Back to some menus

On my virtual trek I’ve recently passed through a number of small towns, along the Camino route, and am now just a few miles outside Sahagún, which is large enough that it perhaps has some online menus. The small mom-and-pop places I recently passed along the Camino don’t have websites or don’t have online menus but there menus are simple. Often there are photos, sometimes even a photo of the menu which is small enough to be written on a blackboard. The dishes are simple and thus don’t represent any new information I can extract for my corpus.

So I went looking around for more interesting menus in this part of Spain. Even the larger towns don’t have much (Castile seems pretty empty, a lot like western Nebraska). But I did find the town of Palencia (the main town of the province of Palencia) had some menus to study. Then I stumbled on another in the town of Saldaña, which is 36km northeast of the Camino route. There I found Twisted House Restaurant, aka, La Casa Torcida.  This menu is interesting in that it has a Menú del Dia for each day of the week and for the weekend.  I’ve mentioned Menú del Dia before – it is a fixed price menu, typically of two courses (PRIMEROS PLATOS, SEGUNDOS PLATOS), plus some extras like bread (pan), drink (vino de la casa or agua) and dessert (postre). But the number of items each day is fairly small and most of the items are similar between days, as I’ll discuss below.

In looking at this restaurant and the few I’ve examined in Palencia it becomes clear that, a) knowing the regional cuisine) and, b) at least in this area, “local” matters and thus has to be part of the process of interpreting menus. In the USA the original “organic” foodie movement has largely been replaced by the “local” movement, i.e. restaurants and farmer’s market focus on food obtained nearby. Since most people in towns at most have small backyard gardens there is even the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) where farmers may convert small plots to allow citizens to grown their own food. This is fun for foodies in the US but when I encounter this same effect in Spain it gets confusing in terms of extracting vocabulary from menus. What does this mean? So for instance this restaurant has several variations of:

alubias “blancas de Saldaña” con boletus y foie “Blancas de Saldaña” beans with boletus and foie gras
alubias “blancas d Saldaña” con almejas y langostinos “Blancas d Saldaña” beans with clams and prawns
alubias “blancas de Saldaña” con bogavante. “Blancas de Saldaña” beans with lobster.
alubias “blancas de Saldaña” con almejas “Blancas de Saldaña” beans with clams

The key part of this is  which simply means “local” food in the vicinity of Saldaña. alubias (beans) which are described in this blog post. Really they’re just white kidney beans that happen to be grown locally and probably are most indistinguishable from any other beans to anyone but an expert. But the restaurants likes to tell its customers they are getting the “local” product and probably residents believe their beans are somehow special. But to a trekker, is there any difference? So for these items on the daily menus it’s just a white bean stew/soup with various added proteins. In terms of translation what the traveler really needs to know is:  boletus  (a class of mushrooms),  foie (presumably classic goose liver),  almejas (clams), langostinos (prawns, probably not the Italian langoustine, aka. Norway lobster), and,  bogavante (lobster, possibly classic Maine lobster but inland in Palencia probably some lesser Atlantic lobster).

Another instance from the menu is:

garbanzos “fuentesauco“

garbanzos “d fuentesauco” con boletus

Here again fuentesauco is just a local reference to either Fuentesaúco (a municipality located in the province of Zamora, Castile and León) or Fuentesaúco de Fuentidueña (a municipality located in the province of Segovia, Castile and León), each of which has a Wikipedia entry but quite possibly are the same thing. Either way it’s just local chickpeas probably, again, indistinguishable to anyone but an expert.

So, recognizing these “local” references in menus (and not thinking it is some other term not translatable to English) allows reading the menus. But some of the other items on this menu raise more interesting questions (as to what the dish really is).

Now I’ll describe a dish that baffled Google Translate. But as I discovered (and this could be relevant like using a smartphone for translation) the structure of HTML caused problems for Google to parse (which words go together) and thus translate:

lechazo “de Castilla” recien asado letter from “Castilla” newly roasted chickened correct
lechazo “recien asado de Castilla” “recien asado de castilla” recipes
lechazo “recien asado de Castilla” recienated astillo de Castilla “
lechazo “recien asado” de Castilla “recien roasted” milk of Castilla
lechazo “recien asado” de Castilla “recien asado” cheese of Castile

You can see how much trouble Google had with this item, which eventually I realized was primarily due to parsing of the HTML (since Google then uses all the words found to translate as a group). None of these translations is vaguely right – there is no chicken, milk or cheese involved and recienated and astillo aren’t even words. And note that with four different identical items Google translates each differently.Perhaps the use of quotes messed up the Google parsing. But we can deconstruct this literally and figure it out.

First, asado is easy – it is simple ‘roasted’. This is a common term one should know, some restaurants even have asador (the verb) in their name. BTW, now I do see one of Google’s confusion, asadero is a type of cheese.  de Castilla simply is either another “local” reference (of Castile) or it is the style of (usually would be a la Castillia or Castellano). So it comes down to what is lechazo? We’ve seen this before and there is a connection to ‘milk’ (leche). Wikipedia considers this a dish (not an ingredient) but it really means an unweaned baby animal. When it’s a baby cow we’d call it veal but more likely this is referring to a piglet. That leaves recien as somewhat ambiguous. This could mean (literally) ‘recent’ but also might be a modifier ‘just’, as in ‘just roasted’. I can’t quite decide what I think this means (recently slaughtered, recently roasted, recently born?) but it really is just amplifying the idea of a young animal. Microsoft decided this meant “Lamb “de Castilla” freshly roasted”. But it’s simple small lamb or pig chops.

