: a) ARROZ CON LECHE, basically rice pudding, b) TARTA DE CASTADcastañas, not sure why the D is in the truncated version as castañas is the only thing on the carta that matches, basically the chestnut tart, and, c) TARTA DE LA ABUela, pretty certain it would be abuela, not abuelo, as this is a common thing in Spain, basically Grandmother’s Tart. Now TARTA can be confusing since it can be pie, cake or tart, but since cake has its own word, pastel, tart is probably the best guess.
So there we have it. This receipt alone, due to the limited space for the descripción doesn’t completely tell us what these people had to eat. Without the menu some items might be difficult to guess. So while a posted photo of this cuenta tells us something, we might need to do more research to guide our choices. And I think this is more food that most people would get, perhaps it’s a special occasion for them and they’ve starved for a day to have a grand meal. So the $42 each is probably a bit high. BUT, unlike the bills for most people in many restaurants in the US, booze is only a small amount. In fact, they only had a jarra (pitcher, and in Spain that’s less than pitchers in the USA) of beer, and the rest was just two bottles of water, one even free. So 8,50 € just barely would buy the grande margarita in my favorite place.
SO, if you’re looking at one of this checks someone posts you may need to do more research to figure out what it really means. But it can be a helpful guide, if you can’t find prices before you enter (prices are on the conveniently posted outdoor menu, I love those, fun to look at even you’re not stopping).
After a few fun digressions let’s get back to looking at text we can find on the Internet and how that helps us look at restaurants in Spain. We’ll continue with just the text describing a restaurant (Mesón la Taberna) and compare that to how much ones learns in 642 days of studying Spanish. Recall that I mentioned earlier I wrote so code for tools of analyzing text which I use here.
Let’s try to get through the text and study how Spanish fluency is described by searching in Ponferrada and maybe the other restaurant connected with this website. So here’s all the text, from the main page and the Más Info for Mesón La Taberna with the Google translate for the English:
Legend: not Duo but Spanish, not Duo but specialized, in Duo but not with standard meaning. One portion of the text (under the see more) is exactly the same so I marked that out. All words emboldened have not been encountered in 102 Duo lessons, nearly two years of study.
MESÓN LA TABERNA
MESÓN LA TABERNA
Antiguabodegade piedra y madera rehabilitada.
Cocina caseratradicionalberciana, elaborada con los mejores productos de temporada que ofrece nuestra tierra. Disponemos de Botillocompleto todos los días del año sin necesidad de encargo y de una amplia variedad de tapas y raciones de elaboracióntradicional. Cuenta también con menú del día casero durante toda la semana.
Old restored stone and wood cellar.
Traditional home cooking from Bercia, made with the best seasonal products that our land offers.
We have a complete Botillo every day of the year without the need for an order and a wide variety of tapas and traditionally made portions.
It also has a homemade menu of the day throughout the week.
Más Info Page
TAPAS Y RACIONES
CAPS <huh> AND PORTIONS
La Taberna se encuentra en una antiguabodega del siglo XVII, construida en piedra y maderarehabilitada.
La Taberna is located in an old 17th century winery, built in restored stone and wood.
Cocina caseratradicionalberciana, elaborada con los mejores productos de temporada que ofrece nuestra tierra. Disponemos de Botillo completo todos los días del año sin necesidad de encargo y de una amplia variedad de tapas y raciones de elaboracióntradicional.
Cuenta también con menú del día casero durante toda la semana, y una ampliaselección de vinos D.O. Bierzo.
Traditional home cooking from Bercia, made with the best seasonal products that our land offers. We have a complete Botillo every day of the year without the need for an order and a wide variety of tapas and traditionally made portions.
It also has a homemade menu of the day throughout the week, and a wide selection of D.O. Bierzo.
UBICACIÓN Y CONTACTO
LOCATION AND CONTACT
Para cualquier consulta, puedes llamarnos o enviarnos un email con los datos que aparecen arriba.
For any questions, you can call us or send us an email with the information that appears above.
Si quieres que lo hagamos nosotros, por favor, déjanostu teléfono o email en este formulario y lo haremoslo antes posible.
If you want us to do it, please, leave us your phone or email in this form and we will do it as soon as possible.
