Challenging menu to decode

While I’m continuing to work on the GallinaBlanca diccionario (almost done) I’m getting close to the next town on the Camino so I decided to try to work on another menu from a Logroño restaurant. It’s an interesting website as there are actually three different restaurants, with some common connection:  KABANOVA, PASIÓN POR TI, and LETRAS DE LAUREL. In addition to menus (unfortunately in PDF’s so Google Translate doesn’t work) there are numerous photos of their Especialidades (Specialties), some of which are fairly mystifying exactly what the item is.

I’ve decoded most of the three menus from Kabanova – MENÚ GASTRONÓMICO (Gourmet Menu, an 11 dish tasting menu), MENÚ PASIÓN (???, Pasión is literally passion, but really the name of the common grupo that runs these), and NUESTRO MENÚ DEL MEDIODÍA (Our midday Menu). It’s this midday menu that I’ll discuss in this post. I’ve mentioned menu del Dia before; it’s an economical way to order several courses from a limited menu. While it most often is referred to as  it is often most likely to only be offered at lunchtime (really around 14:30) and on weekdays only, so calling it mediodía actually makes a lot of sense.

Menú para 1 persona DE LUNES A VIERNES Menu for 1 person from Monday to Friday

The menu basically has these five parts:

APERITIVO de la casa. Aperitif of the House
POSTRES incluye un postre casero DESSERTS include a homemade desert
Incluye 1/3 botella Tinto Reciente DOC Rioja, agua mineral y ración de pan Includes 1/3 fresh bottle of wine DOC Rioja, mineral water and bread ration

Many restaurants will have Entrantes (instead of the Apertivo) on their menu del Dia, but judging from the pictures and other information this establishment is putting its bar forward rather than some small plate.

The first item under PRIMEROS had some fun translation to do:

Menestra fresca de verduritas de Calahorra con su velouté, crispy de alcachofa y polvo de jamón Fresh stew of Calahorra vegetables with its velouté, crispy artichoke and ham powder

I’ve mentioned that literal translation won’t work to decode many items on menus in Spain so we see a few examples of that here: 1) Calahorra doesn’t have an English translation because it’s actually the name of the second largest city in La Rioja which has as its major activity the growing and distribution of prized vegetables so using this term is emphasizing the quality and freshness of the verduritas (vegetables) used; note that  is a diminutive one of the three standard dictionary term verdura; 2) velouté doesn’t translate to English because it’s actually a French cooking term (one of the five “mother” sauces); 3) crispy is interesting since it’s already an English word and not Spanish, I guess they thought this sounded appealing, and, 4) polvo de jamón (ham powder) actually does seem to be what its literal translation implies. I found a number of receta on the Net for this and it’s just ground-up ham after drying in an oven that is used like a seasoning from a shaker. Menestra fresca itself has numerous recipes but basically it’s a stew of multiple vegetables (you can find lots of images of it on the Net).

Another item is interesting:

Ensalada de la Ribera con rulo de queso cabra. Riverside salad with goat cheese curler

Yes, de la Ribera translates to riverside which doesn’t tell you anything.  However, this link gives you a good picture and explanation of this common salad in Basque areas. The lettuce, which looks like romaine, is not and actually is a specialty in this part of Spain, often called COGOLLOS DE TUDELA (buds (really cores) of Tudela (which is a municipality of Navarre). It has is connected to de la Ribera because it is grown surroundings of the Ebro river banks.

This is a curious item:

Nuestro plato de cuchara del día Our dish of spoon of the day

A dish of spoon, sounds odd. Actually I’ve encountered this labeling before and it basically means a dish that would be eaten with a spoon, like a soup but possibly something else than sopa (soup) and so therefore labeled more generally than sopa. IOW, you have no idea, from the menu, what this will be. Since this would be one of the three choices under PRIMEROS you’d really have to discuss this item with your server or just opt for one of the other two choices or take your chances.

So, IOW, to understand and decide which of the three PRIMEROS you’d order requires knowing a lot more about food in Spain than your literal translation dictionary is going to tell you. And again, for me, the challenge is how any app for a smartphone could explain all this (or how the search would work because the exact wording would vary from menu to menu even for the same items).

I’ll wrap up with just a couple more interesting items (and this menu is this restaurant’s shortest one so lots to decode here, as you might not want just the limited choices of menu del Dia.

Bacalao confitado en aceite Arbequina sobre cama de pisto. Cod confit in Arbequina oil on ratatouille bed

Arbequina is another word that has no translation to English. That’s because it is a particular cultivar of olive, that is, you just have to know what it is.

Carrillera de ibérico 36H con manzana, zurracapote y su crujiente. Iberian cheek 36H with apple, mulled and crispy

mulled is an interesting translation of zurracapote which is actually a wine drink (similar to the more familiar Sangria). And, no clue what the 36H means?

Secreto ibérico a la brasa con salsa Teriyaki y piña caramelizada Grilled Iberian secret with Teriyaki sauce and caramelized pineapple

‘secret’ is the literal translation of secreto but what is it – sounds close to what might be called “mystery meat” here. But in fact it is a very expensive ($51/lb) cut (usually from pig and while different at different butchers usually is from the shoulder) that is similar to skirt steak. And I’ve already mentioned you would know that ibérico (Iberian) is the very prized “black” pig. Most likely, given everything else about this restaurant it probably is the de bellota type (essentially free-range and the most expensive pork) but  ibérico alone doesn’t imply that, so again you might want to ask.

There is a lot more to the menu for this restaurant and even more for other two associated restaurants so I recommend this site (scroll down enough to see the images) as one to consider.  Maybe you can figure out what Vieira gallega con sus rabas de bogavante is or GinTonic riojano is or especially oído cocina is (all have pictures in the  Especialidades. And I’m still trying to decide what I think is a lingote de cordero (either ingot or slug of lamb) – is this a cut of the lamb or a quantity indication or a preparation? I couldn’t find that and the photo doesn’t make it clear either.

BTW: This website also has a blog and this post really boosts Logroño as a foodie stop, especially (as I’ve seen mentioned elsewhere) “both in the mythical Laurel Street”. And, interestingly, while backtracking to include this in my post I discovered another blog post which tries to explain oído cocina.


