Finding verbs related to cooking

As you can see on the tabs above this post I have a list of verbs used in cooking, recipes, food and restaurants. Like many such lists I create these from all the lists I can find that other people make, consolidating many sources, some often wrong (spelling, definitions) and then looking words up in dictionaries, including the most authoritative until I think I have an accurate and comprehensive list. Needless to say this is a lot of work so if you look at my list you’ll see it’s mostly unfinished, but has a large number of verbs as candidates.

But is my list even complete? Even after combining all the sources I can find?

So in this post I’ll describe another way to find cooking verbs from original source textual material.

But first:

So I’ve wanted to get back and do more work on this blog, but alas for 898 days I’ve been almost totally occupied with trying to learn Spanish and it’s amazing that I never seem to have time to work on this blog, which, actually is more fun and potentially of benefit to others (my list of verbs is the third most referenced page on this blog; gradually my accumulated lists are being found by other people).

When I started this blog, with plan to build a portable app to decode menus in Spain, my sister said I couldn’t do that without learning Spanish. I was kinda sure that wasn’t the case (after all it is just solving a puzzle, don’t have to be able to speak or listen to do that). But I fell for her pitch and so got trapped in an almost endless cycle of all available time (really mental energy) going into learning Spanish. I won’t bore you with all that (or see other posts), but it is a trap, in that the more you learn, the more you forget and therefore have to do more drills to refresh your memory. Soon that becomes all consuming and thus other things fall to wayside.

Well, at least, as this exercise will show I got something from 898 days and over 200,000 individual drills. While my speaking is horrible and I can only understand clear and slow speech (and then only 70% of the words) my reading is not too bad. So I figure let’s use that a bit more to help with this blog.

I also realized, in previous tries at decoding menus, that actually one needs to know about the cuisine itself, the dishes, the ingredients, and how they are prepared. Even with words on a menu accurately translated there is more one needs to know in order to be able to order what you really want. And, duh, guess what the best way to do that is?

Read recipes in Spanish from Spain!

Now there is a trick to finding recipes in Spanish (as original language) but also for Spain (since food terminology in Latin America can be quite different). So don’t search with English queries! After a bit of experimenting I found

comida recetas en linea de espana

gets some good results (food recipes online from Spain, without the comida you get some strange results). So I’m going to spend a while with the results I’m getting from this but I want to start with a simple example.

Aguacates rellenos de pollo mechado (otherwise known as Avocados stuffed with shredded chicken). With simple word-for-word dictionary lookups of each word you might come close title (mechado as we’ll discuss is tough to understand) and this might sound good to try. (Question, are you eating some avocado or just using their skins as a bowel for the chicken? It there anything mixed with the chicken? Would you really want to order it?)

This just happens to be the first receta I picked (from RTVE’s recipe site (the public TV in Spain). So here is the preparation part of the recipe in original Spanish and with a Google translation I added.

Cocinamos la pechuga de pollo como más nos guste; al horno, a la plancha o cocida, y la mechamos con ayuda de dos tenedores.We cook the chicken breast as we like best; Baked, grilled or cooked, and we mix it with the help of two forks.
Abrimos los aguacates por la mitad, retiramos el hueso y, con ayuda de una cuchara, vaciamos parte de su pulpa para poder rellenarlos con facilidad.We open the avocados in half, remove the bone and, with the help of a spoon, empty part of its pulp to be able to fill them easily.
En un bol, machacamos la pulpa del aguacate que hemos retirado.In a bowl, we mash the pulp of the avocado that we have removed.
Picamos las hortalizas en brunoise y las mezclamos con el pollo mechado, la pulpa del aguacate, el cilantro, el maíz y la mayonesa.We chop the vegetables in brunoise and mix them with the shredded chicken, the avocado pulp, the coriander, the corn and the mayonnaise.
Para hacer la mayonesa, en un vaso de batidora disponemos los ingredientes. Introducimos la batidora de mano y comenzamos a batir sin mover la batidora, pegada al fondo.To make the mayonnaise, put the ingredients in a blender glass. We introduce the hand mixer and begin to beat without moving the mixer, glued to the bottom.
Cuando observemos que la emulsión comienza a crearse, comenzamos a hacer movimientos suaves hacia arriba y hacia abajo con la batidora de mano.When we observe that the emulsion begins to create, we begin to make smooth movements up and down with the hand mixer.
Rellenamos los aguacates con esta mezcla y ¡disfrutamos!We stuff the avocados with this mixture and we enjoy!