So this text contains 84 unique words of which 34 are not found in the first 102 lessons in Duolingo, IOW, I’ve learned 59.5% of the words used to describe this restaurant but do I understand? Another way of looking at that is it has taken me 12.76 days of study per word I know. At my rate of learning it would take 433 days to learn the remaining words, or a total 2.96 years – good luck with studying Spanish to teach you to read a menu.
So here’s what’s left:
amplia antigua aparecen berciana bierzo bodega botillocasera casero construida consulta datos déjanos disponemos elaboración elaborada email encargo enviarnos favor haremos llamarnos necesidad piedra productos raciones rehabilitada selección tabernatapas temporada tierra tradicional ubicación
So these four words are not really Spanish vocabulary or have English translation; these two words shouldn’t count (favor comes from por favor which is in any Spanish lesson); these four words are close enough to call cognates. Now using a little general knowledge learned from studying Spanish these two words (adjectives) have the same meaning, just different gender, so only need to learn one (homemade, which I’d learned from my previous menu study); these two words are verb infinitives that are in Duolingo with a so-called object pronoun affixed, something you’d learn by A2 Spanish. So that culls our list a bit to:
amplia antigua aparecen bodegacasero construida consulta datos déjanos disponemos elaboraciónelaboradaencargo haremos necesidad piedra raciones rehabilitada temporada tierra ubicación
Now a few of these are closely related to cuisine so if one had been just studying menus and looking words up (and remembered what you learn), you would know these words:
bodega, a bit complicated for us in USA who encounter Spanish from Latin American influence, since we’d think of this as a small grocery store, but in Spain it much applies to winery, places where is stored (wine cellars) or specialized wine shop. Some restaurants have this in their name.
caserois fairly common on menus and is derived from casa (home) to be homemade, or something made in the restaurant as opposed to bought from a supplier; this often applies (in menus) to postres (desserts).
elaboraciónand elaboradaare also often found in text explaining menus. elaboración is equivalent to its English cognate EXCEPT in the context of cooking it really refers to the overall process of generating the dish. For our general knowledge of Spanish we’d know elaborada is the feminine adjective for elabarado which is the past participle of the verb elaborar (to produce, make, prepare, devise) or then elaborated in English. But the meaning in terms of cooking is fairly specialized so knowing the English equivalent isn’t that helpful.
encargoyou, Dear Reader, should know if you’ve looked at my restaurant phrases page because in the restaurant context (often por encargo) it means on/by request where the dictionary literal translation is order (something ordered)
racionesis quite common, especially in Basque Country, since it close to its literal meanings (ratio, portion) but usually a larger quantity of some small plate item (tapas) to be shared (para compartir in my phrases page) between multiple diners, usually in the center of the table; but look where this occurs in the prose above and the Google Translation and see if that makes any sense to you. But a Spanish class would take a long time to getting around to teaching the dining meaning of ración (btw, do you see the ó in the singular (did you know you could drop the -es), what’s that all about?)
temporadaand tierraare trendy restaurant terms everywhere which we could just call, seasonal or local. tierra is literally land/earth/soil (also EARTH) but it really implies something raised in the nearby countryside (although huerto or campo are also used for this)
No so bad and some of these are likely to appear in future Duolingo lessons (or your choice of classes, say the equivalent of two years of high school Spanish). So between Duolingo AND Google Translation one can read most of this.
But there are two words in this text that have appeared in Duolingo but have a very different meaning here. Here’s one in context.
Cuentatambién con menú del día caserodurante toda la semana.
It also has a homemade menu of the day throughout the week.
Now cuenta is very important restaurant word (the check, as in la cuenta, por favor) but if you line words up with the Google translation you’ll see it corresponds to “it has” (también is the also so ignore it). But “it has” is very common and would be learned in baby Spanish as tiene (this is the third person singular conjugation of tener (to have) AND subject pronouns (it) are usually omitted in Spanish because they can be deduced from the conjugation (yes, this is all in beginner Spanish). But this didn’t make any sense to me (I guess I’ve learned something). If you look up cuenta in dictionaries you just get ‘bill’ but if you’ve been around the block a bit in Spanish you’ll notice this is a “stem changing” conjugation of an irregular verb, which I eventually guessed was costar which means “to cost” which still doesn’t make any sense.
So now another thing you might learn in classes, sometimes Spanish uses several words to mean something, like a veces (sometimes), a lo mejor (maybe), querer decir (to mean, weird since it is literal, to want to say). Or what came to mind for me is intentar is the infinitive for to try, but tratar de is also to try and that de is critical because tratar alone means to treat.
