A simple hostal menu

I picked up my virtual trek pace a bit and so zoomed out of León. The GPS trace I found online splits just west of León and merges again at Hospital de Órbigo, about 20 miles from middle of León. I “took” the northern route and so passed through Villadangos del Paramo. There I found Hostal (guesthouse or hostel) Libertad (freedom or liberty) which has an embedded restaurant. While there was no website or online menu there was a photo of the menu on a chalkboard. I decided it would be interesting if I could translate it myself without the aid of any machine translation. However it was a bit of a ‘cheat’ because the menu had some minimal English translation also written in.

I don’t normally reproduce images in my posts that I find via Google Maps. But this is a simple image and I’m not appropriating any intellectual property by posting it. Furthermore if any of you Dear Readers happen to pass through Villadangos del Paramo I’m probably the Hostal Libertad, which I assume they won’t mind.

Somehow, after running this image through Photoshop and then WordPress it’s not as clear as I saw, but it gets the point across. It’s a bit difficult to read the handwritten script under the best of cases. But also I had a tough time distinguishing a’s for e’s. So the point is, really, that one needs to know the words internally so an ambiguous writing of the word still gets through.

So anyway here’s the fairly simple menu:

Menú del día    10€

That’s not too bad if the portions are large to feed a hungry pilgrim who’s just walked 25km.

(Pan, bebida, postre y café)

Great, I wonder what the drink (bebida) and postre (dessert) really are.

Horario: 13:00-16:00 / 19:00-23:00 h

Interesting, late lunch and late supper.

OK, in the table below is the Spanish (my transcription from the chalkboard, with a few spell checks against Spanish dictionaries), this restaurant’s terse English and my translation (machine and human) and some comments:

Lentejas estofades Lentils stew of lentils (I suppose I can’t imagine lentils anyway except a stew)
Ensalada mixte Mixed Salad mixed salad
Puerros con vinagreta Leeks vinaigrette leeks with vinaigrette
Espagueti con atún Espeguetti with tuna (the writer doesn’t know spaghetti is the translation) spaghetti with tuna
Merluza en salsa Hake in sauce hake in sauce
Lacón con pimientos pork (illegible, not visible on chalkboard) pork shoulder
Huevos fritos con salchicha Fried eggs with sausage fried eggs with sausage
Fritos de pescado Fried eggs (illegible, all not visible on chalkboard, but what I can see is wrong) fried fish

These are all quite ordinary items so I’d choose:  Espagueti con atún (a bit of carbo loading if doing long walk) and Lacón con pimientos. I suppose this is all filling enough to make up for a moderate calorie burn of 200cals/mile and 15 miles. But think about, typical human needs about 2000 calories/day just to stay alive, so this meal is not going to provide enough of the daily + exercise requirements.

Hey Joost (from the movie The Way) what else did you eat and not lose any weight.





a consultar about cecina

Even though I’ve now marched past León on my virtual trek I’m slowly plodding through the restaurant menus I found there. One menu, for the restaurant attached to Royal Collegiate of Saint Isidoro Hotel, has an English version as well as the Spanish. This is relatively rare and provides a unique opportunity to compare online machine translation of Spanish to the same material written in English. Of course, and as I found, the English text on a webpage may be different than the Spanish; after all it is aimed at a different audience and probably is not just a translation from the Spanish. Nonetheless a careful analysis may provide some interesting clues.

So I’ll start with a menu phrase, a consultar, which appears in three places (Spanish in first column, Google Translate in second, English from the website in third):

Pescado del Día (a consultar) Fish of the Day (to consult) Fish of the Day
Postre del día (a consultar) Dessert of the day (to consult) Dessert of the day
Domingo: Arroz / Fideuá (A consultar) Sunday: Rice / Fideuá (On request) Sunday: Rice / Fideuá (To consult)

Now consultar is a typical Spanish verb which has various meanings (the sense of the literal translation (in black) is marked in green:

  1. to consult (to seek advice from) (to refer for information to)
  2. to discuss with (to talk about)
  3. to look up (to look for)

or (Google translations of Spanish definition in green)

  1. Pedir información, opinión o consejo sobre una determinada materia (Ask for information, opinion or advice on a certain subject)
  2. Buscar información en una fuente de documentación (Search information in a documentation source)

Note that Google translated this differently as either ‘to consult’ or ‘on request’. Now to my sense the ‘on request’ makes less sense, either compared to dictionary definitions or that  por encargo is more common on menus for ‘on request’. Unfortunately the author of the English part on the website doesn’t provide an English equivalent in two cases and ‘to consult’ (the most literal translation) in the third.