Now since it turns I can “read” (at least parse the sentences and know enough vocabulary) I’ve marked all the verbs, which is the point of this post, i.e. how to find verbs related to cooking. I think you should be able to do what I just did when you reach about the A2 level (basically one year of high school Spanish). To skip to the chase here are all the verbs (infinitive) that can be extracted from this receta:

abrir batir cocinar comenzar crear disfrutar disponer gustar hacer haber introducir machacar mechar mezclar mover observar pegar picar poder rellenar retirar vaciar

Of these verbs the ones marked would be likely in cooking prose and many of the others are either common verbs in Spanish (hacer, gustar, haber, poder) or used in many contexts other than cooking. IOW, if one is trying to accumulate a list using this approach (analyzing an appropriate corpus) you need to apply some human intelligence, which, thus as my sister claimed, requires some amount of fluency in the language. Of the verbs I marked, all are in my list at this blog, but finding them used in context can be helpful to focus on the translation most relative to comida.

In fact picar is a good example as the primary dictionary definitions are to sting, to itch, but in culinary context it is to chop, or as I have mentioned in previous posts in a restaurant setting the to peck (like a chicken) fits because this describes basically snacking finger-food appetizers. So context matters and dictionary lookups can be misleading (or what you learn in Spanish course that might be more likely to teach the more common meaning)

The Google translation is pretty good (given my ability to read the Spanish and compare) with just a couple of bad choices: while hueso has bone as primary translation, it is also pit which fits the context, The other two, pegada (stuck) and crearse (create) are a bit more subtle and I’ll cover those later. And vaso de batidora (blender glass) really takes some analysis as GT translation is very literal and not very helpful (we’ll cover this later as well)

Now I also marked a couple of words that are either not verbs or being used as verb in the context: for instance, in the first line ” con ayuda de dos tenedoresayuda is a noun (help), but it is also the third person singular present conjugation of ayudar (to help). Given subject pronouns are often omitted in Spanish, he helps would be translated just as ayuda. So how do you know whether it’s help the noun or help the verb? Context, which means some fluency in Spanish.

Another example is batidora, which is a case of making a noun from a verb root (IOW, knowing just verbs gives you a shot at guessing nouns). Most of the time a word ending in -dora is some kind of tool to do the action implied by the verb part, i.e. computadora, a tool that computes (computar), or in this case a tool that beats (batir).

con el pollo mechado and pegada show another common construct in Spanish. The past participle of a verb, for instance cocinado (cooked) from cocinar (to cook) can often be used as an adjective. Since the participle ends in -o, which is usually masculine, it becomes cocinada (feminine) when used with a feminine noun, which is why it’s carne asada and pollo asado, from asar (to grill). While mechado follows this pattern and gets translated (accurately) by Google as shredded, mechar is a bit mysterious to produce shredded. And pegada, used here as adjective, is really tricky, with -a there is dictionary entry of ‘punch’ (no fit in this context), but pegado is stuck or glued, from the verb pegar (to hit, to paste). So Google translated this as glued, which is kinda right, but this is referring to a mixing bowl and that one wants to have firmly “stuck’ to a surface so you can mix the stuff inside without the bowl spinning all around or sliding over the surface.

The point of a lot of these details I mention is that you can’t just grab a Spanish dictionary (in paper or on your phone) and type in a word and get a definition and, often, get a meaning that really tells you something. That’s why reading lots of recipes could help a lot to them reading menus. Menus don’t usually contain cooking instructions BUT they do often contain derivatives of verbs (as adjectives or nouns) to do tell you something.

