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.

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.


Entered León Province

I’m finally out of Palencia province and now in León province in autonomous community of Castile and León. “in”, of course, is to be taken figuratively, not literally, as I just finished enough miles on treadmill in the basement to reach Sahagún, the first town along the Camino on east side of León province. 259.98 miles from the start. That’s not many miles for ten months but I’ll also hit another milestone of 6000 miles on stationary bicycle which isn’t too shabby, in fact, more than I used to do for real when I lived in California and real biking outside was feasible.

Now my “progress” on the virtual trek is boring content so I’d hoped to bring you some new tidbits of information about menus, but, alas I couldn’t find any. Between Trip Advisor and Google I had nearly 20 candidate establishments who have food but none have any online menus. Thus I have no source material to examine. And while the pictures (from the few web sites) or geo-located on Google show plenty of food there are no words. This is disappointing since all the small towns all through Palencia haven’t had menus to translate. I didn’t even see a photo of the blackboards outside restaurants that frequently are menus. And the only photo I found of a menu was the English menu and thus not interesting.

So rather than leave you with nothing about translations I also found the 15 most interesting things to do in Sahagún (effectively all related to religion) and so extracted a few words. Silly me for not knowing Iglesia since it is rather common.

Arte Sacro Sacred Art
Castillo Castle
Iglesia Church
Carcel Jail
Monasterio Monastery
Museo Museum
Oficina Office
Palacio Palace
Puente Bridge
Ruta Route
Santuario Sanctuary
Semana Santa Holy Week
Turismo Tourism

So the trek across Castile is still rather boring so I’m actually glad I’m only doing the virtual version.

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.