So an eureka moment, maybe costar and con together mean something else, and, behold, it does mean to count on, to expect, to anticipate. SO, wow, using my nearly two years of Spanish and so lookup try putting “also count on” into the Google translate instead of “it also has”. Makes a bit better sense, eh! So here’s at least one case I could not have improved the Google Translation (or even understood what was meant) without my study – hurrah, but to get one sentence in 638 days of work, pretty low yield.
And one I can’t figure out (possibly need to be B1/2 level)
Si quieres que lo hagamos nosotros, por favor,
If you want us to do it, please,
I was surprised to see I’ve had this word in Duolingo since I don’t know what it is. Well, this is a bit on me. Often Duo will only introduce a conjugated form in its drills, in this case, I would have seen haz and haga in the exercises. These come from the verb hacer (highly irregular, to do it, to make it): haz is the “command” (imperative mood in Spanish) for the informal you (tú), IOW, what you’d say to your kid (or spouse) DOIT!, haga is a bit more complicated, because it is: 1) DOIT to a formal/polite you (usted), like a waiter, but it’s also a conjugation of present tense in subjunctive mood (definitely well beyond beginner, no direct equivalent in English). Anyway, in the structure of my XML vocabulary so a verb, mood, tense word is introduced in Duolingo I put in the whole thing (in my notation that gets parsed into XML)
HACER (-, haz, haga, hagamos, haced, hagan) to do, to make (imperative)
Amusing Spanish has no word to tell yourself to DOIT, I wonder why, so that’s why I have -, where the yo conjugate should go). I had forgotten this since Duo has never used the nosotros conjugation in imperative, but my file is more complete. And sure enough Google translated it to DOIT, but it’s not the imperative DOIT, it’s the subjunctive one which is used in situations that may or may not happen, so when GT saw the si (if, and, not sí, yes) that triggered it to make this be subjunctive.
OK, that’s as far as I got, the total sentence, still doesn’t make sense to me, given it followed a fairly clear sentence.
Now as a side thing there is a “scam” (I believe a fair term) online to Learn 100 words in Spanish and you’ll know 80% of Spanish writings. Like English, or probably any language, a lot of small words get used a lot but actually carry little meaning in and of themselves (they may be critical in sentence construction). So here are the most common words (where I group some together, not because they’re the same (like el/la) but they have a similar role in prose.
de (8) del (3)
y (8) o (3)
en (3) por (1) para (1) con (3) sin (1)
la (2) los (3)
un (1) una (3)
The total number of words in this descriptive text (remember there are 84 unique words) is 129, but the simple words above are about half (65) but it is the less common words that really make the sense in this prose description of this restaurant.
Well, whew, this is even long for me! I can’t imagine anyone reading all this, but perhaps I will in a few years (especially if I have learned Spanish better and want to see my struggles) but it might give some hint of what one does need to know to interpret a menu (or just description of the restaurant).
Before I continue with the other subparts of the Aroi Hotel’s two restaurants (see previous posts) I want to do an interlude of an amusing side story. I was trying to determine if the Mesón la Taberna that I found earlier was really the correct one since Google Maps calls it Meson Cerveceria La Taberna and that’s the photo I showed in a previous post. But why would the Hotel’s homepage refer to it by one and Google another if it’s really the same thing?
So, after reading the description from Hotel Aroi’s homepage I did some virtual roaming around the Hotel Aroi Bierzo Plaza (in Plaza Ayuntamiento). You can search for this in maps.google.com, possibly appending Ponferrada (my browser remembers this as qualifier). I recommend this because it is interesting. The hotel is located on a larger plaza, Plaza del Ayuntamiento and Google has 360° views and street views right in front of La Violeta (and/or the hotel itself). Note that Meson Cerveceria La Taberna (Google doesn’t do the accents right) behind La Violeta (my clipping doesn’t show the hotel but it’s just to the left of La Violeta
You can get to a Google Streetview directly in front of La Violeta. If you walk (virtual) a bit, to the right (or just look on the map view), you will see a restaurant El King Kong (not King Kebab, also in this plaza).
The reason this caught my attention is that here in Omaha we have a local fast food chain (been here since I was long ago in high school) and I wondered, really!, they have a franchise in Ponferrada Spain! So I had to take a look, via this link (or click on the Google map). The link I provided gets to the entire menu on one page with tabs along the top to just look at each section. Clicking on the menu icon on the Google map, brings up, in Google Maps, information about this restaurant and also photos.