So learning a selection of verbs, like from my list if I ever finish it, can help a lot in reading a menu.

And knowledge of Spanish help to figure out something like hemos retirado. Again, you might guess retirado is a past participle (and guessing it’s regular, thus the verb is retirar). Guess what, that’s right! retirar (to remove) is directly used in the instructions as the conjugated form retiramos, which (again missing subject pronoun, but deduced from conjugation is ‘we remove’). It’s interesting the style of writing this recipe used we do xxx a lot, which is a polite form of language (instead of the imperative, commanding you (the cook) to retira (if being familiar and addressing you as ) or retire (if being formal and addressing you as usted). This is also a good example of false cognate (not so obvious with retiramos, but you might guess retirado is retired and it’s not). Now hemos is the present we conjugation of haber, or we have. As in English this is one of the “moods” in Spanish (the perfect as calls it or Pretérito perfecto in Spanish). So I have removed and I removed (retiré or retiraba, which gets into the messy distinction between imperfect and preterite (both for action in the past) are different in Spanish, just as in English and have slightly different meanings.

And finally I’ll show off a bit more of 898 days of studying Spanish to explain poder rellenarlos. poder is used a lot in Spanish and basically means ‘to be able’ (aka ‘can’). But the -los on rellenarlos is one of those things that defeats looking up derivative words in a dictionary. The -los is for an indirect object pronoun, in this case, them, which we affix to the verb infinitve rellenar (to stuff). There is quite a bit of this in Spanish and it can be confusing.

For instance dámelo is three words stuck together (the accent just shows it’s not pronounced with the same stressed syllable as normal). is the imperative polite ‘you give’ (a command to you (usted) to give) from dar (to give); me is just me as the indirect object, and lo is just it (the object), IOW, give it to me. So, of course you can figure out that estas manzanas, dáselas is ‘those apples, give them to them’, right?

So why am I “showing off” so of what I learned and pretending I could teach you some Spanish. Instead of that interpretation what I am showing is how knowledge of the language does facilitate reading. Even if you don’t know all the root words in a piece of text (like cooking instructions) all these little bits of Spanish grammar and conjugation and sentence construction can let you find the words that really tell you something.

And for this post my lengthy discussion also demonstrates how to get a really good verb list – go through lots of recipes in tedious detail, finding verbs in context and then with a combination of the not-too-bad but often flawed Google translations and the rest of the context you can build up a reasonable corpus, i.e. the infinitive form of a verb and its (possibly multiples) meanings you extract from the translation and deduction.

So I’ll finish with something basic in this recipe, from its title; pollo mechado

mechado is the past participle (so -ed in English) of mechar. But a dictionary lookup of mechar (several good online dictionaries) doesn’t yield ‘to shred’. Instead you get to stuff, or to throw into, neither of which fit shredded very well. There is an additional meaning to lard that is intriguing (certainly sounds like a cooking term).

In fact from an excellent source I mention on my cooking verbs page, The somewhat crude Google translation yields this

At the time of wicking , holes are opened in the selected piece, and then they are filled, introducing in them foods that compensate for this tendency to dry out, usually bacon or bacon type fats , these are called wicks. Likewise, you can add elements that help make the piece tastier once cooked, such as aromatic herbs , vegetables, dried fruits, etc.

If you’re familiar with cooking, this is a description of the process of larding. Excellent, got it, but how does this get to shredding. The closest match in the dictionary (under culinary contexts) for ‘to shred’ is cortar en tiras (cut into shreds) or triturar (to grind).

Now in the past when dictionary searches fail to reveal a clue, I do just ordinary searches. Why try mechado , you’ll find a Filipino dish. So the best I could find, which fits this recipe is (from a user contributed site, just like this, attempting to explain Spanish phrases, but therefore often wrong)

Carne mechada is “pulled meat”…generally it is pork shoulder meat slowly cooked and then “mechada” (pulled) with a fork…like the pulled pork you put in a bun. Mechas is slang for hair threads….

