Beef by any name is ???

One of the fun things about trying to study menus in Spain is figuring out the correct terms for ‘beef’. Here is the USA, and especially in Nebraska, the second largest beef producing state in the USA (surprise, Texas is first, obviously, but what about Montana or Colorado?), it’s just beef (and if beef, as in a steak, is not explicitly stated it can be safely assumed).

Now the cuts of beef (or any meat) is yet another subject, most menus include ‘beef’, but what do they call it. It’s almost always “grilled” (various names for that) either on a hot iron cooking surface or over coals on a grate. IOW, it’s some kind of steak and as best I can tell, from looking at photos and reading descriptions, it’s more or less the generic “steak” (almost certainly beef in the USA). It’s hard to tell from the menu whether you’d get an old tough piece of cow (most likely) or something a little better. Of course in beef crazy parts of the USA there are lots of terms as well.

But is beef just beef and it doesn’t much matter, i.e. red meat cooked fairly rare. Now Spain certainly has an ample supply of lamb (lots of names for that) or pork (uncured, fairly simple, i.e. cerdo and cured, well, lots of names for that).  If you’re not avoiding red meat you’re fairly safe getting almost anything that is “grilled” (mistakenly often called barbecued in the USA, which is rarely the case, since real BBQ is something entirely different, both the meat itself and the method of cooking).

The most common term (from my non statistically significant analysis) is ternera , which most dictionaries would call ‘veal’. But this is not really veal as we’d think of it, especially relevant to Italian style veal preparations. In Spain this seems to just be, mostly, a young cow, not the anemic milk-fed very young calf you might think of as veal.

Now as an outsider (and not as a butcher or rancher) I believe ternera is just a young cow, not much different from feedlot beef in the USA. Any USA producer of beef faces the issue that at some point you’re spending more money to keep a cow alive than that cow is gaining in commercial meat, so most feedlot beef is actually fast growing young cows. It is more gourmet (and much more expensive) to have more mature, larger cows, especially “free range” (I’ve sometimes seen terms that imply this in Spain) or even more expensive “grass fed”. So my guess is that ternera is most restaurants is not much different than generic “beef” one would find in the USA.

Now terms for beef in Spanish are also complicated because some of the countries in Western Hemisphere, esp. Argentina, are big beef producing (and consuming) countries and so you may encounter terms for beef, in dictionaries or web searches, that would rarely apply in Spain. But here are a few I’ve managed to collect:

carne vacuna: beef
Ternera de leche: veal
Añojo or ternera: 1-2 years old
Novillo: 2-4 years old
Buey: castrated male over 4 years old
Vaca: female over 4 years old
Toro: uncastrated male over 4 years old

Now vaca is somewhat common (in my sample of menus in Spain) and is, by dictionary lookup, just ‘cow’, i.e. again beef.  buey is less common, but as per the definitions above that’s because it’s from an older animal and thus probably even more expensive, even though it’s also probably tougher (to a degree tender and tasty are conflicting terms when it comes to beef).

The other term one finds, not in the list above, is de res which seems difficult to define and also is less commonly used in Spain.

But one amusing difference in Spain than the USA is that rather old cows seem to be an especial treat (when done properly). Apparently Spain imports older cattle and fattens them up. When you see photos of the raw cut of meat the fat is thick and very yellow compared to the usual whiter fat. I suppose I could be sold on this as an interesting meal, but it doesn’t sound likely. So while chuleton is common (for the older cows) you also encounter what may be very specialized term of txuleton (the Basque equivalent and likely even less common except in northern Spain).

Now as to eating toro I’ll leave that to others. I suppose Spain has to do something with all those bulls killed in the ring but I can’t imagine this would be a top-notch culinary experience.

So back to ternera – why is that so common? I’ve seen two explanations: 1) younger cows are butchered to reduce the chance of having mad cow disease, plausible but the term itself is older than the concern over mad cow disease, and, 2) that raising cattle to older age isn’t very compatible with the agriculture in Spain, either as “free range” and/or “grass fed” which is an expensive (and land intensive) way to get good beef, so really the economics and process of raising cattle in Spain, somewhat like feedlots in USA, encourages early “harvest” of the animal to human food.

While a simple grilled steak may be a “safe” choice at a Spanish restaurant I wouldn’t expect that to be a very desirable selection. The roast lamb almost certainly seems more delectable.

Probably by any name (and cooking technique) the various terms for beef will put on your plate something you can eat as a good protein source (assuming you even can stand red meat, avoid any of these terms if you don’t like meat) and maybe sometimes it will be a tasty choice. Coming from a part of the USA (originally Texas, now #2 in beef Nebraska, famous for its steakhouses) I imagine I’d always find this edible (and some “beef” I had in Germany was dubious as edible) so probably it’s hard to tell from just the menu alone the quality of the beef you’ll be eating.

 

 

 

 

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Last 100km + some menu translations

It’s been a while since I’ve made any posts related to the primary purpose of this blog, which is analyzing menus in Spain in order to construct a translation application.  So now I’ll do a quick return to that kind of post.

In order to explore restaurants in Spain (and as an incentive to keep churning out miles on my treadmill in the basement) I’m converting exercise miles into locations along the Camino de Santiago and today I’ve reached the very last place you can start a trek and still qualify (need at least 100km) for a Compostela which looks to me to imply starting the Portomarín, at least along the route of Camino Frances and that’s where I just arrived after my 436.1 miles of virtual trek. Actually I think this remaining distance is probably some of the better real trek even if it is only a few days.