Tough distinctions

In crunching through the GallinaBlanca dictionary I’ve encountered a significant number of words that seem to overlap in meaning,  or be synonyms,  or are difficult to distinguish. This is exacerbated with the issue that my main translation dictionary I use is asymmetrical (as I’ve posted before) – that is looking X to get Y as translation but then looking up Y gets Z and not X.

Sometimes my “confusion” is my short-term memory triggering me thinking I have two difference words for same thing. For instance, today I encountered:

SAZONAR (literally season) Condimentar con sal y pimienta Season with salt and pepper

Given that looks like it might be a cognate but can’t find if it is. Now ‘to season’ is already bad enough in English. In many cooking shows it narrowly means just to add salt and pepper but in other cases it is used in a broader sense. But let’s check condimentar to see about Spanish usage

CONDIMENTAR (literally season) Añadir sal, pimienta, especias, etc., a un guiso, según indicaciones de la receta. Add salt, pepper, spices, etc., to a stew, according to the recipe’s indications.

Well, that’s good because given this is the broader sense then sazonar can be used the narrower cooking show sense even though both words translate literally to ‘to season’.

BTW: This was not what I meant to discuss at this point and it shows the benefit of blogging where I do attempt to do additional research before just spouting out my gut feel about some topic (I can think of someone more important who should do this).

Anyway, here was my original point about sazonar (even though the subtle difference with condimentar was my original main point of this entire post, good, just another example to relate). Here’s the other verb I (imprecisely) remembered as meaning something similar:

SALPIMENTAR (literally season; salt and pepper) Adobar algo con sal y pimienta, para que se conserve y tenga mejor sabor. Marinate something with salt and pepper, so that it is preserved and tastes better.

Now that I’m looking at this it appears to almost be a made-up word, given salt == sal and pepper == pimienta (the spice, the fruit (e.g. bell or piquillo is pimiento (in Spain, pimentón in Latin America)) and verbs in Spanish usually end in -ar (or -ir, -er) this just looks jammed together words to make a verb. But this word is in the definitive RAE dictionary so that makes it a real word. The Spanish edition of Oxford has:

Condimentar un alimento con sal y pimienta. Season a food with salt and pepper.

BTW2: My second mistake in doing this post was that I quickly searched (due to vague memory of similar term) and found salpimentar but actually thought it was salmuera which is doubly wrong (since that is a noun) and the verb, therefore, is a phrase (either) [ponerembeber] en salmuera for ‘to brine’. So I really went around in a circle here – my original vague notion was entirely wrong but I ended up, serendipitously, actually making the point of the article.

But, briefly, this was my main point with these examples of related words where literal translation doesn’t help much (or at all) to distinguish: a) hongo, seta and champiñón, and b) rabassepia, jibia and calamar. And these word sets also illustrate the need for multiple sources since there is some disagreement between sources and then evaluation. Or perhaps usage will also be different in different regions or by the heritage of the people using the words – oh joy.

So first, what is the word for ‘mushroom’ is Spain? After quite a bit of searches my conclusion (quite possibly wrong) is both seta and champiñónhongo is used in Latin America as mushroom (in culinary sense) hongo would be used more in the scientific (botany) sense as just fungus. Now in case you don’t know mushrooms are the fruiting cap of fungus; IOW, most of what you don’t see is the fungus growing underground and then pushing through the surface to produce its spores (to spread itself further) via the cap, which is the part we eat. So there is a fair amount of confusion here that calls for precision to disambiguate and I wouldn’t expect that in most menus (the authors are chefs not scientists, or nit-picky programmers like me).  So then it also appears to be that the difference between seta and champiñón is: seta are a flat-topped mushroom (maybe chanterelle, oyster, even shiitake); whereas champiñón are a round-topped mushroom (like common button mushroom or cremini, even portobello). There seems to be a further connotation (at least in some sources) that seta would be wild and champiñón are cultivated.

Now, so what? If you’re a bit of a foodie you’d have preferences for what type of mushroom you’d use how and also how you’d prepare it and so forth. And you’d probably know that most “wild” mushrooms are often dried and rehydrated vs simple button mushrooms are probably fresh AND wild mushrooms are a lot more expensive and also more flavorful (to the point some people don’t like them very much, preferring the blander button mushrooms, but in certain recipes bland is good). So you’re looking at a menu and going to pay out some serious € you’d want to know what you’re getting.

Now trying to distinguish rabassepia, jibia and calamar ran into a variety of problems. These, for English, might all be grouped under ‘squid’. With living things there is often the problem that layman have a “common” (and often misleading) name whereas the scientists are more precise (but then rarely used) and have their taxonomic names. But in addition the method of preparation of these food items may influence the names as well (i.e. is calamari a dish (made from various squid species) or a specific animal (in the scientific species sense).

rabas were amusing to me as they translate literally to ‘bait’. The one time I ever went fishing on the ocean (on a charter boat) we bought frozen packages of small “squid” (my notion of what a squid is) to use as bait. But in Spain these are a prized delicacy. But Oxford defines them as this:

tentacle of a squid or other cephalopod, prepared fried as an appetizer

So any old cephalopod with tentacles will do?

I can’t find much for jibia as does seem to be an equivalent synonym for sepia, both of which are translations for ‘cuttlefish’ (not ‘squid’ which translates to calamar). Trying to track down the difference was, for my searches, inconclusive. Some sources imply calamar is far superior than sepia, thus deserving a higher price. Other sources believe very small sepia are best. The closest it seems, relative to scientific sense, is that sepia are cuttlefish which include critters that are commonly called ‘squid’; IOW all squid are cuttlefish but not all cuttlefish are squid. In the scientific articles various anatomical differences were explained but it was less clear in the culinary sense.

Again, what does it matter? Well, some cuttlefish may make a better calarmari than others, plus some are big and some are little, so how much dinero (I’ll assume you know that as a loanword to English, otherwise it’s ‘money’) matters as well. Seafood is a particularly tricky food to buy as often substitutions are made of lesser animals for the more prized ones. Often even the fishmonger can’t tell the difference but when it comes to eating them (and paying for them) you should get what you expect. Now, OTOH, calamari (especially with some piquant red sauce) are probably hard to tell apart.