It’s the ” y la mechamos con ayuda de dos tenedores ” in the first line (btw, that la before mechamos is not ‘the’, but an indirect pronoun it, which in this case precedes the verb, not affixed to it). So I guess. I have made pulled pork before, when the pork was too hot to shred by hand so I used forks, but wow, this one is tough. Given the “slang” is not used in Spain, presumably this must be a Latin American recipe.

All this work and now to summarize it all into a corpus and then do it a few hundred more times and I might be able to build a really good page that meanwhile a fluent Spanish speaker attending culinary school could create from memory.

p.s. In a little proof reading I notice I forgot to discuss nos guste (in the first line) so I’ll leave this as an exercise for the reader to deal with verb gustar and how to say you/someone/we likes/liked/will-like/would-like in Spanish. Hint it involved the rarely taught in beginner Spanish subjunctive mood conjugation, but the often taught reflexive form.

te gustarás esta entrada de blog, sí

and you will say, por supuesto, excelente, me encanta.

Back to Menus in Spain, Part 1 (Ponferrada)

This is another post of how I keep switching my focus from the original intent of this blog (which documents a project I’m doing) and I’m coming full circle back to my original studies.

638 days ago I switched my focus on studying menus in Spain to actually learning Spanish. Many people said: a) I couldn’t read menus without knowing Spanish, and, b) knowing Spanish means I could read menus. After 43 months on this project I’m prepared to conclude: a) one can read menus just fine with only rudimentary Spanish, a good dictionary, Google Translate and searches for hard to find difficult terms, and, b) knowing Spanish, at least through all the learning techniques I’ve tried does relatively little in helping to read menus (and for that matter, in discussing them with the camarero unless you get a lot better at the speaking part of a new language than I have).

In the 638 days learning Spanish, despite my conclusion it isn’t much help in reading menus, I’ve tried many different ways to learn. My primary work (at least an hour a day average) is Duolingo (which is actually fairly similar to other online learning tools, I’ve sampled most of those) and I’ve now completed all of the drills (L5) in about 2/3rds of the lessons (aka skills) for something in excess of 100,000 individual drills!

Meanwhile many advocate doing reading instead and so I have numerous books (or online stories I’ve found) where I’ve tried both “intensive” and “extensive” reading (not worth explaining). Later I found lots of online listening exercises including a couple of great podcasts and several great YouTube tutoring exercises. And I finally I’ve now finished Spanish 1 (somewhere between CERF A1 and A2) with 30 2-hour live sessions (in Zoom mostly with a native Spanish speaking tutor).

In short, about the only thing more I could do is pack and move to Spain, to some small town, where no ones knows any English and I’d have to speak/understand Spanish exclusively. So, IOW, my efforts are certainly equivalent to at least one high school year of Spanish, maybe a bit more. And, this is not a lot of help reading menus.

And since the teacher for my live classes was in Mexico and providing a lot of Mexican life (not just Spanish) including food and dining I began to get more interested in menus in Mexico. I like (and know from US experience) Mexican food better than Spanish, but I did acquire multiple Spain cookbooks (as well as two extensive cooking/recipe online sites) and even growing Padrón peppers in our garden and learning to prepare them as in a common appetizer in Spain. So I started to look at menus in Mexico, but: a) fewer restaurants (at least Mexican food) have online menus to study, and, b) so many of the terms on menus are either native language (or derivatives) and thus not in any Spanish dictionary, including the official one, and/or the terms are just very unique to Mexico and might not even apply to other Spanish speaking countries, say Colombia, where I’ve also been studying an excellent cooking and recipe site.

And, for some other post in detail, but a brief mention here, I’ve gotten very burned out on all this study, plus I beat myself up for all the mistakes I continue to make (of things I’ve “learned” but still often get wrong). It’s frustrating to me that for something half a billion people easily do I struggle. I admit to having zero talent for languages, plus I can fall back of the being old (actually really old for this point) and that learning a new language is easier for the young.