So we’re really left without a good English equivalent. I would submit ‘ask your server’ as the common phrase you’d see in USA for these items. IOW, the X del día is a common phrase (less so in Spain) and ‘of the day’ in the USA. In most cases it means what the chef was interested in making today or what ingredients might have been available. So the customer can’t know, from the menu, what the item is and thus has to ask (btw, I don’t think this is the same as the “specials” often rattled off by servers so that wouldn’t be my preferred translation.).

So if I’m right (and I am getting the context right, if not the translation) this presents another interesting flaw in my project. There is NO way to read the menu and determine what this item is – you will have to speak to the server or the chef to find out and, of course, that requires some amount of fluency in both speaking and hearing Spanish (perhaps another type of aided communication app on a smartphone might work but unlikely the server would know how to use it; I tried this in China and totally confused a cab driver). My sister dismissed the idea of my project in lieu of just learning to speak and hear Spanish conversationally and maybe focus a bit more of restaurant and food vocabulary. I think this is a fine idea, but: a) it takes a lot of work I’d prefer software to do, and, b) I’ve actually tried and for some reason, despite modest fluency in a couple of other languages than English I just cannot hear Spanish (the sounds and the speed really confuse me, I watch movies with subtitles and rarely “hear” words I even know and know, from the subtitles, were in the audible portion). And like the jokes some more Spanish fluent people made about my sister my pronunciation would be awful and at minimum irritate a native Spanish speaker or very likely totally confuse them. So I have to try to continue on my path of using software (not brainware) to navigate menus. Perhaps I’ll just have to skip the del día items or perhaps see them on another table and point.

So on to cecina.

This is a common item on menus I’ve encountered before but it tends to be more feature on menus in Castilla y León. In fact this geographical interest is so strong there is also the specific Cecina de León, an IGP (Indicación Geográfica Protegida, EU equivalent protected geographical indication).  This specific item even has its own website (https://www.cecinadeleon.org/) explaining how it must be produced.

It’s not actually a mystery of what this is (although for a long time it was unavailable in the USA; oh, and now it appears actual cecina from Spain is still not available in USA so this is an imitation made in the style of León) but now you can buy it online where it is described:

Tender sliced cured beef with a deep red color and rich smoky flavor is León’s answer to jamón. This is cecina, a premium cut of beef cured with sea salt and smoked over oakwood with no preservatives. Cecina is Spain’s culinary secret, just as worthy of culinary acclaim as Spain’s famous hams. And like jamón, over thousands of years the people of Spain have transformed the curing of beef from a necessity to an art, creating a delicate, flavorful meat unlike any other in the world.

In another article I was saw it described as ‘chipped beef’ which would possibly be close but certainly an insult to this seriously expensive dried meat.

So, what should the translation be? Or is this one of those terms, say like chorizo or lomo, that you just have to know what it is?

But Google thinks it has the answer. Most of the time (and often it doesn’t translate cecina at all) Google thinks it is ‘jerky’. While the official description about its elaboración (method/recipe of production) has various similarities to most recipes for making jerky the best descriptions I can find is that jerky is not that equivalent.

So what does the English version of the menu at this restaurant say? Here are a couple of references, again with Spanish in first column, Google Translate in second and website English translation in third:

Ofrecemos servicios de corte de jamón/cecina, quesos artesanos al corte, cervezas artesanas… We offer ham / cecina cutting services, cut artisan cheeses, craft beers … We offer professional ham / beef jerky cutting services, sliced local artisan cheeses, craft beers and more.

Note that in this case Google didn’t translation cecina at all but the website does refer to it as ‘beef jerky’ and the human translation otherwise seems very close to the original Spanish.

And another reference:

Lunes: Salmorejo con Cecina IGP. Monday:  Salmorejo with Cecina IGP. Monday: Salmorejo with Smooked Beef  IGP.

Note that ‘smooked’ is in the menu itself as is another typo ‘Thuesday’ which certainly makes it look likely this is the work of a person.