BTW: sepia does also literally translate to the color and there is a chance that would occur on a menu. AND, squid ink is la tinta natural del calamar or just tinta.

sidenote: One thing that has always confused me (speaking of ) is that red wine is almost always referred to as vino tinto even though ‘red’  is rojo, given that white wine is almost always vino blanco thus using white == blanco. I guess you just take it as it comes since this is a distinction one would quickly learn. Weird, in a little research for this sub-point tinta is a noun (feminine, -a) just for ink whereas tinto is both noun (then for wine) and adjective (‘dyed’ or ‘stained’, but then for a dyed feminine noun we’d be back to tinta – oh, joy). Fortunately I doubt there would ever be a problem with this.

p.s. (added after initial post). If you think some of these were close I just hit simiente which is almost totally a synonym for semilla (both are seed), except, apparently (just a single anecdotal source) simiente also means semen. Very tiny distinction, both are used in Spain, so either might appear on menu, although it is another word for ‘seed’ that is far more likely, pepita, which in some parts of U.S. would be known directly, although most likely as roasted pumpkin seeds, not seeds in general. Funny coincidence I’d find another example minutes after publishing my post.

I should just read my cookbooks

I’ typing this post in a room full of bookcases that are almost entirely full of cookbooks. We love acquiring cookbooks but it’s now silly how many we have. Every time one of us gets a new one we promise we won’t buy any more. But the next chance for gift giving another one shows up. Like most people we now get recipes to try off the Net – either they’re suggested in some other source or they’re easy to find with searches. Cookbooks have many advantages but they aren’t quick to search.

Now the point of this is that in my previous version of this project I started with a cookbook. It had been a gift since I didn’t have anything on Spain’s cuisine. Like I’d previously done for Italian I wanted a translation glossary so I began a list based on that cookbook. This led me to getting more cookbooks and now I have these:

Penelope Casas Tapas
Penelope Casas The Foods & Wines of Spain
Simone & Inés Ortega The Book of Tapas
Susanna Tee Tapas (doesn’t have Spanish names)
Teresa Barrenechea The Cuisines of Spain
Exploring Regional Home Cooking

A couple of these are classics and I can particularly recommend the Barrenechea book as also a good explanation of some of the geography of Spain and regional traditions (as well as having some great photos). But it’s the Casas book that covers a lot of the very menu items I’ve been discussing in this blog, for instance:

Sopas Y Potajes Soups and Meals-in-a-Pot

This is a chapter in the book. Yes, sopas == soups but potajes is a little bit more obscure. literally translates it as either ‘soup’ or ‘stew’. Thus I did one of my usual searches, “what is the difference between sopa and potaje”. That led to this useful article (and the Google Translate is reasonable) and to this article which revealed the term ‘potage’.  This is a term any good foodie should know but I confess my ignorance of it and like several other cooking terms that would occur in English I learned something beyond Spanish terms.

But continuing, there are these items under this category:

Consomé al Jerez Sherried Consommé
Sopa de ajo Castellano Garlic Soup, Castilian Style
Cebollada con almendras Onion and Almond Soup
Crema de perdiz Cream of partridge soup

To translate the first one you need to know that Jerez is a geographical reference (and by coincidence the closest I ever got to Spain while still in Algarve Portugal and too late in the day to cross the border and back). This is where most of the sherry is produced and Jerez might easily appear somewhere on a bottle of sherry. However Jeriz is NOT literally sherry so right away we realize these side-by-side Spanish and English titles of recipes are not going to be literal translations.

OTOH crema de perdiz is completely word-by-word except we need the slight knowledge that sopa == soup and is missing in the Spanish name of this dish (not clear why it got included in the English). cebollada con almendras is somewhat less literal as we know the easy Spanish word y is ‘and’ and con is with; so the two nouns are correct (and in same order, i.e. cebollada == onion and almendras == almonds) but again this isn’t quite literal. So trying to match up terms and extract pairs of matching words (as I did in earlier version of this project) would have produced the misleading translation con == ‘and’. And the standard word for ‘onion’ is cebolla so we have to know a bit about Spanish to realize cebollada is actually a derivative form which literally means ‘cooked with onions’. IOW, using these pairs to create a corpus would introduce errors which some statistical analysis of the corpus would have to correct (therefore the corpus has to be large enough which is what I’m trying to do on this version of the project).

Sopa de ajo Castellano introduces another way literal translations aren’t helpful. So, sopa == soup and de == of and ajo == garlic so castellano must == Castilian Style. This is a common occurrence, in several of these cookbooks, to refer to recipes as being in the style of some region of Spain where either they originated or are common today. So it turns out I learned a new English word with this additional item:

Gaditano perro caldo Cádiz-style fish broth

Here again I started matching up terms: caldo == broth is easy but perro is weird since it literally is ‘dog’, not fish (easy to remember from the movie The Way when in Navarra Jobst is insulted by calling him perro). says pez is fish (the animal sense) and pescado is fish (the culinary sense). So with a little searching we find the connection which this article explains (try to find that in your translation dictionary or smartphone translation). So that left Gaditano which I found was “The Spanish demonym for people and things from Cádiz is gaditano“. So this is the same as Castellano  above. It’s just my ignorance but I’d never heard of ‘demonym’ but it’s very useful with one definition being “a word that identifies residents or natives of a particular place, which is derived from the name of that particular place”. This led me to search for ‘demonym for Spain’ and eventually I acquired a fairly large list of these that will be useful in future matches, as these in the list (which I deduced directly once I saw the pattern):

Gazpacho Andaluz Cold tomato soup (not literal, Andalucian)
Gazpacho Extremeño White gazpacho (not literal, from Extremadura)
Fabada Asturiana Asturian bean stew
Cocido Madrileño Boiled beef and chickpea dinner (from Madrid)
Callos a la Gallega Tripe and chickpeas, Galician style
Caldereta de langosta Menorquina Lobster stew, Menorca style

Now as you can observe there really isn’t a consistent pattern here whether the demonym gets included in the English title or not (I added the stuff in pink). So unless you know (or have a list like I just found) you may have trouble word-by-word matching the Spanish and English and extracting useful (and correct) pairs for a corpus. And we have this one:

Ajo blanco con uvas White gazpacho with grapes, Málaga style

The demonym I found with seach, for Málaga is malagueño and that isn’t in the Spanish name of this recipe, so I guess that is just something you have to know. But there is something else going on here: blanco == white and con == with and uvas == grapes so those matchups are easy, but ajo != gazpacho (it is garlic instead).  I haven’t tracked this down (just noticed it) but our conclusion would have to be that ajo blanco is some kind of colloquial reference to ‘white gazpacho’ that a Spain foodie would know but we poor old travelers would probably think this is some kind of garlic soup.