But the key point is that it’s not much fun anymore. And, in comparison, I didn’t get tired of reading menus. All this Spanish study consumes almost all the energy I have and therefore I’ve essentially stopped working on my original project, i.e. building a software tool to “translate” menus in Spain, which I’ve also learned can’t really be done, since it’s not just words (to English words, even counting grammar and structure), but you have to include Spanish cuisine as well to understand a menu since many dishes have no English (at least USA) counterpart.

BUT, I remain undaunted on trying anyway.

So for all these reasons I’m back to studying menus in Spain and thinking about how to create my corpus to feed my specialized translation tool I still hope to create.
So with all this as background I’m going to do a series of posts as elaboration of the background material, starting with some menus in Ponferrada Spain, an interesting city along the Camino de Santiago. I hope, Dear Reader, you’ll could along for the ride for perhaps more interesting material than this preface.

Repurposing this blog

I started this blog in 2017Dec with a narrow purpose of documenting my development of a sufficient corpus of menu terms, focused on Spain, in order to develop a translation aid. This is still my interest but due three years of work AND recent circumstances I’ve broadened my interest.

I started with the assumption I could achieve my goal without actually learning Spanish. While I still believe that is possible I nonetheless decided to try to learn Spanish, which despite being a fairly easy language to learn, my several previous attempts completely failed. I’ve reported some progress on this goal (i.e. going reasonably well) already so I won’t repeat. However my study methods have steadily progressed now including a two-hour weekly class, moved to Zoom which means I now have the access for all types of study, including interaction conversation.

So all that, plus the COVID outbreak, has induced me to reconsider my goals and thus the purpose of this blog.

I had assumed, nearly three years ago, that by now I would have actually made a real trip to Spain to put my effort to test. Since I wouldn’t be doing travel alone I’d also had to compromise my travel plan (small villages in the vicinity of the Camino de Santiago to really get immersed, avoid the tourist spots (mostly) where Spanish would be irrelevant) to a more typical tourist plan (big cities, especially Barcelona where Catalan would be more useful), in fact, so watered down it wasn’t very appealing any more.

The prospect of a less interesting (to me) trip to Spain triggered a brief interest in going to Ecuador as neither of us have ever been in the southern hemisphere and thus it became a jointly interesting alternative. For me, while Ecuador has plenty of tourism, it looked like being able to communicate in Spanish would be more important in Spain, especially since that trip’s agenda had become the places where English would be widely spoken.

But, alas, we’re happy we didn’t book our trip, tentatively for April 2020, back in the fall of 2019. Who could have predicted travel would be almost completely shutdown! And Ecuador, in addition to previously unexpected economic problems (and thus social disruption) had a fairly severe outbreak. Being old enough to be in the more vulnerable age group and uncertain how our adequate (at home) health insurance would have worked in Ecuador I’m happy we didn’t stranded there, and, sad we didn’t get to have that experience.

So on rethinking possible travel plans I began to reconsider Mexico, specifically Oaxaca. Mi esposa has already been there and loved it. In turn I learned that driving around there was reasonably doable, which is important to me as I like to explore the countryside, not just hang where all the other tourists are. So if I can take a long walk, at least I can get out and given my main GPS can be adapted to Mexico we could even do some geodashing. At the time of this new trip planning: a) it looked like Mexico was actually doing better with COVID than the USA and literally Oaxaca could be safer than Iowa (where our favorite and very authentic Mexican restaurant is and was closed, and, b) that most countries would get COVID under control so that travel would be possible again in 2020.

But that isn’t to be either. Mexico now has high growth rate in cases and, of course, the USA, due to its extremely unwise policy of re-opening too soon is spiking again, quite possibly even worse than the first wave, possibly leading the other countries banning us from entering their countries as disease carriers which would very likely include Spain and perhaps even Mexico. I can’t exactly go on a three week vacation (probably the longest we can muster) and spend two weeks on it in quarantine!