And then our final reference:

El menú del cabildo es una
salmorejo de tomates de mansilla con cecina IGP, puerros de sahagun, escalibada de pimientos del Bierzo…
The menu of the cabildo is a
salmorejo de tomates de mansilla with cecina IGP, leeks of sahagun, escalivada of peppers of the Bierzo …
The Cabildo menu is a proposal ‘Salmorejo’ or cold-tomato soup made with local ‘Mansilla’ tomatoes and beef-jerky, ‘Sahagun’ leeks, ‘Escalivada’ or roasted vegetables on flat rustic bread and made with local ‘Bierzo’ peppers…

So here we see beef jerky again. So either the author believes calling it jerky will best describe it to an English speaking person or they had to use some dictionary lookup, which, btw, lists: ‘smoked’, ‘cured’ and ‘salted’ meat (each as a separate term when the elaboración explains ALL these steps are involved in creating cecina).

Now the imitation online stuff refers to cecina as “The “beef version” of jamón” and the picture shows a solid piece of meat whereas the elaboración  is quite clear the meat must be thinly sliced before any other processing so a solid ham-like chunk certainly doesn’t match the IGP definition.

And, finally, our sometimes reliable English version of Wikipedia adds this information in its description:

is made by curing beef, horse or (less frequently) goat, rabbit, or hare

Emphasis on ‘horse’! Since I’ve also found this item on a different León menu: Cecina de Burro. Now burro might be a brand or a geographical reference but it might also be, in fact its literal translation, ‘donkey’.  Pure beasts, work in the hot sun and when they’re worn out they end up on the table – no thanks.

So finally I might end up calling cecina “thin slice of mystery meat cured in salt, then dried (by heat or sun) and (usually, but not always) smoked”. So I think a consultar ties in nicely with cecina and strongly recommends spoken fluency to find out what you’re eating (or at least know the phrase ¿Qué animal es este de.

Quick progress note: Passed León

I haven’t found time to do any posts (nor much menu research) but I have managed to keep plodding away on virtual trek and thus have “zipped” (a highly relative term) past León without commenting on a single restaurant. So 298.8 miles on foot and 6832.2 on bike (unfortunately exercise equipment not the more fun real thing).

My initial research to develop a list of restaurants with online menus was disappointing. My simplistic notion was that León was a large and sophisticated city and thus more likely to have upscale restaurants than previous cities along the Camino. But the initial results proved that assumption wrong.

I’ve developed a new technique, at least for cities, to find online menus. Instead of using Google Maps (works for smaller towns with just a few restaurants) I now use one of the crowdsource rating sites (to avoid a plug I won’t mention which). While I’ve had enough experience with rankings in USA restaurants I can visit to be skeptical of rankings they generally correlate. However, better ranked restaurants are not necessarily more likely to have websites or especially online menus.

So combining all the factors my list of menus to investigate, for León, is no larger than my list from Palencia (source of my previous posts). This is surprising since León is about three times the population. That said, León has less population than the second largest city in my midwest flyover state (Lincoln, Nebraska) and significantly smaller than my home city (or Columbus Ohio where I recently dined and have yet to post). So perhaps it’s not too surprising León doesn’t have that many larger restaurants that have online menus.

Now a question might be, what good does it do a restaurant to bother with an online menu? I think that in the USA it’s quite important but apparently that belief isn’t (at least fully) shared in Spain. This suggests to me comensales (guests) are more likely local and don’t decide where to eat based on websites. For my purpose it’s disappointing because I don’t get more diverse source material. What I have already learned is that restaurant food terminology is highly variable, by region or location, in Spain and thus to obtain the best corpus to generate my translator needs content from a geographically broad selection. But, obviously restaurants don’t have (or not have) online menus for that purpose.

So I have just begun to look at the León restaurant menus I did find. I’ve started in ranking order and thus hit two expensive and more sophisticated restaurants right away. Both have a strong showing in what would be labeled either as molecular gastronomy or modernist cuisine. So, despite a huge number of photos of a large number of dishes both of the top three restaurants only have a degustacion (tasting) menu online thus providing only a limited amount of raw data for my analysis and corpus.

So I can relate a few interesting translation issues (again this means where the machine translation, usually Google, doesn’t make the best choices, at least in menu context, or the terms on the menu don’t actually have a translation).