And here are just a few more items from this section of the cookbook for your enjoyment:

Marmitako Bonito and tomato soup, Basque-style
Purrusalda Codfish soup
Suquet Catalán fish stew
Gazpachuelo Vinegared fish soup

None of these have literal translations. So if you encountered any of these on a menu a conventional language translation dictionary would do you no good and you’d spend quite a while in Google (assuming you can afford the Net connection or even have it) to track these down.

And this is why the world needs the Spain food “guide” I’m trying to create. It’s useful to have some literal associations between Spanish and English words so you can spot something like this:

Callos a la Gallega Tripe and chickpeas, Galician style

(just translating callos would be enough for me to skip this item) but these names, while from a cookbook they might easily appear on a menu, require a broader collection of translation information. Even knowing gallega ==’ galician style’ doesn’t really tell you anything unless you have some clue about distinctions in Galician cuisine (compared to elsewhere).

So lots more information is needed that a mere translation dictionary. Acquiring all those associations is the research part of this project. Then comes a challenging part, how to deliver that information? It’s unlikely a phrase will exactly occur on a menu so how do we search for it – that will be fun programming stuff.

A challenging menu

I use this blog to report some stories about my Spain food project. I am trying to create first a corpus, then a good delivery mechanism (like smartphone app) for the most robust, complete and accurate translation of menus one would encounter in Spain. This is not just a question of finding literal translation of individual words (as we’ll see later in this post). Many terms simply don’t have an English equivalent. In some cases it’s like – what is the English word for gazpacho? Well, ‘ur, it’s gazpacho. That’s commonly known but what about ajoarriero or pochas or gamba de Huelva? If you can find these at all in some translation dictionary it may not help much as you really need to know, from a culinary point of view, what these items are.

I’ve mostly been working from an online dictionary written in Spanish for cooks in Spain to get a lot of my raw material. But menus may be different, more colloquial, local terms, alternate spelling (is alcahofas a typo or an alternate to the word for artichoke that has an additional ‘c’) and so forth, so I need to continue to primarily collect my corpus from those source. So I have a fairly long list of URLs for restaurants in Logroño La Rioja, along the Camino de Santiago that I am using as focus for finding restaurants as I do a “virtual” hike along the Camino.

So this is the one I did today, Taberna Herrerías (website, which has one of my favorite things, its “address” in GPS coordinates (+42° 28′ 3.14″, -2° 26′ 38.21 easy to find on maps; try GoogleMaps and you’ll also get a POI for the restaurant, click on that and you’ll get lots of photos for your virtual visit)). This carta took me a long time to decipher and so too much to include in just one post. I’ll mention a few interesting bits.

First, in the menu category Verduras de temporada (Vegetables of the season) was this item (with Google Translate):

Pisto con huevo batido Pisto with beaten egg

Oops, Google doesn’t know what pisto is; and neither does  Oops, small digression. I do the work and then come back to do posts and I double-check my claims. In this case I made some mistake that would have given me an answer right away than the roundabout story I have hear (clue, spanishdict does translate this, I must not have done my initial search correctly). Anyway, doing Google search on pisto, my usual thing if I don’t find a term in my chosen dictionaries was fairly useless because all the results were related to pistochio (is pisto a nickname for these?). So I did my usual thing of supplementing search term with ‘beaten egg’ and then I began to get some results, eventually leading to a recipe (amazing there is a domain (  just for this). Reading that I eventually learned this dish is fairly close to ratatouille which, though loanword in English, is known to most foodies. And, the reverse lookup of ratatouille does yield pisto (which isn’t, now, a surprise, given the forward lookup of pisto yields ratatouille). So I may have missed a clue, duh, to make this easier, but at least I got there.

Then under entrantes (starters) is this item:

Jamón y lomo de bellota Ham and loin of acorn

Now Google may (humorously) think this is body parts from an acorn but it takes about 10 minutes looking at food in Spain to quickly learn about jamón ibérico de bellota. You can drop over a thousand dollars buying about 12 pounds of this at Amazon (for years you couldn’t get it at all in the U.S.). This is ham from a specific breed of pigs that, we could say, are “free range” and eat a lot of acorns they find (sometimes the pigs would be prepped with even more acorns). So what’s the point here? This menu item left out the jamón ibérico de part because everyone would already known that (IOW, a) ham and loin are likely to be from animal, mostly likely a pig, and, b) this is so famous just the shorthand of bellota is sufficient). But if you were right off the plane in Spain and jetlagged and only had a simple dictionary (since you don’t know any Spanish) you would probably be confused.

Now let’s look at this one:

Caparrón de Anguiano Caparrón de Anguiano

Real good translation there, Google – helps a lot (didn’t even translate de which is trivial). When you get a blank like this (in dictionaries as well) chances are this is some highly specific and probably regional term. Fortunately it doesn’t get confused with the wrong things so eventually I arrived at this description, which is a bit of a rant about finding the real thing, i.e. a very special kind of bean. But knowing this is a bean doesn’t give me much clue what the menu item is. A bit more digging led to this recipe (complete with picture). Ah, bean soup with cerdo ibérico and chorizo instead of leftover ham. This is a fairly special set of ingredients so it would be interested to see how a fairly mundane dish would taste at this restaurant.

