Observations from menus from restaurants in city of Palencia

I’m falling behind in doing posts about interesting things I find on menus so I decided to do two different things.

First, normally I would not manually extract corresponding English (usually from Google translate, sometimes from searches or dictionary lookups) and Spanish words or phrases and then collate the results across multiple menus. This I’ll do thoroughly, someday, with a more comprehensive approach using custom software and a corpus (of these kinds of extractions), critically with the “certainty” (expressed as a probability) that the translation is correct. Only with this very careful approach can I use “big data” effect (i.e. small wrong details wash out with lots of instances of word pairs) to get most accurate translations, or, in some cases, confusing translations that take a lot of research to decide (such as exactly what cut is solomillo). But because I’m behind I decided to go do the manual extraction and collation and analysis for many menus I studied in Palencia.

Second, normally I’d make a post on individual menus about what items are interesting, either the strange machine translations (or lack thereof) or items that required more than translation (such as recognizing a term is really a classic dish (recipe) or an ingredient from specific location or type of preparation). And such posts, of both necessity (lack of time to create) and less raw information are shorter than this consolidated post will be.

So instead I’ll really blast you, Dear Reader, with a vast amount of observations from all these menus at once. Since this is a lot of work my actual information may be in less than complete sentences and/or with explanation.

So here we go.

First, I made a list of some words/terms that can be very confusing (at least to me) since there is only minor spelling difference between words that are quite different, e.g. o. pata (leg) pato (duck) pavo (turkey). So here are some more:

  1. azafrán (saffron) azúcar (sugar)
  2. calidad (quality) caliente (hot)
  3. fresa (strawberry) and fresca (fresh, could be fresco)
  4. fríos (cold) and fritos (fried); both are adjectives so o might be a and s might not be included.
  5. frita (fried, masculine frito is less confusing) and fruta (fruits)
  6. mollejas (gizzards, sweetbreads) and mollete (a soft round white flatbread)
  7. oreja (ear) orejones (dried apricot) oveja (sheep)
  8. picada (minced) and picante (spicy)
  9. piña (pineapple) and piñones (pine nuts)
  10. roja (red) and rosa (pink)
  11. vieiras (scallops) and Viernes (Friday); zamburiñas frequently refer to scallops nominally of the “variegated” type (Chlamys varia) which stumps Google
  12. añejo (aged) and añojo (yearling, e.g. veal)
  13. cocina is usually kitchen (can also mean cuisine) whereas cocida usually means cooked (sometimes boiled); also cocinada is used as cooked.
  14. especiada (spice) especialidad (specialty) espinaca (spinach) espárrago (asparagus) espagueti (spaghetti)

These are more different in spelling but still easy to confuse or misunderstand:

  1. confitado can mean confit (the process, so confited if that were a word), but also candied as a modifier of some other ingredient and then confitura is jam which really isn’t same thing as confit
  2. guisantes (peas) and guisadas (stewed) and guisos/guistoes (stews)
  3. lima (lime) and limón (lemon, but sometimes also lime)
  4. melocotón (peach) and melon (melon) membrillo (quince or quince jelly)
  5. plátano (banana) and plato (dishes)
  6. postre (dessert) and potro (horse)
  7. tarta (cake, sometimes pie) and taza (cup, usually for hot drink, copa for cold drink)
  8. ternera (usually veal, but often can be beef) terrina (terrine, a cooking dish)
  9. tiempo (time) ande tierno (tender)
  10. agridulce (sweet and sour) and aguacate (avocado)
  11. alcachofa (artichoke) and alcaparras (capers)
  12. lomo (generically loin portion of any animal) or lomo (a special cured pork product)
  13. bacon and beicon both are used for ‘bacon’ but lacón is something entirely different (cured ham shoulder)

And here are a bunch of observations that I find interesting in food terminology in Spain’s menus.

