Quick post – biznaga

I’m working on two things: a) some code to begin creating corpus, and, b) a lengthy list of food terms in Spanish that requires the usual tedious extraction. This work, about 10% done, is generating ideas for several posts. But that’s going to take a while so I wanted to just cover this one interesting tidbit.

The source I’m using goes by the strange name of NittyGrits and is actually tied to southern USA cooking. But somehow it inherited a large number of food term lists in multiple languages and thus has very extensive list for Spanish.

So here is the one item to cover in this post:

acitrón /ah-see-TROHN/ Candied biznaga cactus, prickly pear or nopales leaves used as a stuffing for meats and for sweet tamales. Biznaga is the organ cactus. This sweet paste may be formed into bars for use in other dishes.

This source gives the phonetic pronunciation aid which is only vaguely useful (to me) given the very different sounds in spoken Spanish compared to English. But putting that aside is the term biznaga in the definition (which was in English, either directly or as some type of translation from the Spanish). Now nopales is a word that non-Spanish speakers that are at least doing Mexican cooking would recognize and find in numerous grocery stores, at least in bigger cities, so it needed no research.

So as usual I set out to find a translation for biznaga (actually I was partly asleep when doing this as I thought this was a word missed by Google Translate, which doesn’t apply in this case at all since biznaga appeared in English text).

So I did my usual search for “what is biznaga” and got this delightful webpage about this Andalucian tradition:

The biznaga is a tradition unique to Malaga city; these floral adornments are commonly referred to as biznagas malagueñas. They are basically handcrafted “flowers” of jasmine with a very strong, summery aroma. The unique blend of this distinctive fragrance, together with the sea breeze, has inspired many a love song and poem.

This webpage is quite fun so go check it out for yourself.

But then I realized I’d misread the definition and it had ample clues about biznaga, as in it being a term modifying ‘cactus’ as well as later defined as organ cactus.

Now one other project, years ago, like I’m doing with food terms from Spain, was attempting to get the world’s largest and, ideally, most accurate collection, of cacti and succulents names. (Remember, my eccentricity is I like to collect information not physical collectibles like most people) Plants have lots of different common names (even just in English) and many cacti have names influenced by Spanish. Even the scientific naming is sometimes in dispute. So in doing that project I learned some of the complexity of trying to figure out what “organ cactus” might be. And frankly, given the complete definition I doubt acitrón comes from organ cactus and more likely is from opuntia (aka prickly pear).

But here is the main page you get searching for “what is biznaga cactus” with the relevant page of that page to this post being:

The biznaga is a source of different culinary products, but it is most widely used in confectionery, using its pulp known as citron. This product is a fibrous and firm jam that is juicy and sweet, much appreciated and used in traditional Mexican cuisine. Small pieces of the cactus stem flesh are boiled in water with large amounts of sugar.

Now it’s likely that citron and acitrón are cognates so this webpage supports the idea that biznaga is as it describes:

Biznaga is a name generally given to all cacti plants that are spherical or cylindrical in shape.

So, another point of this post is that finding a source of food terms in Spanish does NOT necessarily mean they have any connection with Spain. This reference is clearly western hemisphere and it’s unclear if acitrón ever appears in Spain as well as the clear evidence that biznaga is something entirely different.

As an added bonus to this bit of research revealed this interesting source (which I may discuss in some future post). The source that described biznaga as a decorative element, with a bit more exploring, also is emphasizing “slow food” (which is probably a variant of the “local” concept and/or artisanal) and so it has a list of Ark of Taste products in Spain that contains 180 items, with a clickable detailed explanation, such as this small sample:

Albera Cattle Breed
Albesa Pink Tomato
Alfafarenca Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Alta Anoia Cigronet
Alto Penedés Carob
Añana Salt

and looking at some snippets of the description of alta anoia cigronet:

Cigronet (tiny in Catalan) is a very small legume that grows in the zone around Alta Anoia (a natural area of Catalonia that is demarcated by the plateau of the same name) which brings together 12 towns north of Anoia that have a landscape and climate that is unique and different from anything else in the region. The soil is arid and underused, ….

The cigronet pod is smooth, while the flavor is delicate and has a pleasant greasy feel. This legume grows in dimension three fold when cooked with water, without losing any of its consistency. The high protein content makes this product a perfect substitute both for meat or fish, or it can be used as a side dish with either of these ingredients. …

The product is sown from January through March, and in August the pods are mature enough to be picked by hand. The seeds are then separated by hitting the pods with a stick; they are then washed and set to dry.
This legume has always been passed down from father to son, and over time it has adapted to the region’s arid soil and difficult climate: rigid in the winter and blazing in the summer. The farmers still conserve a part of the harvest for the following year’s sowing, and they use the seeds for personal consumption.

So this accidental find will be useful in adding to my corpus certain highly unique (and probably without English equivalent) terms. These unique, or slow foods, probably would be fun finds in any restaurant and thus deserving of notice on the menu. Exactly how my app could point these out – well, that’s still unclear, but this is yet another feature it should contain.


I’ll take my sombrero sautéed

I’ve continued to work through another online glosarioGlosario de Alimentos, and found an amusing and enlightening entry. On the second page I was doing my usual process: 1) take each term (they are links to a text definition in this source) in Spanish, and, 2) get the Google Translate in a second column, then, 3) click on the link and get the definition (not the English translation of the word, an actual text definition in Spanish), put that under the Spanish term, and, 4) do Google Translate on the definition and clip that and align it with the Spanish. So this is the first part of what I got:

agaricus arvensis

Sombrero: de 8 a 20 cm de diámetro, blanco-amarillento, un poco ocre con la edad, globoso o convexo de joven, después extendido. Borde delgado, enrollado y depués redondeado. Cutícula separable, bastante gruesa y en ocasiones agrietadas.

agaricus arvensis (spoiler, this should be in italics, as a non-English word also)

Hat: from 8 to 20 cm in diameter, white-yellowish, a little ocher with age, globose or convex when young, then extended. Slim edge, rolled and then rounded. Cuticle separable, quite thick and sometimes cracked.

Given that Google Translate didn’t translate the term it was off on a chase to see what I could learn from the definition (and supplementary investigation) to get a more useful translation.