So now a fairly simple one:

Langostino y gamba de Huelva Shrimp and shrimp from Huelva

Once again Google was mystified by Huelva but at least spanishdict knew it was a city in the Canary Islands (a clue, but doesn’t decode this menu item). Long story short, here’s the answer:

The White Shrimp of Huelva is an exclusive species of this seafood that is only found on the coast of the towns that are located between the mouths of the Guadiana and Guadalquivir rivers and that has very special characteristics.

But, don’t assume a search for ‘white shrimp’ will help any since that turns up a creature from oceans off the coast of North America, not anywhere near the Guadiana and Guadalquivir rivers.

And, finally (there are more but out of time (and your reading patience)) there is:

Taco bacalao a la riojana Cod taco a la riojana

Ah, a fish taco, that sounds good. Now any use of a la X is a clue this is some sort of qualifier about how the cod is preferred. And you’re in Logroño which is in La Rioja – you might just guess this, cod in the characteristic style of La Rioja. But what is that? Well, if you could ask your server you could find out. Or if you had a WiFi connection you could find this (there are numerous receta online). But if you had your simple little dictionary, paper or smartphone, I doubt you’d learn much.

But then the fun part is taco. As this is effectively now an English word (at least in most parts of U.S.) we know what it is – something wrapped inside a folded tortilla. So I wondered if the Mexican taco had reverse invaded Spain and without any authoritative answer it seems unlikely (although, when I went down this road before I found now there are “genuine” Mexican restaurants in some of Spain’s cities where you actually could get a taco or enchilada or whatever). I’ve already mentioned tortilla is entirely something different in Spain than in western hemisphere. I really doubt you can fold an egg and potato “omelet” into a taco. But this was a tough one to track down until I found this (from the trusty Oxford dictionary, Spanish edition)

Small piece, thick and dice-shaped, in which a food is cut.

I can’t be certain (maybe with even more searching I could reach definite conclusion) but some of the pictures I found, searching for recetas (recipes) of ‘bacalao a la riojana’ certainly looked like this sounds. So since taco in the western hemisphere sense is unlikely for this menu item I’m going with the Oxford translation.

Now, as side question, after getting these clues and learning this (assuming I’m right), plus getting even more information about the recipe and how this dish is prepared how would I get this information into my app (my dream to build someday) and you to find it. That’s an entirely different kind of question.

A circuitous route to the right answer?

I was doing my usual process of researching entries in the GallinaBlanca diccionario. For a word, get their definition in Spanish, translate to English via, translate the term itself to see if there is simple literal translation. Then consider the result and see if this makes sense or whether I need to do further searches (and then with what search terms) to figure this term out, at least the way the author of GB diccionario meant.

I was starting with Q words and the first was quark. Right away I knew these would be a problem in my approach since ‘quark’ is a word in English and thus spanishdict would be looking for the equivalent Spanish term. But looking at the definition and translation

QUARK Es el queso no madurado ni escaldado, alto en humedad, de textura blanda o suave, preparado con leche descremada y concentrada, cuajada con enzimas y/o por cultivos lácticos y separados mecánicamente del suero, cuyo contenido de grasa láctica es variable, dependiendo si se agrega crema o no durante su elaboració It is the unripened or scalded cheese, high in moisture, soft or soft texture, prepared with skim milk and concentrated, curdled with enzymes and/or by lactic cultures and mechanically separated from the serum, whose lactic fat content is variable, depending on whether Cream is added or not during your Elaboració

I tried search terms ‘quark cheese’ which then quickly disclosed this article in Wikipedia and the translated definition and the article align nicely to strongly suggest this is it. I’m sorta a foodie and know cheese reasonably well but I’d never heard of this (it’s close, but still a bit than ricotta than is made in a similar fashion). But what was interesting is that the Wikipedia article mentions this:

Quark is similar to French fromage blanc, Indian paneer, and the queso fresco/queijo fresco made in the Iberian Peninsula and in some Latin American countries.

That peaked my interest in that I’m quite familiar with queso fresco so I assumed queijo fresco might be the version in Spain instead of the more familiar Latin American name (wrong, now, I think, that was probably the Portuguese name given it too is on the Iberian peninsula – shouldn’t jump to conclusions). But no harm, no foul, this article popped up in response to search for queijo fresco. So I’d say queso blanco is the closest equivalent to quark for Spain. So strange, a dictionary for use in Spain has the English name instead of the Iberian name (nowhere in this dictionary). I guess the point is that Iberian cooks would already know queso blanco but never heard of quark and so this dictionary is explaining the foreign term rather than the domestic one (why then, with this idea, didn’t they just define quark as queso blanco? This dictionary has a large number of terms that are not Spanish (or at most Spanish cognates to words that originated in another language). Why? As I’ve found more and more of this I’ve wondered and decided it’s an aid to Spanish cooks (given this dictionary is tied to a large list of recipes) in case they encounter the foreign term.

So done with that term right away I hit another interesting term to run down. Here’s the GallinaBlanca definition and spanishdict translation:

QUEBRADA Masa quebrada o brisé. Una masa para tartas saladas o dulces. Las proporciones son mitad de mantequilla y doble de harina. Broken mass or brisé. A dough for salty or sweet tarts. The proportions are half of butter and double of flour.

Looking up quebrada for a literal translation spanishdict suggested trying quebrado instead. This is common since it’s the gender thing in adjectives and usually the dictionary contains the masculine (‘o’ instead of ‘a’) form. quebrado has meaning translations none of which seemed to have any connection (didn’t key on ‘broken’ or lookup brisé and I might have gotten to the answer sooner). So I did a search just for quebrada and got nothing that had any connection. So looking at the definition I decided to add ‘dough’ to the search and then got something that at least made some sense, this article,  which is about gordita, but has this bit

An old variant of corn gorditas uses masa quebrada (broken dough) where the corn meal is coarsely ground, leaving bits of broken grain.