  1. bellota rarely means literal ‘acorn’ and usually refers to special pigs fed on acorns and thus rather expensive type of ham
  2. tabla (a serving board/plank/platter) is not the obvious cognate ‘table’ which is actually mesa
  3. bollería can refer to the place (‘bakery’, then on a menu implying something from a bakery) or directly translated as ‘pastries’
  4. bola literally translates as ‘ball’, which makes sense as a term for a ‘scoop’ of ice cream
  5. bodega, in Spain, is not a store so it is a ‘winery’ (or place with wine)
  6. caldo is not the obvious cognate ‘cold’ (which unobviously is frio) but is a ‘broth’ or ‘stock’
  7. cogollos is frequently translated as ‘hearts’ (which is more likely corazón if from an animal) but it may be the ‘center’ (of a leafy vegetable, hence ‘heart’) or ‘buds’ or ‘shoots’ (of a vegetable)
  8. yema most often would refer to the ‘yolk’ of an egg, but it may also mean ‘buds’ or ‘shoots’ (as does cogollo as previously mentioned)
  9. garbardine is not a fabric but means literally ‘overcoat’, i.e. some sort of batter coating
  10. anchovies can be referred to as anchoas or boquerones where usually anchoa is the preserved version and boquerones is the “fresh” one, though both words equally apply as the name of the fish itself
  11. dorado is usually ‘gilt-head bream’ not the adjective golden. It’s not clear if, in Spain, it really is the same fish as mahi-mahi (dolphinfish) which may be the meaning of dorado outside of Spain
  12. empanado usually means breaded (form preceding masculine noun, otherwise empanada) in Spain; whereas empanada is a particular filled pastry elsewhere (and sometimes in Spain as well). It is derived from empanar which can be either ‘to coat in breadcrumbs or pastry’ which adds to the confusion
  13. galleta is often translated as ‘biscuit’ which is confusing to Americans (not Brits) since UK biscuit really is US cookie and galleta is cookie in Spain (not something like the southern US biscuit)
  14. guindilla (usually a specific pepper but used generically as hot pepper) or pimienta (or pimiento) may be any pepper or a specific type of pepper
  15. jijas is a particular mix of meat and spices to be used in making sausage, but it also may be itself cooked and then served, usually as a tapa
  16. jugo and zumo both can be translated as ‘juice’ but zumo is almost always the beverage and jugo is the juice derived from something else via cooking
  17. manillas has numerous translations (handles/hands, feet; trotters) but manos usually means hands but either on menus this usually means ‘pig feet’ (oh yum, almost as good as chicken feet I had in China)
  18. just módena often appears on menus, but it refers to balsamic vinegar which is famously from Modena in Italy and thus this name
  19. paletas translates as ‘shoulder’ or ‘shoulder blade’ (and other things) as does paletilla which probably means paletilla is the diminutive and thus from a smaller animal (say piglet verse mature pig)
  20. pata de mulo is not the unappetizing leg of a mule but instead a particular cheese
  21. perrito is the diminutive of perro (thus small dog or puppy) but appears on some menus (sometimes followed by caliente) as the term for hot dog, I guess a literal reverse translation; OTOH puerro is a leek
  22. pez refers to the animal (fish) vs pescado as the recipe ingredient (fish) and often a section of a carta
  23. boletus (a genus of mushroom-producing fungi) is often on menus rather than setas or champiñones or hongos (less common in Spain than elsewhere); generally setas are more “wild” (like porcini or Chanterelles) and champiñones are more cultivated (like button or cremini); hard to say what you’ll get and you might not like some fungi under a particular name
  24. ternera, usually translated as ‘veal’, may also be any cut from a cow, albeit typically from younger cattle
  25. vegetal can refer to vegetables sides or to the vegetarian dishes
  26. ventresca, nominally the belly portion of a fish and bonito (a specific type of fish) often can be referring to tuna (atún)
  27. de corral (literally of the ‘yard’ or ‘farmyard’) is the Spanish version of the trendy term ‘free range’, usually in reference to chickens
  28. calamares, sepia, chipirones, chopitos, puntillitas, quisquillas all refer to preparations of a squid-like animal with most the difference being size and source of the animal, or sometimes the method of preparation. rabas which is literally tails and most often since as rabo (sometimes with de buey) is ‘oxtail’ can also refer as “rings” of the squid body
  29. chuleta and chuletillas are both (usually) chops (aka ribs) with bone attached. The main difference is chuletillas are (typically) smaller (as implied by being a diminutive of chuleta) and usually in reference to unweaned animals (mostly lamb (lechazo) but might be suckling pig or veal)
  30. sausages go by a variety of names: embutido, salchicha, salchichón; sometimes chorizo is used generically to mean any sausage and worse sometimes morcilla is also used generically as sausage (or with misleading translated as pudding)
  31. the verb guisar (to stew) leads to several different terms for stews or stewed (as a modifier); guisad{a|o} is usually ‘stewed’ whereas guisos or guisotes are ‘stews’, but then estofado (from verb estofar which is also ‘to stew’ ) is also stew/stewed; menestra is sometimes used generically as stew, but it usually implies a vegetable stew and often a particular recipe.
  32. a la brasa (‘grilled’, usually directly over coals), a la parrilla (‘grilled’, usually on a grate over fire), a la plancha (‘grilled’, but on iron plate not directly over fire), ahumado (‘smoked’, not necessarily with cooking at same time), al carbon (cooked over charcoal); parrillada de X often appears and seems to be a serving of ‘grilled’ X (mostly likely vegetables rather than meat)
  33. Have fun figuring out bocadillos, bocaditos, bocados, bocatas and chapatas which are all some variation of “snacks”, usually in the form of sandwiches (usually small) with rolls or loaf bread rather than sliced bread. Just to make things more fun, pepito is a small meat sandwich (whereas pepita is a seed, or in Mexico a pumpkin seed)
  34. And don’t even get me started on the confusion between Spain and Mexico on: torta, tortitas, tostada, tostas and  especially tortilla and as previously mentioned empanada.