Now one doesn’t need to know much Spanish to know sombrero is a hat. But this bit of the definition, in English or Spanish, doesn’t really give us much clue what agaricus arvensis is. Obviously Google Translate didn’t either (or did it? as this story will reveal). While ‘hat’ is an amusing word to see in the definition of a food ingredient my initial lookup in the Oxford dictionary showed only this translation (as a lesson in this kind of work another dictionary had the right answer (spoiler, won’t say that option, yet) – evidence one needs to look at multiple sources to get accurate translations).

Láminas: libres, apretadas, desiguales, blancuzcas, después rosa-grisácea o encarnadas, pasando a marrón oscuro o en su madurez. Leaves: free, tight, uneven, whitish, then rose-gray or incarnate (Google botched this, should be ‘red’), turning to dark brown or in its maturity.

Now one source translates láminas as ‘leaves’. Nothing in the definition is inconsistent with the translation so this didn’t help.  But as I was grinding through another source (for láminas ) I saw this translations of ‘sheet’ or ‘plate’, but not ‘leaves’. In the authoritative DLE I saw (Google translated):

8. f. Bot. Parte ensanchada de las hojas, pétalos y sépalos. 8. f. Bot. Part widened from the leaves, petals y sepals.

While I was beginning to make guesses (other clues in the complete definition) I thought this was somehow more than ‘leaves’.  Oxford said:

The word laminas is the present form of laminar in the second person singular.

but forcing a lookup on the singular got the same ‘plate’ or ‘sheet’ definition. This is another caution about using translations dictionaries, sometimes a plural noun looks like one of the conjugations of a verb. IOW, no real clue here.

Carne: firme, blanca y delgada por encima de las láminas. Meat: firm, white and thin above the sheets (Note Google picked ‘sheets’ this time instead of ‘leaves’, why?).

So meat and hat and leaves, what sort of food ingredient is this? However, the Spanish version of Wikipedia. I can’t remember what search got me to this location (had to work some to find it again), but this Spanish language Wikipedia article revealed the key clue:

Carne o trama, es un término utilizado en micología para indicar la parte interna del basidiocarpo de una seta o cuerpo fructífero. Meat or plot (DLE has ‘flowering, for trama, which is more likely), is a term used in mycology to indicate the internal part of the basidiocarp of a mushroom or fruitful body.

The overall description had begun to register to me this was the definition of a mushroom where sombrero was ‘cap’ and láminas was gills. But before I quite got confirmation of this there was one more interesting translation from the definition:

Pie: separable, robusto, engrosado en la base, fistuloso desde el comienzo y después hueco.Blanco con algo de vello en la juventud, amarilleando un poco en la base. Piece: separable, robust, thickened at the base, fistulous from the start and then hollow. White with some hair in youth, yellowing a little at the base.

Now pie was one of the first things I looked up (I’m not presenting this post in the same order as my investigation).  In this case the authoritative DLE suggests “stem from the plants” so I later found another source that said ‘foot’ (which initially made me think ‘root’, but I was getting there). Spanish Wiktionary has a definition of “stem or trunk of a plant” derived from the Latin pes. Later I was telling someone this story they reminded me of pied (French, which any walker of the Camino who started at St. Jean should know and even I remember from 8th grade French) and looking that up in French Wiktionary it too comes from the Latin pes.

So, slowly I’m getting there. Then I do the obvious and that is just search on agaricus arvensis , which is a lot more direct path than I went through before getting to this Wikipedia article where agaricus arvensis  is the Latin (aka scientific name, and thus NOT Spanish, thus Google Translate actually was correct!) of this “plant” (not really a plant since it is a fungus).

And so there we have it, there is an English translation (the common name) which is horse mushroom. Lots of work. Problem solved.

BUT, I did one further digression that is actually interesting. Previously I’ve searched for “parts of X in Spanish” and after trying a few of the results hit a really interesting webpage,  todas partes de seta or “all parts of a mushroom”. This page has a nice diagram, which because I respect copyright I will neither embed in my post (or even an image tag, so please check the link). This describes, in good detail these parts:

sombrero, pie, volva, himenio, velo,  laminillas,  basidios, esporas

Note the diminutive laminillas instead of láminas. And that carne, mentioned in the Spanish Wikipedia entry (link above) is not included, so I’ve added one more tidbit of knowledge to mushroom parts.

So there you have it, a lesson in micología (mycology) as well as learning what to call a horse mushroom in Spanish. But in doing some reverse lookups there is at least the suggestion that there is a Spanish word for horse mushroom, mókempa, but the evidence for this is a single source so who knows what part of the world might use this term or whether you’d ever see it on a menu in Spain. I’d bet it’s more likely you might see seta de caballo, unless tying a mushroom (literal word) to a horse (literal word) is an unattractive pairing for a menu (or that the Spanish term would be a literal translation of the English common name).

Fun, huh – lots to learn digging through all this. And more, undoubtedly, Dear Reader than you ever wanted to know.

Will eating acedia give me heartburn?

I’m grinding through a lengthy and complex Glosario de Alimentos and will have much material for posts but this is a short amusing bit. Despite being in the context of food and specifically a text description of a fish (which this source claims is a ‘wedge sole’) Google Translate didn’t use any of that context and so translated acedia to ‘heartburn’. Oxford agrees this is one of the definitions:

Sensación de ardor en el estómago o en la garganta provocada por un exceso de ácido en el estómago. Burning sensation in the stomach or throat caused by an excess of acid in the stomach.

But the definition provided in the glosario goes more like this:

Pescados Blancos o magros White or lean fish
GENERALIDADES Pescado plano, muy consumido en la región andaluza. Sus capturas proceden fundamentalmente de la región suratlántica. GENERALITIES Flat flatfish, very consumed in the Andalusian region. Their captures come mainly from the South-Atlantic region.

And Oxford agrees and has this definition:

Pez marino de cuerpo plano parecido al lenguado, pero de unos 40 cm de longitud, escamas más fuertes y unidas, y color pardo con manchas amarillas o anaranjadas; vive en el Atlántico y el Mediterráneo, cerca de la costa; su carne es comestible. Flat-bodied marine fish similar to the sole, but about 40 cm long, scales stronger and united, and brown with yellow or orange spots; he lives in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, near the coast; his meat is edible.

So in the context of alimentos I would say it’s far more likely to translate acedia as this fish instead of heartburn. But the authoritative DLE only offers these two definitions:

Pereza, flojedad. Sloth, looseness.
Tristeza, angustia, amargura. Sadness, anguish, bitterness.

which are neither the fish or the stomach affliction. Huh. But interesting DLE gives a hint (a bit cryptic) with this:

From lat. Acid, and this of the gr. ἀκηδία akēdía ‘negligence’.