I was happy to see quebrada (turns out spanishdict’s suggestion was right, I should have noticed ‘broken’ as a translation of quebrado). BUT, I thought a gordita is: a) a lot different than the definition GallinaBlanca provided, and, b) this is Latin American, not Spain, and while the GB dictionary has had other terms that don’t seem to be used in Spain I always try to figure out if the Spain term is different (as in the notorious example of tortilla, entirely different between anywhere in western hemisphere (given tortilla is now fully a loanword into U.S. English) and Spain).

So I did a search for masa quebrada and I got one of those strange connections between Google search and Wikipedia I’ve mentioned before. Nowhere in the displayed text for the article that came up is either masa or quebrada, but somehow Google connected this too. For this example it’s good it did as ‘shortcrust pastry’ is a much closer match to the GB definition, especially this bit:

It is based on a “half-fat-to-flour” ratio (twice as much flour as fat by weight).

And then there is this bit, pâte brisée is mentioned as one of the types of shortcrust pastry (a bit different flour/fat ratio) and that triggered my connection to the untranslated term in the GB definition, brisé (which is in none of the dictionary, including the authoritative one for the Spanish language (Diccionario de la lengua Española from Real Academia Española) but the similarity might just mean it really is supposed to be the French word and they misspelled it (who knows). I call this closing the loop.

So I believe that quebrada is shortcrust pastry, but in fact quebrado is a better choice since it does have broken (and no more) as its definition where quebrada doesn’t. But perhaps dough is thought of as feminine and hence ‘a’ was used despite then conflicting with another literal lookup. I assume the author and perhaps people reading this dictionary would know that but it’s quite a bit of investigation for me. And I’m fairly sure this is not related to a gordita which provided the clue for subsequent search to the right answer.

Now I suspect this term is unlikely to appear on a menu and instead one of the 87 recetas at GallinaBlanca use it as an ingredient and those names might be on a menu. But some menus have descriptions of an item and so it’s possible quebrada might be something a traveler would want to know and not spend nearly half an hour, as I did, figuring this out.

P words and pepper

What is pepper in Spain, or generally in Spanish?

Well, first what is pepper in English in the U.S.? Think about it, not so simple. Salt and pepper – small peppercorns (usually black but can be white, green or pink) already ground or for foodies freshly ground. What about those big green, yellow, orange, red and even purple fleshy things, sometimes used for stuffing, sometimes extras for salad? And what about the wild number of “hot” peppers, some of which are actually well identified with the U.S. (say Hatch) or the much larger group from Latin America, although mostly from Mexico? And then as frequently used in Italian cooking (or sprinkled on pizza) what are peperoncino (though usually the seeds, not the pepper itself). And then that confusing different names whether dried or fresh, e.g. poblano vs ancho.

Pepper is not so simple in any language. The biologists will label most instances of “pepper” as Capsicum but the most common (ordinary black pepper in a shaker) is Piperaceae family. If ordinary black pepper is ground peppercorns what then is paprika? And you know that stuff they stuff some green olive, pimento, what’s that?

So in Spain we have these three key P words: PIMENTÓNPIMIENTA and PIMIENTO. While “hot” peppers are not as popular in Spain as Mexico (or now the U.S.) there are a few to mention and all of these are PIMIENTO: pimiento by itself generally refers to the standard bell pepper (regardless of color) it may also refer to these peppers:  piquillo (mild, generally equivalent to roasted red bell peppers but unique to Spain), padrón  (fairly mild, served natural or cured), piparras, guindilla (sometimes translated as synonymous with chili (and we’ll skip the chili/chile debate)), ñoras, and others that are less common.  This are basically members of Capsicum though rarely as spicy as most Capsicum  in Latin America.

Pepper, as in peppercorns, is pimienta (and unrelated, despite similarity in spelling, to pimento) . The color, if mentioned at all will be a qualifying of this term, pimienta blanca. It is somewhat less used than in the U.S. but is generally available.

So that leaves pimentón. This is almost always paprika, the ground powder from Capsicum annuum. There are various types: dulce (sweet), picante (spicy, though not much compared to Mexican sense of “spicy”) and ahumdo (smoked). Given that paprika from Spain is often found in U.S. stores it should be remembered this powder is more strongly connected with Hungary and its etymology stems from Serbo-Croatian so it originated outside Spain but now is quite common in cuisine in Spain.

Peppers, especially piquillo and guindilla are often available in tapas so you’ll probably just see these names but it’s tough to guess what is meant if you just just see pimiento listed on menu your guess is as good as mine as to what it may mean.

Some interesting things under the letter P

As I’ve mentioned I’ve been grinding through an online dictionary of culinary terms (many not Spanish) to get Spanish definitions. This dictionary is provided on the website of a food company, GallinaBlanca, in Spain yet a number of the dictionary entries do not apply (according to to Spain, but instead to somewhere in western hemisphere. There is a small glitch in the dictionary in that the links by letter to pages for that letter get out of sync at P, so you have to click on Q to get the P words. Which is where I am now.

So let’s just look at a few which may be less than all since I’m hard pressed on time. Here’s all the P words I’ve processed (thus far):


Now notice that a fair number of these are loanwords or cognates in Spanish.


I’m going to have to single source some of my claims of what these mean. PANACHE was interesting because spanishdict thought it was the English word and translated that to Spanish as el garbo, la gracia. However this dictionary missed a critical bit; I believe the word is PANACHÉ which spanishdict translates as ‘mixed salad’ which matches the definition and its approximate translation better:

PANACHE Mezcla de varios ingredientes cortados y rehogados en mantequilla u otra grasa, generalmente de verduras o de frutas. Mixture of several cut ingredients and sautéed in butter or other fat, usually vegetables or fruit.

And according to several sources (for instance)

A panache of vegetables is a mixture of a variety of different vegetables. Panache is a French cooking term and can also be applied to fruits or a mixture of multi-colored ice creams or jellies.

so really this probably was a loanword into Spanish and hence this dictionary not using the PANACHÉ spelling.

PATÉ and PAPRIKA are obvious loanwords (despite much paprika being produced in Spain the word (and substance) originated in Serbo-Croatian and migrated to Hungarian and was then imported into Spanish. PANETONE is cognate of the original PANETTONE in Italian and PAPILLOTE originates from en papillote in French. And the PANCETA IBÉRICA is partially derived from the Italian PANCETTA.  PANQUEQUE literally translates (via spanishdict) as ‘pancake’ but this is only used in Latin America and the actual food is much closer to crepes, especially also usually meaning both the wrapper and the filling.