This photo immediately told me this is not the King Kong’s from Omaha. Looking at the pictures I saw it was a fairly “classic” Mexican restaurant. So, given Spanish people don’t much like spicy (hot) food, I wondered how this transplanted restaurant would match Mexican restaurants elsewhere.
Now while I’ve only been in a tiny bit of Mexico once (and didn’t eat). Mexican restaurants are the most popular “ethnic” restaurants in the USA. AND, in many cases, especially in California and Texas, they aren’t “fake” transplants (those do exist, e.g. Taco Bell) but the Latino population is large enough now in US there are totally real Mexican (although primarily northern Mexican) in the USA, especially in some place like San Antonio (not those for tourists on the River Walk or even the Mercado, but more hidden and treasured by locals).
The midwestern part of the USA also has a large Mexican origin population, including here in Omaha where there are some “real” restaurants targeted at Latinos (also a few great mercados where you can find ingredients you’d never find elsewhere). But again the connection to me is that our favorite restaurant, in fact the only one we’ll risk going to during COVID is Plaza Azteca in Atlantic Iowa (sure, you’d expect to find one there). We’ve eaten Mexican all over the US and Plaza Azteca is hands-down the best. BTW, “Mexican” food is complex because there are all sorts of regional influences, so most of what you find in the US is largely the Tex-Mex variety, plus the interesting offshoot of that in New Mexico. Recall that Texas (where I was born) was part of Mexico for a long time, so actually, other than a few more recent additions, Tex-Mex is not so derivative, it is the regional food of northern Mexico and southern US.
So after looking at the decorations and the photos of food to see how “authentic” I thought King Kong is, given my claim that USA has numerous “authentic” Mexican restaurants, well, at least it is a good imitation. Without actually tasting the food I can’t tell and in some photos it’s certainly not items I’ve ever seen (for instance, they make their quesadillas like a hamburger with two tortillas, instead of folded over as would be usually done here, the guac looks a little dicey too; and the margarita is way too tiny). And their decoration only favors the Day of the Dead which is not that common in restaurants here.
But then I took a look at the menu and a few things seemed strange. Under Entrantes they had SuperMachos? Come on, really, you can’t spell that right! But then I noticed other odd spelling and detected a pattern and then realized they were having fun with word play or puns.
Chimpanchile? Guacamono? And that’s the one that woke me up, in my Spanish lessons, well, mono is monkey. And then you see the theme – Chimpxxxx. In the burritos section of the menu they have Donkey Kong, which I assumed they picked because someone there was old enough to remember the video game. And they watch US movies to have a taco Puerco Kill Bill. And back to the primate theme Orangutacos. I’m missing the joke on Gilitaco de Gilipollo (Gila Monster?). There are a couple of others that I think are word play, but I don’t get them, maybe you can.
Now under quesadillas seeing nopales was unexpected (I have seen photos of cactus in Spain, but never seen it on any menu); and I’ve never seen jalpaños on any Spanish menu, but cuitlacoche (spelled in an H in Mexico) really blew me away; they call it hongo del maíz, which is technically correct, but it makes more sense as ‘corn smut’ (which I’ve actually seen in cornfields around here as it is fairly rare). And in their list of beers they do manage to get some Mexican ones in there. It’s funny they show items with jalapeños with the hot chili symbol as that is only beginning to be hot here, but at least their additional salsas make it up to four chilis since it’s using habernos.
It’s also amusing that their menu is almost entirely in Spanish, whereas the same menu in USA would be in English but with the Spanish words as needed, which is the one reason that without really knowing it many people in USA know more Spanish than they think they do. And so I learned totopos fritos which didn’t entirely look like real word, but sure enough it would just be ‘chips’ here (both fried and corn would be assumed).
So this was a fun digression to discover this, and, frankly, if I were walking around this plaza, comparing restaurants, I suspect I’d eat here instead of the bolitto cocido (now that I’ve learned what it is, another subpart I’ve added to this post series).
In general I had the view that Spain had little interest in Mexican food but the photos did look like locals rather than tourists. However, the band, sad – I guess they can’t find the costumes for Mariachis.
So now I’ll get back to my sequence on Hotel Aroi, finish Mesón La Taberna and then cover La Violeta, but, guess what, in exploring those I find yet another diversion, so just a teaser for the next posts.