So off I went to Spanish Wiktionary to find more

Etimología Etymology
Del latín acidia, a su vez del griego antiguo ἀκηδία (akedía), ἀκήδεια (akédeia), del prefijo privativo ἀ- (a-) y κῆδος (kẽdos), “preocupación”, del protoindoeuropeo *ḱeh₂dos, “preocuparse”, de la raíz *ḱeh₂d-, “odiar” From the Latin acidia , in turn from the ancient Greek ἀκηδία  ( akedía ), ἀκήδεια  ( akédeia ), from the proprietary prefix ἀ-  ( a- ) and κῆδος  ( kẽdos ), ” concern “, from protoindoeuropeo * ḱeh₂dos , “to worry “, from the root * ḱeh₂d- , ” hate “

and definitions:

1 Falta de esfuerzo o dedicación para la realización de las tareas necesarias o prescritas

   Sinónimos: véase Tesauro de “desidia”.

1 Lack of effort or dedication to the realization of the tasks required or prescribed

Synonyms: see Thesaurus of “neglect” .

2 Estado emocional de dolor y descontento, desagradable para quien lo experimenta

   Sinónimos: aflicción, desdicha, pena, pesadumbre, quebranto, tribulación, tristeza.
   Antónimo: alegría.

2 Emotional state of pain and discontent , unpleasant for those who experience it

Synonyms: affliction , misery , grief , sorrow , grief , distress , sadness .
Antonym: joy .

Neither of these sound like either a fish or heartburn, but the Wiktionary more closely matches the authoritative DLE than Oxford does.  Interestingly Wiktionary then has this:

Wikipedia tiene un artículo sobre acedia

which leads to an article, in Spanish, about Dicologlossa cuneata which is a (Redirigido desde «Acedia») and starts with this sentence (Google Translated)

The acedía or lenguadillo (Dicologlossa cuneata) is a species of pleuronectiforme fish of the Soleidae family .

Amusingly here Google didn’t translate acedia as ‘heartburn’ so yet another strange inconsistency. Also Wiktionary linked to a relevant and useful Wikipedia article but not at all related to its definitions. So this is another real run-around for a single term.

Fish names are notoriously difficult for translation. Even the scientific (Latin) names are often in dispute but their common names in any language are often confusing so translating one confusing name in Spanish to another in English is often going to be problematic and a real challenge for my corpus. But in this case once we dismissed heartburn as the translation and then got to Dicologlossa cuneata we can now get to the English Wikipedia article on Wedge sole (and other search results)

But, knowing what kind of fish is going to appear on your plate can matter.  In this case this looks like a tasty fish I’d like. But as I’ve mentioned I’m not very adventurous eater so there are plenty of things from the sea I wouldn’t want.

A weed by any other name is …

When I was in China I’d ask my hosts to tell me the name of the vegetable we were eating. My hosts (software engineers) were reasonably fluent in English but often were unable to supply a name. Eventually one said the vegetable was like a weed that grew wild along the roadside and he didn’t think there was a name in English. That said it probably doesn’t matter whether it has an English name as I’ll never see that vegetable again.

My original idea for this post was to discuss a challenging source I’ve been investigated, but I’ll delay most of that to another day. I’m slowly grinding through the source attempting to decide whether the terms, although clearly Spanish, actually apply to Spain, or whether one would ever see these terms in Spain (if not, until I get interested in some hike in South America I don’t care).

On a previous iteration of this project I simply searched for whatever list of Spainish food terms I could find and merged them together (manually) losing some of the identity of the source. Eventually my list began to have lots of contradictions and was messy. Sure it seemed pollo meant the same thing in all Spanish speaking countries but plenty of other words had multiple meanings. One particular list (now only a vague memory) had lots of vegetables growing wild along the road and their names had no English translation (as per my anecdote in China). So it was difficult to decide what they were. That list became a mess and I discarded it, remembering the lesson to be more careful with sources when I restarted this project a few years later.

So, long story short, I just spent about 30 minutes trying to track this one down (one of many as I’m just on second page with words beginning with A). It comes from Glosario de los alimentos (which I’ll be discussing again). Below are side-by-side Spanish and Google Translate English.

achupalla achupalla

It’s not unusual that Google doesn’t recognize this term. The online Oxford Spanish dictionary didn’t either. Only the Real Academia Española Diccionario de la lengua española, the most authoritative source dictionary of Spanish language had anything. Doing Google Translate on DLE pages isn’t very clear so I rarely use it, as in the example below (some strange HTML that confuses Google):


1. f. Planta de América del Sur, de la familia de las bromeliáceas, de tallos gruesos, escamosos y retorcidos, hojas alternas, envainadoras y espinosas por los bordes, flores en espiga y fruto en caja. De sus tallos se hace una bebida refrescante.


1. f. Plant from South America, from the family from the bromeliads, from stems thick, scaly Y twisted, leaves alternate, sheathing machines Y thorny by the borders, flowers in spike Y fruit in box. From their stems HE does a drink refreshing.

It turns out bromeliads may be important clue later. Meanwhile the Glosario had a lengthy definition of achupalla which I break down into separate rows in the side-by-side table for easier comparison, starting with:

Fruta tropical originaria de América, de pulpa suculenta y fragante Tropical fruit native to America, succulent and fragrant pulp.

It continues with more description (my comments):

Tiene forma de piña o fruto del pino, es de tamaño grande, con hojas duras en su parte superior, de piel o cáscara leñosa y rugosa. It is shaped like a pineapple or pine fruit, it is large in size, with hard leaves on its upper part, skin or a woody and rough shell.

Why say it is shaped like a piña if it just is one? What is a fruto del pino since pino is ‘pine’ and probably not a typo of piña?