PASTAS is interesting because I’d already discovered this one. Along my virtual walk on the Camino I encountered a shop selling these that had a menu, with pictures, so there wasn’t any ambiguity what they thought PASTAS are. Now spanishdict didn’t find PASTAS but did find the singular PASTA and had many translations, the first being the obvious pasta (when the context is pasta in the Italian sense) or ‘paste’ in many other senses. Way down in the list of possible meanings was ‘cookie’ (for U.S.) or ‘biscuit’ (for Brits). And in fact that is what that shop was selling not actual pastas. One might be surprised to think you’re ordering a pasta dish and then get cookies.

I’ve run out of time so just a couple more tidbits.

  1. What is English translation of PAELLA? PAELLA. This is one of those Spanish words that is now so common, at least in foodie circles, it has now been imported in English (at least in U.S.)
  2. PAJA is one of those words that takes some interpretation to make sense referring to food – literally it means straw. In the definition provided it refers to what we’d call shoestring or matchstick potatoes, i.e. very skinny French Fries. So ‘straw’ might turn out to be more tasty than it sounds.
  3. PALTA translates as avocado (but for Latin America) since the reverse lookup of avocado is aguacate and I’ve seen that on numerous menus – another indication this dictionary is not specific for Spain.
  4. Likewise PAPAS translates to potato but again for Latin America since in Spain it is patata (very very common on menus in Spain)
  5. PARRILLADA is interesting because it is a diminutive of PARILLA.  This is a whole subject for a post all by itself but for now PARILLA is the grill grate to cook the food and PARRILLADA is the food item cooked that way.
  6. PASTELES EN HOJA literally translates to ‘leaf cake’. Searches online lead mostly to a dish from the Dominican Republic that is similar to a tamal or pasteles. But GallinaBlanca defined this with the single word (not their usual phrase) which was hojaldre which translates roughly to puff pastry. I’d researched this before and hojaldre is similar to phyllo. So far none of the searches reveal puff pastry under this term.
PASIEGOS Sobaos (lit: lots of translations but kneaded seems like best fit) pasiegos (no literal): exquisito bizcocho cuadrado típico de la región cántabra. Sobaos Pasiegos: Exquisite square sponge cake typical of the Cantabrian region.

Oxford says (for singular) “Relative to the Pas, valley of the Spanish region of Cantabria, or its inhabitants.” interesting that the article was found in search for pasiego but is titled as soboas. again recipe is titled for sobaos.

GallinaBlanca’s definition created a kind of circular reference, i.e. PASIEGOS are sobaso pasiegos. Great, what am I supposed to do with that? But I found that pasiego itself refers to Pas Valley in Cantabria, which matches the definition. And soboas (not the original word) really has the meaning, which is a baked good, kind of a cake, which is described further in either of the two links. So one would conclude using pasiegos (instead of soboas) is a kind of colloquial or nickname use that would probably be understood by locals but tough for a foreigner to decipher if pasiegos were a menu item.

So, one point of all this is, that churning through these definitions in tedious but hopefully thorough fashion, digging through contradictions, finding multiple sources of information might allow me, a non-Spanish-speaker and non-visitor to Spain and non-Spain-culinary expert to nonetheless figure out some of these more difficult things to translate. So PANCHITOS is fairly simple (salted peanuts, might get those in a bar) but a lot of these other terms are pretty tricky.


Adventure in menu and receta

As I’ve mentioned I’m doing a “virtual” trek of the Camino by converting the miles I do on a treadmill in my basement to locations along the Camino (I found a detailed GPS track). It would be way more fun to be walking the real Camino but this is better than nothing, especially as the Google cars cover most of the route (or nearby) and so I can use StreetView to “see” my surroundings. Plus for restaurants in the towns usually there are many photos and sometimes websites with menus.

My progress in this virtual walk is much slower than I’d have to do (and could do) on a real walk but it’s fairly steady. So a few days ago I passed through Logroño and found as many online menus as I could (saved the URLs for later). Meanwhile the recipe dictionary I’ve been studying has taken most of my time. But my trek continues and I’m at the edge of Navarrete so I thought I should at least dig through one of the menus from Logroño.

So I’ve been looking at Tondeluna’s website. The carta actually has English translations BUT, unfortunately that document is in the form of a PDF that is locked and so I can’t extract any text from it to create my corpus entries. I’m not going to try to type it into my corpus because I’ll make too many mistakes and create bad data. But, the group menu, also a PDF, does permit me to extract its text but it has no translations so I have to do all the tedious manual mouse work to finally get side-by-side Spanish and English.

Right away I encountered this:

COCINA CLÁSICA PARA PICAR  AL CENTRO Y SEGUNDOS INDIVIDUALES Classic kitchen for center-chopping and individual seconds

Now “center-chopping” is one of those translations that immediately catches my attention (as wrong, even often silly) so I tried to figure it out. Starting with picar whose first couple of translations (sting, bite, peck at) don’t make a lot of sense I realized I’ve seen this before and the more useful translation (way down in spanishdict’s list) is the colloquial meaning (nibble on or snack). But what has centro got to do with it? Seeing that in addition to the obvious cognate of center ‘middle’ is another translation, and, I realized this must have something to do with putting (what is the starters and appetizers of this menu) in the middle of the table for all the diners to snack on. Then segundos individuales implies that those plates are then served to each individual.