Menú seminal Weekly menu

This is the first time I’ve seen this on any menu even though it’s basically the same as degustacion (tasting) but with a time of year context, as they explain:

Nuestra oferta se compone exclusivamente de este menú degustación, que define la sensibilidad por la cocina y el respeto hacia el producto.

El ritmo frenético del mercado, propicia que en este menú entren y salgan productos constantemente, lo que impide en ocasiones que este siempre actualizado.

Our offer consists exclusively of this tasting menu, which defines the sensitivity for cooking and respect for the product.

The frenetic pace of the market, encourages this menu to constantly enter and exit products, which sometimes prevents it from being updated.

Note: Generally I’ve found that Google actually translates full sentence prose more effectively than the one line items on menus. Perhaps this does indicate their claim of using context actually does help.

So here are two items from this menu (the only restaurant in León with a Michelin star) that required more research than simple translation:

ciervo asado con castañas, patata y trompetas de los Muertos roasted deer with chestnuts, potatoes and trumpets of the dead
queso de El Palacio con brevas El Palacio cheese (artisan sheep cheese) with figs

In the first item ‘trumpets of the dead’ is actually a good translation but unhelpful. It turns out this is a particular type of mushroom (Craterellus cornucopioides) whose name stems from the fact that the edible one resembles a lethal one so I suppose this is a bit like eating fugu in Japan (which I’ve done and it was another bland white fish with a tiny bit of tingle). OTOH, queso de El Palacio is just a particular cheese that is a local specialty of León.

From another menu of the top-ranked restaurant, with more traditional Spain offerings rather than the Spain influenced modernist cuisine had a few carta (a la carte menu) and thus more content. Here are a couple of examples:


con huevo frito y pimentón


with fried egg and paprika

Pisto is just the name of a dish and thus one of those items, like gazpacho or paella, that really doesn’t have any kind of translation and thus one must know what it is. It is a vegetable stew (or thick sauce) that resembles ratatouille.



“como en Asturias”


“as in Asturias”

is another example of a particular dish, cachopo, that you just have to know what it is (Two large veal fillets and includes ham and cheese. The dish is eaten fried and hot after being breaded in eggs and breadcrumbs) before you decide to order it or not. Like most dishes there are multiple recetas (recipes) so often Google searches for a term like this will result in finding a receta instead of a description but if you’re a foodie that may be more helpful anyway.

LENGUA CURADA con lascas de queso y aceite de pimentón CURED LANGUAGE with cheese flakes and paprika oil

lengua is one of those words where the most probable literal translation is wrong in this context. In fact the most “obvious” literal translation is correct, i.e. ‘tongue’ which then can mean ‘language’. For menus it is ‘tongue’.


con langostinos


with prawns

Here Google had no translation but Google searches quickly revealed ‘velvet crab, Necora puber‘. As an informal observation, especially in regards to seafood, I’ve noticed that the Spanish term often is directly derived from the scientific (Latin) name of the creature. So as a hint this might be a good place to start searching.

And this one was probably the worst (least helpful) translation:


al Prieto Picudo


to Prieto Picudo

I can’t even quite decide why the poor translation occurs as there is little literal connection. albóndigas is fairly common on menus (plus a cognate of its Italian counterpart) so one I immediately recognized as ‘meatballs’, although in some menus in Spain it may be an item closer to ‘meatloaf’. Nothing about it translates to either ‘device’ or ‘beds’. Likewise venado has a simple (and presumably correct in this context) literal translation of ‘deer’ or as also listed as a culinary sense, ‘venison’. So literal translation would be much more useful, in this case. But Prieto Picudo has no translation but is easily found via searches as a particular type of grape local to  Castile and León (DO Tierra de Leon).

And finally a term I’ve often seen that doesn’t appear in dictionaries but can be deduced if one knows about rules in Spanish for making diminutives from base words:


de conejo



Google failed to translation chuletillas but this I’ve previously found as the diminutive of chuleta (rib) so one can conclude these are simply small ribs, which would obviously be true when found a rabbit, but often this term is also used for very young (unweaned) lambs (lechazo or cordero lechal) or pigs (cochinillo or lechón) where leche (milk) is the key part of these terms.

So while I’ve fallen behind in posts at least I can provide a bit of information about food terms from León.