Sirve de ingrediente de recetas de platos agridulces y es excelente para acompañar carne de cerdo o pato. También se lo emplea en ensaladas, en especial en la de camarón o gamba y en la de pollo. It serves as an ingredient in recipes for sweet and sour dishes and is excellent to accompany pork or duck. It is also used in salads, especially shrimp or prawn and chicken.
Es apropiada, además, para elaborar refrescos o tragos, con o sin alcohol, postres y pastelería.
Se consume y utiliza fresca o en conserva.
La pulpa es muy aromática y de sabor dulce.
Las achupallas pequeñas suelen tener un sabor más delicado que las grandes.
It is also appropriate for making drinks or drinks, with or without alcohol, desserts and pastries.
It is consumed and used fresh or canned.
The pulp is very aromatic and has a sweet flavor.
Small achupallas tend to have a more delicate flavor than large ones.
La piña baby tiene las propiedades gustativas de la piña tropical, corregidas y aumentadas.
La fruta está madura cuando cambia el color de la cáscara del verde al amarillo en la base de la misma.
The baby pineapple has the taste properties of tropical pineapple, corrected and increased.
The fruit is ripe when the color of the green to yellow shell changes at the base of the shell.What is a baby pineapple?
Las piñas son frutas no climatéricas, por lo que se deben cosechar cuando estén listas para consumirse, ya que no maduran después de su recolección. Pineapples are non-climacteric fruits, so they must be harvested when they are ready to be consumed, since they do not ripen after harvesting.

At this point the description (remember this is a definition of achupalla  not a translation) is sounding a lot like this is just pineapple, BUT, why wouldn’t this be in the various online translation dictionaries. They supply piña (note this word is used in the definition) or ananá, which is used in Argentina and Uruguay. Here’s a bit more of the definition:

Un contenido mínimo de sólidos solubles de 12% y una acidez máxima del 1% asegurarán un sabor mínimo aceptable a los consumidores.
Su contenido de agua es alto.
A minimum content of soluble solids of 12% and a maximum acidity of 1% will ensure a minimum acceptable taste to consumers.
Its water content is high.
Destaca su aporte de hidratos de carbono y de bromelina, una enzima que ayuda a la digestión de las proteínas. Highlights its contribution of carbohydrates and bromelain, an enzyme that helps the digestion of proteins.

Note the link I added for bromelain. The Wikipedia article describes a substance derived from pineapple.

Searching just for:

what is achupalla Plant from South America, from the family from the bromeliads

produced some interesting results. This article is a long description of the botanical naming of some possible candidate plants:

In Ecuador, Puya gummifera , known as “achupalla”, is the Andean bear’s favorite food and its stems are fed to pigs and “cuys” (guinea pigs), as recorded in W.H. Camp 5198 for Azuay province

So my next search on “what is Puya achupalla” produced several results but particularly a hit in the Spanish language version of Wikipedia (which has been useful in the past for difficult-to-translate items). Actually it was a disambiguation page which Google Translates to English as:

The term achupalla can refer to:

Several plants native to Central America and South America of the bromeliaceae family , including:

  • Ananas comosus , pineapple or pineapple, a perennial plant with edible fruit;

  • Fascicularia bicolor , a species native to Chile with which hats are made;

  • Guzmania candelabrum , native of Ecuador and Colombia (see Guzmania );

  • Any species of Puya , in Colombia and Ecuador especially Puya furfuracea and in Peru Puya longistyla or Puya ferruginea .

  • In Chile, they are also known as the apium Eryngium paniculatum and the iridácea Libertia sessiliflora .

So, we’ve looped around. This is now saying achupalla can be scientific name Ananas comosus or plain old pineapple. But we’ve still got this bit of the definition to deal with:

La piña baby tiene las propiedades gustativas de la piña tropical, corregidas y aumentadas. The baby pineapple has the taste properties of tropical pineapple, corrected and increased.

Now is piña baby some alternate to achupalla? Or does ‘baby’ perhaps just mean immature/young. Because some distinction is being made with la piña tropical which is most likely to be the standard commercial pineapple.

And there is this:

Achupalla, a stunning bromeliad, Puya weberbaueri at Machu Picchu

So is the mysterious reference to Puya gummifera and the genus Puya a misleading wild goose chase? Is this just ordinary pineapple or perhaps a wild version (from Peru) that is related to cultivated pineapple?

Why is this term in this glosario? Will it ever be relevant?

Is achupalla a clue this glossary is not specific to Spain? (spoiler for next post, there are lots of clues many of the terms in the glossary are for the Western Hemisphere, not Spain).

Will I ever know what achupalla is?



Left La Rioja

These “progress” reports of my virtual trek on the Camino are probably the least interesting posts I make here, but bear with me. But I want to record this progress as a kind of journal. I’ll attempt to spice up these posts with some personal story.

In this case today, with my increased mileage on my basement treadmill, I passed through the town of Redecilla del Camino. As I always do I used Google maps to “explore” any POI (points of interest) Google notes. These include both the restaurants I find to use as source material for my Spain food terms corpus, but also lodging, stores, etc. So when I was looking at an albergue in Redecilla del Camino I noticed the address indicated Burgos.

At first I was confused by this. I am familiar (from a distance) of the city of Burgos as an important place on the Camino but I’m still some distance from there. So digging around a bit I also learned, today, that Burgos is a province, part of the autonomous community of Castile and León. Looking back at the Google map I discovered the boundary between La Rioja and  Castile and León is between Redecilla del Camino and Grañón, the milestone of my last post, so I realized I had crossed this border. I wonder if there is even a sign had I been actually walking.

When I became fascinated with Spain several years ago I attempted to learn the geography and the political entities. Thus I learned a bit about the  autonomous communities as the major divisions of Spain. I tried to memorize what all these were and where they were. Later I learned some of these are then divided in provinces. La Rioja was both province and autonomous community (as well as a regional designation not exactly aligned on the political entities, somewhat like Nebraska is part of the “Great Plains” region of the USA). So it didn’t take very long to “walk” through La Rioja after leaving Navarra.

All this would be familiar to a resident or actual traveler but as someone who has never been to Spain it’s all new. As Sarah Palin once was ridiculed for saying she could see Russia from her home (she’d have to go way west in the Aleutian Islands for that to be true) I “saw” Spain while touring the Algarve in Portugal. I thought about driving a few more hours and at least crossing the border, so I could claim I had at least been in Spain, but that would have been a silly trip (somewhat like I can claim I’ve been in UK/England since I went through an airport there on the way to Portugal). Having merely crossed a border is not the same as an actual visit so I’ll have to wait until I really can visit Spain to claim I’ve been there.