In trying to figure this out my various searches (about how meals get served in restaurants) didn’t directly answer my question but one article had a somewhat different description of ración than what I’d previously found.  [btw: That article has lots of interesting information about restaurant meals] They claimed that unlike how it sounds ración is too large for one person and so it is typically shared and, of course obviously, it would probably be placed in the middle of the table to be shared. OK, fine, but I still can’t quite decide how to interpret these entries (and haven’t found anything online to explain)

LAS CROQUETAS que mi madre Marisa, nos enseñó a hacer (al centro 2 unidades por persona) The croquettes that my mother Marisa, taught us to do (to the center 2 units per person)
LA ENSALADILLA RUSA de Tondeluna con mahonesa aireada (1×3 al centro) The Russian salad of Tondeluna with aerated mayonnaise (1×3 to the center)

It’s this bit, (al centro 2 unidades por persona), that makes some sense. The ración will include two croquetas per person on a big serving platter in al centro (this is just for pricing, so person could eat one and another eats three, or whatever). But what about (1×3 al centro)? Given this is salad, not a discrete item like a croqueta what are they saying about how much is included in the ración? Is is one “serving” for every three people or three servings per person or what? The other ENTRANTES FRÍOS on Menu1 (25€, the cheapest of the five different group menus) is

TARTAR ALIÑADO DE SALMÓN aliñado con lima y alga wakame (1×3 al centro) Seasoned tartare of salmon with lime and wakame seaweed (1×3 to the center)

and that is no more illuminating on this point. Scanning further in the more expensive menus reveals:

CARPACCIO DE GAMBA sobre tartar de tomate, dátiles, cebollino y ajo blanco (1×4 al centro) Prawn CARPACCIO on tomato tartare, dates, chives and white garlic (1×4 to the center)

so clearly this 1xN is some kind of notation indicating quantity that is put on the serving platter in the middle of the table, but I don’t get it. It doesn’t much matter to me since I wouldn’t be in the restaurant with a group so I’d just be ordering off the carta (which I can read online, some good items, but can’t (easily) add to my corpus).

Moving on this work led off in a different direction. One item on the group menu

SAN JACOBO DE LENGUA  y queso de Cameros y salsa de champiñones (1/2 individual) SAN JACOBO de LENGUA y queso de cameros and mushroom sauce (1/2 individual)

It’s surprising to me that queso didn’t get the obvious literal translation so chasing down queso de cameros was my first quest which had a simple reference (a goat cheese originating in the Sierra de los Cameros in La Rioja) which makes sense given this is a restaurant in La Rioja. It wasn’t hard to get the literal of lengua (tongue) but otherwise this dish remained mostly a mystery. But as I’ve found before it’s likely the San Jacobo qualifier would lead to a fairly specific dish in a search and it did. There are photos and multiple links to recipes so I chose to look at this recipe.

Long story short I went through all the actual cooking instructions (not sure why but called Elaboración on this webpage) doing my side-by-side (Google translation) and then analyzing the entries. This one caught my attention:

Emplata a tu gusto los san jacobos con la ensalada y sirve . Emplata to your taste the san jacobos with the salad and serves.

Google couldn’t figure out emplata nor could spanishdict but interestingly wiktionary had an entry that made total sense (in the context of this step of the recipe) – to plate. So I realized I’d found a “cooking” verb I hadn’t encountered before (I have a running list of these). So I decided to find all the verbs in all the steps of the recipe and ended up with several new ones for my list (in some cases it’s the meaning, in this context, that is new as the verb had appeared before in some other sense). So just from this one recipe I found all these:

añadir to add
cocinar to cook
condimentar to season
cotar to cut
cubrir to cover
dejar to leave or let
desgranar to shell
emplatar to plate
enfriar to cool
escurrir to drain
freír to fry
introducer to insert
mezclar to mix
pasar to pass
pelar to peel
poner to put or add
repitir to repeat
servir to serve
subir to rise
trocear to cut up

Pretty nifty, eh, plus some practice reading Spanish. I know that repetition is key to learning a language so every time I go off on one of these digressions a bit more sinks it each time.

Great posts from northern Spain

I just spent a while looking for every search term I could think of to find other peoples’ stories about Spain, especially northern Spain and Basque Country and my big interest FOOD. Many of the posts were really fantastic, great stories, wonderful photos, and lots for me to learn. I dream of doing some of the things the people making these posts are actually doing (and eating) so at least I get to share via their adventures. I’m doing my “virtual hike” (see older posts) but many people are out their on the Camino and seeing the real thing. At least I get to ride along.

I’ve always gotten a mixed message about the food. Some find it terrific and exciting, others (to say the least) not so much. I recognize that Italy and France have gotten all the attention (and their due) and when it comes to “Spanish” food the spicy and innovative dishes of the New World get lots of attention (and their due). But such a large peninsula with vast amounts of coastline, all sorts of climate zones, wonderfully interesting different languages and cultures within one country and long culinary traditions (as well as bastardized food of the modern era and over-popularized tourist temptation) is very exciting to me.

The people who have actually been there and their stories and especially in this age where sharing, virtually, with others, through photos and other media, is just very tempting. I’m doing my own project here and it’s the best substitute (in snowy and freezing Nebraska) for actually being there, so thanks to all those who share their stories.


Interesting verb marear

In my previous post I pointed out some interesting issues with the GallinaBlanca dictionary – in particular for each word there is a link to go see where this word is used in recetas (recipes) on this site. This turned out to be very helpful for this verb whose Spanish definition and spanishdict translation are below:

MAREAR Es lo mismo que rehogar. Sofreír un alimento para que se impregne de la grasa y los ingredientes con que se condimenta. It’s the same thing as a fry. Sauté a food so that it is impregnated with the fat and the ingredients it is flavored with.

usage example in receta: cook until the onions are dizzy (marear)

spanishdict has translations for marear which are:  1) a variety of translation in the sense of (to produce nausea) {I suppose that might apply to cooking}, 2) to make dizzy in sense of (to disorient), 3) to confuse in sense of (to disconcert), and, 4) to make drunk in sense of (to intoxicate) {I suppose this might apply to cooking if we’re soaking the food in booze but that’s another word}.

But looking at the English translation and then clicking the link to find the use of this word in recipes (which Google then translated as dizzy) I think the real cooking issue is to cook something (like onions in the usage example) is sufficient quantity of oil and for sufficient time for then to absorb most of the oil (and also any fat-soluble flavors).

So it would have been almost impossible to determine anything approximating the meaning of marear (relative to cooking) without this specialized dictionary and some of the usage examples. While I suspect it’s unlikely it does seem possible this verb might be used in the description of some food item on a menu and thus good to know.