Bogging down

I was chugging alone making good progress on mining corpus data from restaurant menus and then I began to run off in a diversion. As I work and find confusing issues in translations I make notes to myself to return and investigate these and attempt to come up with definitive answer.  But what is going to be “definitive” for me when I don’t actually know the language, especially as used in Spain?

Well, I do searches, read comments or analysis or claims other people make, weigh these against each other, determine if the source seems reliable (easier to do in politics where sources are so biased, on a neutral topic like this they may just be wrong without malice). So, probably a couple of examples are needed to make sense of what I’m saying.

Quickly one finds a number of different terms for cuts of meat, primarily beef. Now this isn’t so obvious in English (U.S.) either, e.g. what’s the difference between a New York strip and a strip steak and a sirloin and prime rib? The words themselves are not entirely clear and even finding a butcher’s chart doesn’t totally help. Or what about St. Louis ribs vs baby-backs – I imagine a Spanish speaking person has fun trying to figure out what those are. So I’ve found, at least, between solomillo, entrecot[e], costillas, lomo, chuletón, filete, bistec on menus – what do these mean? lomo not only has the meaning, as cut of meat, of ‘loin’ but also probably more frequently refers to pork than beef, something easy to understand if you visit local cafes in Iowa. The biggest confusion I find (since both seem to come from same place in the animal) is entrecot vs chuletón, where the difference seems to be primarily thickness, but also potentially a quality issue. But my point here is that I haven’t been able to come to a definitive answer by finding sources, especially as I’m dependent on Google Translate to make Spanish language articles readable and so get amusing things like ‘what is the difference between squid and squid’ given I asked for the difference between two words that can each be translated to squid.

So that’s a distraction and a discouragement, not to be able to clearly work this out. A diner in the U.S. would certainly care whether the beef they were getting was sirloin or round or chuck so I would expect the same would apply to Spain. In the few menus that have prices I can fairly safely deduce the “steaks” they’re providing aren’t particularly good, either the cut or the quality. So how does one decide?

Meanwhile I got caught up in a digression about chile peppers. Guindilla pepper appears on many menus, especially as they are common in Basque influenced parts of Spain (where I’m virtually traveling at the moment). These are a specific (not very hot) type of pepper where guindilla also sometimes is a generic reference to peppers as a group (just as pimienta often is even though sometimes it’s a specific type of pepper).

And I found a “dictionary” (truly a dictionary, not a translation dictionary, for Spanish words then with definitions of the word itself entirely in Spanish) and I encountered adobo and abobar. adobar is a verb meaning (Google translation of the dictionary item) ‘To season with spices, juices, herbs, etc., the fish or the meat in crude to give them better flavor or to facilitate their conservation.’ which I suppose is a good definition given the translation of adobar is to pickle or to preserve or to marinate. So adobo (which can be a dish (in Philippines), a sauce, or a marinade) is (fairly clearly from multiple sources) derived word from the verb. But what does it really mean, especially relative to Spain. Here in U.S., where Mexican cuisine heavily influences broadly on cuisine, adobo is something chiptotle peppers are most often packed in but then also something one uses as an additive (more like an ingredient (like Worcester) than a sauce). But does this apply to Spain? Or, more broadly, is the dictionary I found a generic one for Spanish and not necessarily focused on Spain.

This is an issue I’ve encountered in earlier versions of this project and if you don’t think it’s a big issue find out what tortilla is in Spain (compared to what you know it to mean in U.S.) – seriously different.

So since one definition of adobo is that it must be created with chiptotle peppers do these even get used in Spanish cuisine. For those of you who don’t do much cooking peppers are huge mystery here since peppers can have multiple names (do you know ancho and pablano are really the same which pablano being the green/fresh version and ancho is dried version). Well chiptotle is not a type of pepper but instead a preparation, i.e. a smoked and dried jalapeno. So does any of this apply to Spain?

And my answer is, well, I don’t know, after doing multiple searches and reading multiple articles. I get confusing results. It’s not clear that this is a puzzle I can solve and it may require a native Spaniard with strong culinary experience (hey, José Andrés , are you available for a little consulting gig?).

So in trying to resolve these ambiguities I’ve just created more issues and am a bit discouraged whether I can ever solve things like this. But even then, does it matter: for those of us used to peppers used in cooking in U.S., would a clear description of piquillo, padron or guindilla, in words really help anyone trying to decide on something from the menu if you don’t actually know what these peppers taste like and how they complement the dish? Even if I could clearly and unambiguously (say with the Latin species names and good photos plus some culinary definition) “define” these it may not help much in you, Dear Reader, imagining what they taste like and whether you’d like to eat them.

So is this project hopeless (other than getting a rather simple translation glossary, probably knowing anchoas (even though these may be very different in Spain than on the pizza in U.S.) or callos will still be helpful.

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