Castile and León appears to be the largest autonomous community and since the Camino seems to cross most of it this will be a long trek. My impression is this area is far enough from the coast to be primarily the hot and dry part of Spain, less influenced by the cooler and wetter weather along the northern coast. My comments in the last post about the appearance of the countryside (not much different than western Nebraska or the Central Valley of California) suggest to me this is probably the least interesting part of the Camino. At least it appears fairly flat and so less strenuous walking but the lack of shade makes me wonder why so many people do the Camino in summer – do they know about this?

Without actually visiting a country it’s hard for an outsider to know much about geography. I’ve been in almost every province of Canada (and 49 of USA states) so I can relate to those from personal memory. But merely looking at maps is no substitute to try to really learn geography of a country by visiting. What I do know is that there is both a strong cultural difference and also gastronomical difference between the autonomous communities covered by the Camino, which, of course, is one of the appealing points, both to visit or just virtually visit as I’m doing.

So while this is not a “real” milestone it is a significant one for my journey. It feels about like going to Texas in the USA. I was born in Texas but left as a child and actually never expected to return. To my surprise I’ve returned a number of times. You can drive long days and still not be out of Texas so I suspect my virtual experience in  Castile and León (even just Burgos province) will be even longer.

So with this post out of the way I can return to my main topics. FOOD!

Moving faster, again

I’ve previously mentioned that in order to encourage myself to burn up miles on a treadmill in my basement I transfer that mileage to a GPS track I have of the Camino de Santiago. Thus I can track “progress” (also find new restaurants to virtually explore) and so at least have the virtual experience keeping alive my dream of someday having  the real experience.

Anyway a few weeks ago I suddenly started having severe enough pains in my toes to decide to rest a bit and then reduce my workouts. Recently, as mysteriously and quickly as the pain came on now it appears to be gone. Bodies are sometimes a real mystery.

So cautiously I went back to my mid-intensity workouts. My machine records a lot of data and I analyze that in spreadsheets. My recent low intensity workouts require about 120 calories burned per mile (this is zero slope and 2.0 mph). My medium intensity is more like 170 calories burned per mile (5.5 degree slope and 2.5mph). The high intensity that I was doing just prior to toe pain is a bit more erratic in the data since I boost the slope to 15 degrees and 2.8mph as long as I can stand (usually just a couple of minutes) and then back off to recover (in essence, simulating interval training which is superior for cardiovascular benefits than endurance training). So my high intensity was running about 215 calories burned per mile. When I was much younger I did significant amount of backpacking, in rugged terrain (mostly Sierra Nevada mountains, the ones in California, not Spain) with heavy pack and that effort felt like workout load between the medium and high intensity I’m doing now, without the bugs (of course I’m also 40 years older, so who knows).

So as a result of higher pace (I did only 6 miles in about 3 weeks while nursing my angry toe) I’ve now made 139 miles (from St Jean) and so my GPS track shows me just past the town Grañón (which is west of the bigger town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada).

So I’ll stick with the medium intensity and see if I can catch up the gap I created (from my previous regression trendline) and hope the toe pain does not return but I’ll skip the high intensity. I suspect the Camino intensity would be a bit less than my medium intensity workouts.

Doing training in a basement is helpful for tuning the body but is really boring. So in a few weeks the weather will allow hitting the trails some. Fortunately we have two reasonable outdoor trails within an hour’s drive: the Wabash in Iowa and the MoPac in Nebraska. These are trails built on top of abandoned railroads. The railroads were built long ago and thus were coal-burning locomotives so to protect crops from burning embers the railroad right-of-way was fairly wide. Today, with the trains long gone, the right-of-way is mostly woods and thus the trails are fairly well shaded. Which is good because it gets hot here in direct sun. The downside, however, is the humidity is higher along the trail than elsewhere. Two years ago when I was actually training for the Camino I began to push up my distance on those trails, with my maximum (and really only a half day) at 16 miles so I was getting close to the required distance.

But I know day-after-day is a lot different than a single day. I used to average about 20 miles a day on my bicycle and could easily do 40-50/day on weekends and then an occasional Century. But, when I did a (escorted) bike tour of Germany and Austria with about 50 miles every day it steadily wore me down to be going every day. So I suspect the Camino is like that, being able to do the daily distance, for just one day, is nowhere near the same as day-after-day. Plus I returned to my home and standard meals thus not facing the occasional dubious albergue and/or dubious restaurante.

So in doing my “virtual” Camino trek I use the images collected by Google on Streetview. Much of the route my GPS track shows has been covered by the Google cars. In fact, often looking at the street view I see the trekkers. So I’ve seen the route, steadily since leaving the Pyrenees go from green and wooded to brown, flat, dry and plain. Even going further west in La Rioja has lost most of the vineyards. So the Camino is dusty and flat. At one point it was just a dirt path alongside a divided highway.

In short the “boring” trails (say compared to mountain trails on either USA coast) here are still better. At least they have shade and a good walking surface. During summer they are a green tunnel, a lot like the Appalachian Trail (the Pacific Crest is much more exposed, like the segment of the Camino I’m now on). And the walking itself looks iffy. The two trails here are covered with crushed limestone which makes for fairly smooth (easy on the feet) walking. In contrast all the rural roads nearby are crushed stone and look just like the ones in Spain in this section of the Camino. Once I took a shortcut and went a couple of miles on the rural roads and that gravel is rough on the feet (also takes more muscle effort due to some slipping on unstable surface).

So frankly, yuck! The Camino between Santo Domingo de la Calzada and Grañón doesn’t look fun at all. Now there is the concept that peregrinos must suffer and on this stretch of the route they will (or at least their feet, plus sunburn (wearing sunscreen when it’s very hot and you’re sweating is seriously not fun)). But this is a silly kind of suffering. It’s like when I did a lot of biking – working hard to go up a mountain had the reward of accomplished the top but I hated biking into headwinds, just an invisible force holding me back. So I see the route in this stretch that way – not really a challenge but just a slog with little point except, hopefully, to reach better outdoors further west. If I wanted a walk like I’m seeing I actually could do it here. Another rails-to-trails project, the Cowboy trail does go as far as the required Camino distance to get the compostela and it too is completely exposed and is parallel to a major highway. I’ve never chosen to do any of that trail, even on a bike, much less the slower pace of walking – too hot, too dry, too boring (and here with lots of insect pests).

But, fortunately, on a virtual trek, I get to avoid that and merely face the boredom of stationary exercise.