So I hope this post (plus the now updated glossary (merged these Palencia derived terms with the previous set) shows how much can be learned (and left as questions) by close examination of a bunch of menus. It may be a pain to do the tedious mechanical work but it all provides a lot of interesting exercises in trying to learn Spanish, specifically in food and Spain context.



Blog note

After consolidating terms from numerous menus, plus the recent post about restaurant terms, I substantially updated the page under the tab RESTAURANT PHRASES. The main change was the addition of a list of phrases which I’ll include here for convenience. Enjoy!


In this list the notation {x|y} means this word occurs with either x or y in this position, usually this is gender in adjectives, so {a|o}. [x] means optional, most often [s].

a elegir to choose [from]
a tu elección at your choice
acompañad{a|o}[s] accompanied
al centro in the center (of table, i.e. for sharing)
al estilo X in the style of X
al gusto to taste (doneness), i.e. cooked to order
al peso by weight
bebida[s] drinks
carta the a la carte menu
casa literally house, from this restaurant
caser{a|o} homemade
combinados combinations
degustación tasting/taste (often a separate menu)
del día of the day
diario daily (available item or open)
elaboración preparation
eliges tú los ingredientes you choose the ingredients
en temporada in season
entrantes starters (aka appetizers)
especialidad specialties
horario hours (as in when it is open)
incluid{a|o}[s] included
ingredientes ingredients
mesa table (different from tabla)
para acabar to finish (after main part of meal)
para comer to eat (main part of menu)
para compartir to share
para picar to nibble on (aka snacks or appetizers)
por encargo on request
postres desserts
precio[s] price
primeros [platos] (primer) first course
segundos [platos] second course
selección/seleccionado selection/selected
servido [con] served [with]
surtido assortment
tabla board/plank or platter (usually an assortment, often of ham)
unidad unit (abbreviation uds)
vari{e|a}d{a|o}[s] assorted, varied, variety

Too many menus, too little time

I’m only about five miles away from León (on my virtual trek, previously mentioned) where I’m bound to find a lot of online restaurant menus so I’ve been rushing to finish my list from the city of Palenica. I can work on the menus in bits and pieces, extracting and formatting the material into my source files and then analyzing the entries, doing lookups and searches on terms that machine translations handled badly. This isn’t easy and beyond mere mechanical, sometimes, but I can pick it up and put it down, thus squeezing this work into crooks and crannies of my day.

But the real work, actually generating a corpus and then, even more, creating the software to collate all this and actually create a Spain food translator that is far better than the extant machine translations requires a really concentrated effort and so I’ve essentially done none of this. I have to remember what it was like to work hard all day long on this kind of task, day after day, as I did when I was in a real job of software architect. But I find I can never get around to this for a “fun” project.

In between is writing these posts. I can’t do that in bits and pieces either. While a post is a shorter task I still require some concentration and focus, plus usually even more research. But that’s the good part. My quick cursory analysis of menus is sufficient to find specific translation issues for posts and thus, wanting to get it right in the posts, the need for more careful research and conclusions. And even though this may only be a few hours it’s hard to get that hunk of uninterrupted time. So my posts have really been infrequent.

I write the posts as part of a discipline to do this work more carefully. Knowing someone might notice my mistakes and then (and I’d love it if they did) comment as to my mistakes forces me to be more careful. Plus, sometimes, I try to tell more story than just the translations and that even enriches my data collection more.