And there, in this relatively small town I also found a good restaurant, in Portomarín to consider for understanding menus and then relating a couple of points to you, Dear Reader. So I have to honor copyright and not put other people’s pictures in my posts I strongly suggest you go to maps.google.com and use this search “O Mirador, Portomarín, Spain”. Not to be plugging this restaurant but there are over a thousand photos accessible through the Google Maps site and lots of pictures of zamburiñas which Google Translate doesn’t understand, despite these being very common and popular in Galicia as well as an icon of the entire Camino pilgrimage.

Now the main way I study menus is to extract them into some working documents I created and then get the Google Translation. Generally GT does fairly well but it also misses or botches some terms. That then sends me into my research, using various dictionaries and food sites and just plain old searches to get clues to figure out a better (as needed) translation of the menu items. So for instance, zamburiñas which Google Translate doesn’t know Google search can easily find and even reference a Wikipedia article for ‘variegated scallop’. First in my search results is an article in Spanish, Diferencias entre vieiras y zamburiñas, which is quite helpful.

When I started this project over a year ago I actually knew no Spanish. I ignored advice to actually learn Spanish since I was convinced I could succeed without doing that. But as I admitted in earlier posts I realized the advice was right and so I’ve actually been plowing through learning the language, so in fact, I could mostly translation this key sentence (from the article above): Las zamburiñas son de unas dimensiones más reducidas comparado con las vieiras. Which of course doesn’t mean much unless you know (in addition to the other words) that vieira is the conventional term of ‘scallop’, that is the typical standard size (and the source of the shells on all the peregrino’s packs or on the trail signs).  So in case you can’t read the sentence (even though it’s got a lot of cognates to English) it just means that zamburiñas are much smaller vieiras. What that doesn’t tell is that these are quite popular (and widely available) in Galician and the ones shown in the photos connected with O Mirador make it clear (and persuasively looking delicious as well).

Now let’s consider the restaurant’s name. One of the menu items, Parrillada O Mirador, which Google translates as ‘Grill O Lookout’ is the typical highly literal translation GT does, without paying any contextual attention to the discourse, i.e. O Mirador is the name of the restaurant and parrillada is a diminutive term you more frequently see, which is parrilla, which is one of several terms that gets loosely translated as ‘grilled’ (usually with a la preceding it). In contrast with a la plancha which is also usually translated as ‘grilled’, plancha is usually an iron flat (i.e. the flattop grill in many restaurants) and parrilla is an actually grate over a wood or charcoal fire and thus what most of us home cooks would consider “grilled”.

Fine, but what about mirador being translated as ‘lookout’. This is why I want you to do the Google search and see the photos. spanishdict.com translates mirador as either ‘enclosed balcony’ or ‘lookout’ which it turns out, from photos, both equally apply. This restaurant is at the top of a hill overlooking the river and adjacent valley, but it also has a wraparound enclosed balcony for dinners. Looks like a fun place.

I had planned on covering some more interesting bits from the menu but I’m out of time (other duties call) and so I close with the promise that I’ll get back to writing about menus (yeah, sure).

Still plugging along

Despite a lack of posts recently I’m still around and plugging along on my virtual trek. I seem to have injured my left toes so I had to back off on intensity of workouts. So to get roughly the same amount of calories burned I have to go a longer distance so actually my pace has picked up a bit. So I’ve reach 427.0 miles and seem to be near the tiny village of Peruscallo heading to Morgade. The Camino, since Ponferrada seems to have nicer facilities and certainly has nicer scenery. The comparable here would be like going east where it has more precipitation. Instead of looking like western Nebraska now this part of Galicia looks a lot like northern Missouri, the natural environment that is since the human part looks nothing like anything around here.

So in keeping with the thread of this post I’ll add a few more trail pictures of an area that is radically different than anything you’d find on the Camino.

First up, here’s the trail (this one I’ve actually walked):

This is the St. Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park in Texas. You can see a few people on the trail headed into the canyon. The trail only goes a relatively short distance before a deadend but is a spectacular hike. Often you can also see many canoes on the river, which just happens to the the Rio Grande. IOW, the left side of the picture is Mexico. If the insane and ugly wall ever got built they couldn’t put it in the middle of the river so instead this trail would be lost forever (or have a gate in the wall so tourists can visit but then what’s the point of a wall with a hole in it).

So here’s an image of where the cars go (you could hike that road but I wouldn’t advise it).

Same river and you’re looking north, the USA side. Now try to imagine where you’d put a wall there. And no one would ever get to enjoy this spectacular sight-seeing drive in Texas.

Now the previous two pictures are along the river where there is a lot of greenery. But just a bit further north (and in this case also west) this is more what this area looks like:

I never really cared for or appreciated deserts until I visited the Big Bend area but it can be quite spectacular. At this time of year there are few flowers but on my first visit it had been an unusually wet winter and the wildflowers were overwhelming and gorgeous. Many places you can just walk out in the desert (outside the US National Park and the Texas State Park it’s all private land and not advisable to walk as locals don’t care for strangers and everyone has guns). But you have to be really careful and watch your step, first to avoid damaging the quite fragile growing things, but also, since almost every growing thing has thorns to avoid damaging yourself!

BTW: In case you’re wondering about my learning Spanish and studying menus in Spain, yes, I’m still doing it. In fact I’ve reached level 22 in Spanish at Duolingo.