Menú degustación

Degustación literally means ‘tasting’.  Many of the restaurant menu’s I’m studying, especially the more “upscale” (AKA “expensive”) restaurants offer this kind of menu. Like the Menu del Dia this is a fixed price (prix fixe) but whereas the del Dia seems to be the more common items of the restaurants the degustación seems to be their showcase items.

In the USA ‘tasting menus’ have become more common over the decades I’ve been going to better restaurants. The first memorable one I recall was here in Omaha, at a restaurant specializing in fish with an excellent Peruvian chef (thus some of the Spanish influence). I recall my first time there – we received an invitation for a New Year’s Eve tasting menu (with wine pairing, of course, which is not as obvious that is part of the menus in Spain). The food was excellent and since I was just starting a weight loss program I was pleased, despite relatively high cost, that the portions were small and incredibly tasty. The most beautiful tasting menu I ever had was in a restaurant in Beijing, near the Grand Hyatt (I couldn’t find its name). Bizarrely that place was straight out of LA and possibly the fanciest restaurant in my experience, thankfully on expense account on business travel (although China has AMAZING value at its restaurants, the same place in LA would have been 500% more expensive). It was amazing and a lot of fun as well as tasty, to be surprised by incredible dishes.

The inspiration for this post is my continuing search for restaurants in other regions of Spain, than northern Spain which has been my primary focus. So I looked at Cartagena in Murcia, near the Mediterranean coast with the assumption I’d see either local items or more seafood influence. The menu that is the source of this post comes from Magoga (website) and its tasting menu.

As a small digression, triggered by the idea that one item from this menu seems to relate (after some translation research) to molecular gastronomy. In many ways Spain is the prime mover on this. For many years elBulli (now closed, but still has website) and Ferran Adrià was the top ranked restaurant in the world. More recently the world’s top restaurant has been French Laundry in Napa Valley California. I’ve never been able to afford (or at least justify the luxury) of dining there with the price of their tasting menu and wine pairings easily exceeding $500 per person.

OTOH, my first encounter with fine dining was also in Napa (when I still lived in the San Francisco Bay Area) at Domaine Chandon, which as I was searching for its link, now, sadly, seems to be closed. Domaine Chandon was my first luxury restaurant and over the years it began my personal indicator of inflation and what I could afford. It was always expensive but still reachable (with Silicon Valley high tech salary) for at least special occasions. After my initial visit I returned to treat my sister on her birthday. A better foodie than me she taught me that discussing the menu (even off menu items) with servers enriched the experience. Some of the servers I encountered were students at the nearby California Culinary Academy (undoubtedly working at Domaine Chandon for handsome tips plus experience at top notch restaurant). These people were very knowledgeable about the menu and thus discussing it with them added to the experience. I still can remember the fabulous house smoked trout appetizer that I would have never ordered without the pitch from the waiter. But as I’ve grown older and been lucky enough to eat at many fine restaurants I’ve become more disappointed. Domaine Chandon was a special occasion for me and an delightful experience. At one visit we were joined by some golfers at an adjacent table. Unlike us this was routine for them and they wolfed down their food like I would eat at a fast food restaurant. That made me realize I’m not one of the 1% and thus unlikely to ever enjoy the tasting menu at French Laundry (which I saw on a foodie show, but have never been able to afford in person) so elBulli was also a place I only “virtually” experienced through a TV special.

Be that as it is Magoga (and others I’ve seen) I might be able to experience if I could somehow get to Spain.

But on to some items from the menu itself.

Snacks Snacks

I guess the word for ‘snacks’ in Cartagena is snacks, no idea what this item might be. But this item is a bit more interesting:

Langostinos, coliflor, pomelo y crema de sus cabezas Prawns, cauliflower, grapefruit and cream of their heads

Yes, cabezas does literally mean ‘heads’ and I assume this applies to the langostinos, not the coliflor or pomelo.  I know enough cooking to use the shells from peeled shrimp to boil in water and reduce to use as a tasty base for a sauce, but with research it appears adding the actual heads of the shrimp enriches the shrimp stock even more. The only time I was invited to eat the head of a shrimp was a beautiful bento box in Japan (I declined, still not that adventuresome diner).

Ensalada de cebolla asada y salazones Salad of roasted and salted onions

salazones was a mystery, literally it simply means ‘salted’. But salted what, the onions? The photo at the website didn’t clarify this but it was an interesting presentation in a “submarine” ceramic plate.

Papada de chato, guisante del campo de Cartagena y trufa melanosporum Double chin, pea from the field of Cartagena and truffle melanosporum

This is a perfect item for research. papada does literally translate as ‘dewlap’ or ‘double chin’. chato was a bit harder to find but it appears to be a breed (the source says “brood”) of pig unique to Murcia. “local” is a big deal in contemporary cuisine. As far as I can tell chato is not DO but does seem to be something “local”. One of my other experiences with ‘tasting menus’ was another restaurant, here in Omaha, that, by invitation only, did special items, with the wine pairings, where the chef explained each item, down to the actual supplier of the ingredients and the sommelier then explained his wine choice to go with the item – a lot of food but a bit too pricey for our routine consumption. I can’t quite imagine eating the double chin of any pig but I’m told (not having direct experience) these odds bits of the animal are more tasty than the common cuts (please, recall my post on Iberian “secret”, something similar to skirt steak, that is available online for about $60/lb, sorry, I’ll skip that).

Colmenillas a la crema y alcachofas en dos texturas Morello with cream and artichokes in two textures

Google Translate got colmenilla correct in other parts of the menu from this restaurant so I have no idea why it picked ‘morello’ than simply ‘morel’ which, interestingly for me, led to my first attempt at a food dictionary. I once visited a restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea California where the menu was entirely in Italian. Fortunately everyone there spoke English so I was to inquire about one of the dishes and had this fabulous veal dish with morels (the more favorable Italian dried). Coming to Nebraska one of my in-laws harvested morels in the wild around here but they were nowhere near as good as I had in Carmal.

But it was really the en dos texturas that inspired this post. A search for just texturas revealed little, but en texturas did lead to this source:

Spherification is a spectacular cooking technique we introduced at elBulli in 2003 which enables us to prepare recipes that no-one had even imagined before. It consists of the controlled gelification of a liquid which, submerged in a bath, forms spheres.