So posts are great to do (and hopefully of some interest to you, Dear Reader) but it’s hard to get them done.

I have material for at least six posts about the menus from Palencia that I’ve studied. I really hope I can apply myself and get these posts done before I start digging in León menus.

So here are some restaurants you might find interesting. There were 159 restaurants in my starting list but I only looked at the ones with real websites (the Facebook sites are useless to my purpose and frankly, IMHO, worthless to a potential customer). Many of the websites then have little information and especially lack menus. Then often the menus are in two formats I just barely can use: 1) just images (i.e. no text to extract from browser so have to manually transcribe, hard to do accurately) or, 2) PDF’s. While I can usually (not always) get text from the PDF’s it: a) takes a lot of manual post-processing to organize, and, b) then it’s not easy to get Google translations (I have to build my own temporary webpage from the extracted and processed PDF information to let Google chomp on it), and, c) using Microsoft’s translation within MSWord is both a bit clumsier and overall somewhat inferior to Google (although in some cases it is better as well).

So my criteria for looking at restaurants in the following list has little to do with any sense of their quality or interesting cuisine. BUT, that said, usually I’ve found what appear to be the better restaurants often also have the better websites. I encourage them (not that any of them will be listening) to put more work in it. Perhaps for local clientele websites are not very important but for tourists I believe they’re beginning to be critical. I have another post about how I was persuaded to recently visit, even going out of my way, a particular restaurant in Ohio solely on the grounds of its website, although later learning it was also “rated” as one of the best in Columbus. And while pretty pictures of the food and glowing descriptions are nice online menus are far more important, again IMHO, for “selling” your restaurant to new customers.

So here’s the list I’ve processed, hopefully with stories to come when I can find the time for posts.

Bar Comedor El Garaje http://barelgaraje.es
Bar El Cobre https://barelcobrepalencia.es/
Casa Pepe’s http://casapepes.es/
Dominos (just wanted to compare to both US menus and local restaurants but some new vocabulary did appear) https://www.dominospizza.es/carta-de-pizzas
El Majuelo http://www.elmajuelopalencia.es
El Rincon de Istambul (interesting since they focus on Turkish food and so had non-Spanish items I had to look up) http://rincondeistambul.es
Gastrobar Donde Dani http://gastrobardondedani.es
Habana Cafeteria (interesting that a cafeteria has different selection which revealed some new terms) https://habanacafeteria.com
La Barra de Villoldo https://labarradevilloldo.com
Ponte Vecchio (interesting since they focus on Italian food and so had non-Spanish items I had to look up) http://www.pontevecchio.es
Restaurante – Cerveceria Las Hurdes http://cervecerialashurdes.com
Restaurante Asador Palencia La Encina http://www.asadorlaencina.com/es/palencia/
Restaurante El Brezo http://www.elbrezo.com
Restaurante La Cantara https://restaurantelacantara.com
Restaurante La Traserilla http://www.latraserilla.es/
Restaurante-Bar Mano http://barmaño.es
Restaurante-Cervecería Moesia https://moesia.es/


para picar and other restaurant phrases

Despite my lack of posts I have been continuing to study menus from restaurants in Spain, at the moment from a large list of restaurants in the city of Palencia. In that work I’ve thought of probably half a dozen posts I’d like to write. But posts are harder than study. I need concentrated time without interruptions and real focus. Study is mostly mechanical and I can do bits and pieces at a time, easily stopping and restarting later. I don’t know about you but I have to finish what I start, in one sitting, when it comes to posts. Of course 😉 if I did shorter posts maybe I wouldn’t have this problem. But, alas, I accumulate so much material it’s hard to neglect it all.

But there is a potentially relatively brief topic about some phrases one finds on many menus. The phrases are simple, but the literal translation of various machine translations aren’t very helpful. So let’s start with this one.

A menu was basically divided into three sections with these phrases (with Google translations):

para picar algo to chop something
para comer to eat
para acabar to finish

I doubt I’ll be doing any chopping while dining in a restaurant. Just para picar is more common than including the algo part, so what does this mean? para is just a preposition meaning ‘for’ or somewhat more helpful in this context ‘in order to’. picar has a host of meanings: to chop, mince, grind, cut, crush {to divide into pieces}; to sting, bite {by an animal}; to peck at {birds}; to break up (big pieces), chip (small pieces) {mining}; to punch; to needle {colloquial) to antagonize}; to spur on {horse racing}; to goad, prod {bullfighting}; to play staccato {music}; to rot, corrode, rust; to key in {computing} to eat, nibble on {(colloquial) to snack on}

Now we’re not bullfighting or mining or horse racing, so probably the sense related to eating best applies. While ‘to nibble on’ is the obvious dictionary definition to use the sense for this ‘to snack on’ probably fits best.

