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 spanishdict.com.  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 (recetapisto.com)  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.


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