I recognized the name Ferran Adriá from my virtual experience with elBulli (I watch a lot of foodie TV even if I’ve never visited these places). So this is my guess, that the restaurant in Cartagena was probably influenced by elBulli, so I think my guess as to the meaning of en texturas is at least plausible.

And then there is this item from the tasting menu:

Arroz de conejo y butifarra Rabbit and butifarra rice

A search for butifarra yielded this plausible result, but there it is called botifarra. That is the Catalan term for this sausage and the more general term in Spain is butifarra. Another item:

Pichón de Bresse con su jugo Pigeon of Bresse with its juice

yielded, via search:

The pigeon of Bresse is a pigeon brood coming from the village of Bresse, in France, where they are reared in small farms under strict legislative controls. They are birds with Denomination of Origin.

Again this shows one of the challenges of interpreting menus. I suppose some people have heard of Bresse, as a source of pigeons, but I had to do some research to figure this out.

And finally:

Milhojas de avellanas y cuatro especias Hazelnut and four spices millefeuille

I am guessing Google Translate is correct and mihojas is millefeuille.  But unless you’re more skilled than me as pastry converting a Spanish term to a French term doesn’t help much. At this the article on millefeuille seems to be an adequate description of what is otherwise, sometimes, called a Napolean.

So this was a fun menu to analyze (and probably a very tasty one to actually consume) but it does show some of the challenge of figuring out menus in Spain. The online source for the restaurant didn’t list the precio for this menu but I’d guess it is enough that I’d really want to understand what I was getting before I’d decide I could splurge on it.

Speaking of that I also received this recommendation to try this place, Au Courant, for my next special occasion, my 20th wedding anniversary next week. It will be a splurge but $55 (before wine pairing) is probably cheaper than flying to Cartagena and trying the menú degustación at Magoga which I can at least dream of doing.











Small experiment

Most of the time I’ve spent on this project has involved looking at various source documents from Spain, then with multiple methods of doing translations. Ultimately the point of all this is to build a large corpus of “pairs” (words or phrases in Iberian Spanish and English translation (or some kind of equivalent). Critically I also need to add some measure of how likely the pairs represent valid equivalents so the code (yet to be done) can attempt to establish the probability of the consolidated list of pairs being correct. And also it has to handle the ambiguity, for instance, very common with ternera (is this veal or beef or both? as it often seems to be used for both.) And the multiple and overlapping and contradictory terms for shrimp vs prawns vs langostines (the small rock lobster) is a strong example of confusion on menus.

So given I haven’t yet designed my corpus or the code in ingest new pairs into the corpus and then process the related pairs I have to do experiments, by hand, on a smaller dataset to attempt to visualize the challenges I will face when this is all done with code on a much larger corpus.

So I recently processed an extensive menu from a single restaurant in Granada and just before that two restaurants in Santo Domingo de La Calzada, La Rioja. By process I mean the mostly mechanical work of getting entire sections of menu text side-by-side in original Spanish and then the translated English. Then I look for untranslated terms or silly translations to try to find other sources on the Net (often recetas) to determine the correct correspondence, for instance, manos de ministro is NOT minister’s hands but a colloquial version of the more common manitas de cerdo, or pig’s trotters (feet).

So having done this I’ll provide a few results. In total I ended up with 277 “pairs” with 50 of those on both lists (and thus likely to be very common food terms from menus – see list below). The two restaurants in Santo Domingo de La Calzada contributed 132 unique pairs and the Granada restaurant contributed 95 unique pairs. The various terms in the list are sometimes not that specific to food, for instance:

  1. blanco and negro, colors but used as qualifiers of chocolate in menus; rosada (pink as a color) ended up being quite a chase when it referred to a specific fish.
  2. aroma or chocolate which are the same in Spanish and English but I include them even though it (and others like it) are obvious loanwords as a piece of code doesn’t just “know” this and has to be told.
  3. especialidad (specialties) or vinagreta (vinaigrette) or salmón (salmon) even though these are easy to guess, eventually an app doing translation still needs to recognize these terms.
  4. arrozcarnedulcehuevoleche, panpescadopolloqueso, salsa and vino that are used so much, not just in Mexican restaurant menus but even in TV ads we can effectively consider these loanwords into English now, but again, a computer program doesn’t know that and so still needs to have this in the corpus that will then be the key to its translation.
  5. I did try to consolidate terms that have alternate gender forms and/or singular/plural but didn’t do this as precisely and consistently as a really good corpus would require

While just findings lists of food/cooking terms is easy on the Net whether they are correct or apply to Spain is more problematic. Even a source like a dictionary should be taken with a small dollop of skepticism. Certainly asking any of the various voice assistants is not going to have a very high accuracy rate. So it is necessary to: a) try to focus on sources and thus pairs that are really for Spain and not somewhere in western hemisphere (unless you, Dear Reader, are planning a trek in Bolivia, then do as you need).

So that was my experiment and I end with this list of 50 pairs that are so common you’re very likely to run into them BUT even this list is not 100% accurate as there are various issues with translation (see previous posts).

Cover up the right-hand column and see how many of these you know.

a la plancha grilled
aceite de oliva olive oil
anchoas anchovies
arroz rice
asados roasted
atún tuna
bacalao cod
blanco white
café coffee
Cantábricas/Cantábrico Cantabrian
caramelizados caramelized
carne meat
casera/o caseras/caseros homemade
cerdo pork
chocolate chocolate
comida meal
croquetas croquettes
deliciosa/o deliciosas delicious
dulce sweet
ensalada salad
frita/o fritas fried
guarnición garnish
helado ice cream
huevo egg
jamón ham
langostinos prawns
leche milk
lomo loin (generically; or cured meat specifically)
miel honey
pan bread
patata potato
pato duck
pechuga breast
pescado fish
pimientos peppers
plato dish
pollo chicken
postre dessert
pulpo octopus
queso cheese
revuelto scrambled
salsa sauce
solomillo tenderloin or fillet
tarta cake, also pie
ternera beef (alt: veal)
tomate tomato
tosta toast
vainilla vanilla
verdura vegetable
especialidad especialidades specialty

Note to Google Translate: Salmorejo is not Gazpacho

Most of the restaurant menus I’ve been studying come from northern part of Spain, specifically along the route of the Camino de Santiago. The food vocabulary varies in different parts so I thought I’d take a look elsewhere. So I went way south to Granada in the autonomous community of Andalusia. Just as a random pick I’m looking at the carta of Fogón Galicia, an interesting name for a restaurant a long way from Galicia. On their Entrantes page I found this item, originally from Andalusia, (Spanish from website, English via Google Translate, as usual):

Salmorejo gazpacho
El Salmorejo es una crema de tomate de origen cordobés que se toma fría The Salmorejo is a tomato cream of Cordovan origin that is cold

This is a very helpful website since it appears most of the items have their own separate pages, with nice pictures, such as this one for their salmorejo (click for image) so it’s excellent description of numerous items.