That then makes the following section, para comer (to eat) make more sense. After nibbling some snacks we’re ready for some serious eating. And para acabar precedes desserts, coffees and after-dinner drinks so that has an easy fit.

So let’s look at a few others which do translate reasonably well via machine literal translation:

a elegir to choose
para compartir to share
por encargo on request
a tu elección at your choice
eliges tú los ingredientes you choose the ingredients

Despite both a elegir and a tu elección having ‘choose’ or ‘choice’ they seem to have quite different purposes in menus. a elegir usually precedes a list where one may choose one item whereas a tu elección seems to allow one to “customize” an item.

And here are a few more

al peso

al peso usually is in the pricing section, i.e. one can order an amount (by weight) of something and then the price will be determined by that weight. casero or casera (if preceding a feminine noun) is quite common and best translates as ‘homemade’ although often the mechanical translations just say ‘home’ or ‘house’ (for those translations that “claim” context sensitivity, not word-by-word literal) but of course that is the word that is the stem of this, casa. While ‘homemade’ clearly means made in this establishment it doesn’t necessarily mean ‘made from scratch’, or, IOW, it may just be assembled from purchased elements.

And, even though this is another post, some menus like to use brand names as the simple label of the item, especially at one establishment for desserts. So I learned MAGNUM MOMENTS is not some strange loanwords in Spanish, but just a European brand of ice cream in a particular portion and COPA BRASIL or DELISS LATTE are the names of packaged ice cream treats. Literal translation (or no translation at all as Google stumbled on these) isn’t going to help you much in picking one.

There are other phrases I’ve encountered but these where just in a few of the menus from a couple of restaurants. Someday I’ll have to complete a full list.

At home menu to translate

Sometimes one doesn’t have to leave home to encounter menus that need translation. In this case the menu is German, not Spanish and in Omaha Nebraska, not Hamburg Germany where the chef trained for several years. One of our favorite restaurants, Dolce, has an inspired chef Anothony Kueper. He loves his usual menu but also loves to do special menus which he emails to his loyal fans.

In this case it turns out it was his wife’s birthday. And she is from Germany and much of her family came for her birthday. And Chef Kueper worked several years in a one-star restaurant in Hamburg (that gained its second star while he was working there). So it became his task to create a special menu, with wine pairings, for his wife and her family and then share it with his loyal customers.

Now frankly, originally I was completely unenthusiastic about this when my wife wanted to do it. I’ve made both business and recreational trips to Germany, and, well, uh, frankly, I wasn’t impressed with the cuisine. In fact, in my last trip for a week in Köln we ate most often at an Italian restaurant run by Bulgarians instead of the German selections.

But I was blown away by Chef Kueper’s dishes. As one of a few tables trying the special menu the chef came out to explain each dish. Of course, local is a big deal and it turns out via my wife’s connection to the state agricultural organization had actually visited several of these local suppliers. Being able to converse with the chef wasn’t critical to the meal (since the menu was fixed and we had no choices to make so translation didn’t really matter) BUT it certainly made the meal more interesting.

But the point of this post was my attempt to actually figure out what the menu items were! I know just a tiny bit of German but had little success reading the menu (like I got rotkohl and obviously spätzle). AND, critically, despite having considerable time between courses using a smartphone and its available resources only helped a bit in decided what the menu items were. When they actually arrived and were explained by Chef Kueper there was only a limited comparison to what I found on my phone, not contradictions per se (mostly) but just inadequate descriptions online. Had we had to make choices, especially with limited time to study a multi-item menu it would have been tough.

Since my blog is about food in Spain a bunch of German translations are irrelevant but just for fun I’ll list the items in the excellent meal we enjoyed:

Jakobsmuscheln · Zwiebeln
Saffran Soße · fritierter Spinat

Königsberger Klopse
Servietten Knödel · Kapern · Sahne

Tafelspitzsülze · Frisee
sauce vert · Ei

Spanferkel · Spätzle
Rotkohl · Apfelgelee

Schwarzwälder Kirschotorte

You can have fun trying to figure this out. The second item was amazing and the spanferkel (local, a supplier we’ve visited) was outstanding.