Now for a few other mystery items where the Google Translation was not very helpful.

volovanes de hojaldre rellenos de crema de setas y gambas volovanes  de hojaldre filled with cream of mushrooms and prawns

Again I think the HTML parsing was an issue since Google didn’t even translate volovanes (vol-au-vent; a small hollow case of puff pastry) and hojaldre (literally: puff-pastry, which is kinda redundant given the definition of vol-au-vent)

judias verdes con jamón green jews with ham

I’ve already found that judias is another term for beans that somehow historically was connected with the Jewish population in Spain and thus the source of Google’s confusion – this is just green beans.

crepes caseros de pollo salteado con verduras de la huerta chicken house creams salted  with vegetable vegetables

‘house’ is possibly translated from caseros but this usually means (and is common on menus) “home-made”. salteado is not salted (although Google’s translation can be understood, but it really should be sautéed but it’s not clear whether this applies to the chicken (pollo) or the vegetables (verduras). And the vegetable vegetables really means vegetables from the garden, perhaps another local reference, i.e. whatever vegetables are locally and seasonally available from some nearby garden (huerta). And crepes are crêpes not ‘creams’.

ensalada de la huerta con crujiente de cecina salad of the garden with crumbler of Cecina

Google didn’t translate cecina which Microsoft translated as ‘jerky’.  But jerky is probably not quite right as this could be any type of dried meat. Translating crujiente is usually crunchy but could also mean ‘crumbs’ (or basically we might say bits); IOW there is just some crumbled up dried meat added to the salad.

corral is used several places in this menu (huevo de corralpollo de corral) and has multiple translations with ‘yard’ or ‘barnyard’ as the most likely. IOW, in US this would just be ‘range’ or ‘free-range’, yet another foodie reference that is common today.  Google once somehow translated this as ‘cork’. Google also failed to translate picatostes which is probably best understand as ‘croutons’. Somehow Google decided puerros is ‘doors’ instead of the more likely ‘leeks’.

But one more that took some work:

medallones de rabo de buey deshuesado en su jugo bird meadows of bone deposited in its juice

Google’s translation is, frankly, nonsense. So it took me some work. Fortunately I’d encountered (and remembered) rabo de buey from elsewhere which really is easiest understood as ‘ox-tail’. deshuesado in this case is best understood as ‘de-boned’ or ‘boneless’, i.e. the bone has been removed. Then the remaining meat is sliced into medallions which most foodies would know are just thin slices. Microsoft got a lot closer with “medallions of ox tail boneless in its juice” but it put ‘boneless’ in the wrong place in the phrase.

And, finally (there are more, but I’ll end with this) is:

Sanjacobos de lomo rellenos de jamon y queso Sanjacobos de lomo filled with ham and cheese

where I eventually found:

A “San Jacobo” is a popular “merienda” (afternoon snack) or tapa in Spain. It consists of a slice of cheese between 2 slices of cooked ham, which is breaded and then fried.

Its name refers to Santiago-Jacobo-Yago, patron of the city of Basel , and the pilgrimage by Christians to his supposed grave in Santiago de Compostela (Galicia, Spain), Camino de Santiago.

The closest equivalent seems to be Cordon bleu, otherwise (although this dish usually lomo, almost certainly meaning pork loin instead of chicken in the classic French dish), perhaps, known as schnitzel or Monte Cristo sandwich. The Wikipedia article about Cordon bleu says:

A variant popular in the Asturias province of Spain is cachopo, a deep-fried cutlet of veal, beef or chicken wrapped around a filling of Serrano ham and cheese.[11] In Spain, the version made with chicken is often called san jacobo.

So this menu (or set of daily menus) presented some serious difficulties in machine translation. I’d assume most/some of these issues would appear if you were using a smartphone trying to decipher this menu. Of course if you were fluent in Spanish you could just ask for a description of these items. But all this shows the challenge I have of building a more effective menu translation tools. Not only do I need a large vocabulary and some smart parsing of menu items but I need to know all this “local” terminology (geographic references) and/or just some fairly extensive background of the cuisine of the various regions of Spain.

How I’ll put this menu (and my translations) into my corpus poses some interesting technical questions. And then, to avoid the common Google mistakes, which they think of as “context’, variations in the word order and/or extra words pose some real challenge to effective translation. Google says it’s translation is not dependent on syntax and grammar of a language but I believe my app has to be fairly smart about all this.

And finally this menu is good evidence of how much work I have to do. Almost every menu I try to decipher has some interesting peculiar bits to get an effective translation. This takes a lot of research and guessing and double-checking for my intelligence to get a reasonable answer – how do I code my thought processes in an app?

We’ll see but perhaps, Dear Reader, you can see what an interesting challenge this is.


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