But the point of this post is that Google incorrectly translated salmorejo as gazpacho. There is some similarity but there are key differences as well. And as I’ve mentioned in other posts there simply is no English translation, for either salmorejo or gazpacho. Gazpacho is widely available in USA and known to most foodies. And it is just gazpacho, not some English translation. Interestingly Google Translate did not translate salmorejo, at all (actually correct) in the second line which is the description (also a useful feature of this website, short descriptions of the items). On the actual page for salmorejo at this website they list the ingredientes:

Aceite de oliva – Agua – Ajos – Huevos – Jamón serrano – Pan – Sal – Tomate Olive oil – Water – Garlic – Eggs – Serrano ham – Bread – Salt – Tomato

I’ve had gazpacho in multiple restaurants and I’ve even made it for myself. What I consider is the key ingredient (other than the tomato base) is pepino (cucumber). I’m well aware of this as I don’t like cucumbers but somehow do like them in the combination of gazpacho. Here’s a good description of gazpacho and its typical ingredients and preparation. And likewise here’s a description of salmorejo. To my thinking salmorejo is just a thicker gazpacho without the vegetables so without actual tasting it this looks less interesting than gazpacho.

So this was my main theme of this post but I’ll continue with a few other interesting things from this menu.

Huevos rotos con patatas y lomo de orza Broken eggs with potatoes and pot loin
Lecho de patatas fritas con huevos rotos y lomo de orza Bed of fried potatoes with broken eggs and pot loin

When I first saw “pot loin” I assumed this might be a typo but in fact orza does seem to literally be ‘pot’. The picture didn’t clear this up but interesting in Google translated lomo de orza as ‘pork loin’ so this is another of the Google Translate mysteries as to why it gets different results for exactly the same Spanish (and I don’t have to go searching for what pot loin might be). And Google Translate is really confused by this term as it appears again in Entrantes and there it becomes ‘baguette loin’.

Revuelto de bacalao dorado Golden cod scrambled
El revuelto de Bacalao Dorado del Fogón de Galicia utiliza la receta original portuguesa para la confección de este plato cuyos ingredientes principales son el bacalao y los huevos. The scrambled eggs from Bacalao Dorado del Fogón de Galicia uses the original Portuguese recipe for the preparation of this dish whose main ingredients are cod and eggs.

I include this item because in this case dorado really does mean ‘golden’. It’s also the name of a fish (often translated as gilt-head bream) and thus a mistake by Google Translate, but here it’s correct. But even the picture doesn’t really show why they’re calling this golden cod.

Pimientos de padrón fritos Fried bell peppers
Exquisitos Pimientos de Padrón fritos en el Fogón de Galicia. Con todo el sabor y la calidad en un entrante apetitoso y sorprendente… Exquisite Padrón Peppers fried in the Galician Fogon. With all the flavor and quality in an appetizing and surprising appetizer …

It’s a bit surprising that Google translated padrón as ‘bell peppers’, since: a) that’s not what this pepper is (yes it is sorta bell shaped but much smaller and different taste than standard “bell” peppers), and, b) it shouldn’t be translated at all since padrón is just padrón.

And wrapping up (for now, lots more to study on this menu) Google stumbled over habitas which I found for sale online as ‘baby broad beans’ and chanquetes which I found online as ‘transparent goby’ and cazón en adobo didn’t get translated but in context trozos de cazón de primera calidad it was translated to ‘pieces of premium quality dogfish‘, confirmed in this recipe.

Always adventures in translation.

Delayed, but still moving

Various issues have interfered with my virtual trek along the Camino. The main issue is some sufficiently unpleasant pains in a toe to discourage my walking on machines or even the streets (it’s beginning to be spring so some walking outside is feasible). I’m disappointed by my lack of progress, just 5.81 miles in just less than a month.

So I have now made it to Santo Domingo de la Calzada which is big enough to have a lot of places to stay and restaurants, even a couple with websites and online menus. It’s surprising (and not so often mentioned in peregrino lore) that most of the country getting here is really boring dry farm county.

OTOH, since it’s been pleasant outside, for a few days, I have about 7 miles of real walking. But this is all nothing. To do the Camino one must be able to cover some significant mileage, each day, and day after day. All that is part of the point of even doing the Camino, the effort, the exertion, the pain.

My situation is a bit different. If I were actually on the Camino “going for it” is part of the point, push through any pain. But I’m in the midwest USA, doing miles on a treadmill in a basement. Rather than pushing through the pain it’s appropriate to “give it a rest”. But it seems like a rest isn’t cutting it.

I’m nearly 72YO. I’m in good shape but meanwhile have sustained a few minor injuries in my life. I don’t like wearing shoes (my southern US background) so, of course, every now and then I’ve banged a toe or part of a foot into some stationary unmoveable object. Those bashes to my body add up. I can’t recall if my current pain, minor but inconvenient, results from such an event, but it does add up.

I figure that I’m lucky. I have both good health and decent fitness (age adjusted). I could do the Camino, maybe a bit slower than others, but I’d get there. The maximum walk I’ve ever taken is about 60 miles on a backpacking trip in Canada. But backpacking is a bit tougher than the Camino.

Once I had the situation where I was working for a small Silicon Valley startup that fell short of funds, so I had a couple of unpaid weeks off (that or lose my job all together). So late in the season I hoped on my bike and rode down the west coast of California (with a ride to get me to starting point, you always ride south along the Pacific coast). I made it all the way, and enjoyed the stops every night. California reserved a spot for all bicyclists, so all of us were forced into the same spot every night. I had a gas lantern and that became the focal point of all the other cyclists. So I get the whole “brief” companionship that occurs on the Camino.

Anyway my visit is still virtual. Who knows if I can actually do it for real. And so my short distances don’t really matter. Weeks to cover a daily distance I can ignore, in virtual. But I wonder what would happen for real.