So what does this have to do with my project and this blog?

Well, it means: a) since USA is being totally stupid about COVID, there is no timeframe where I can now reasonably predict that foreign travel might be possible, certainly not in 2020, and I believe even unlikely for 2021, at least until the fall, and, b) actually learning Spanish is something I can do while stuck at home and eating in Spain is not. Even if a vaccine that actually works (instead of the fantasy vaccines the great scientist Jared Kushner is pushing) is available in early 2021, it will probably be at least a year before enough people have received it to have reasonable herd immunity developed.

While I was working on Spanish menus I did learn a lot, which I may summarize in a future post, including that, well, food in Spain while sometimes intriguing BUT it is not as interesting, or flavorful as Mexican food, which is wildly more diverse by visiting Mexico than one can find in the USA, despite Mexican food now being the most popular “ethnic” cuisine in the US. And it happens that I like to cook (me quiero cocinar) and I’m reasonably good at it, ingredients for Mexican food are readily available here (and btw, shopping in nearby predominantly Hispanic stores is a change to practice a little of my Spanish anyway) I’ve decided to shift my project focus to …

reading cookbooks and recipes in Spanish (and accumulate food terms) …

… instead of menus from Spain.

Needless to say there is a huge amount of material available online and in print. I already have about 10 cookbooks, although all in English, for Mexican food so it’s a fairly simple transition.

During my searches on websites in Spain I did discover that either descriptions of food (on menus) or recetas I often found actually were better material to use as study materials for learning Spanish. In fact, that’s part of why I have (still unfinished) massive list of cooking verbs, which I’ll now expand to all sorts of cooking terms.

So now a focus of someday visiting Mexico, which would have been great anyway, for the food, and all manner of Spanish text related to cooking, will be the material I’ll be using for future posts.

Decades ago I had actually tried to accumulate a glossary of food terms in Spanish. At that time I didn’t realize the huge diversity of terms, while all in “Spanish”, that were very regional. And, in particular, I found all sorts of terms from Mexico (also Puerto Rico) that would be almost unknown in Spain, especially as many of those terms are really Spanish-ified indigent language, for instance, the most obvious chocolate  (English or Spanish) which is from xocolātl. So, if one just compiles a glossary from other glossaries and dictionaries one finds on the Net quickly the compilation becomes a mashup of terms that are only known in a few places, IOW, not the canonical “Spanish”. Already in my class, where our teacher is in Cuernavaca, I learned some interesting differences, e.g. Duolingo teaches tomato as tomate (as do most dictionaries) when in Mexico my teacher explained it’s jitomate (for a fully ripe tomato and tomate as an unripe tomato, or the reference to the plant, not its fruit). So on my second try that’s why I only used terms I found on actual menus in Spains (sometimes, amusingly, still including terms from Mexico since in a few big cities in Spain there were Mexican restaurants)

So, as long as I’m careful I can explore Spanish cooking materials from Mexico and add new terms to my corpus, but being careful to learn if the terms are more localized to Mexico and/or would be known by anyone in Spain. IOW, I’ll still achieve my original goal but with even more material.

So, my re-purposing is really not so big a shift and I hope to find some interesting food terms to discuss in the future as well as continue to plod along developing my app.

Does learning Spanish help to read menus?

I suppose the short answer is obviously yes, but a more complex answer is “not very much”. It is also tied to how one “learns Spanish”. Most any form of Spanish instruction is oriented to a broad brush of the language, mostly focused on conversational forms and vocabulary. That could be handy in dining conversation but not so much for reading menus.

I used a variety of learning methods: 1) mostly Duolingo, which seems roughly equivalent to most online courses, 2) more recently actual teacher course that quickly became virtual due to COVID, but is interactive and responsive to individual student needs, 3) reading, although mostly the typical books for beginners and students, so little emphasis on food or dining, and, 4) listening, a variety of sources, Netflix Spanish language movies, Spanish language TV and Spanish language podcasts – this is a helpful adjunct to the other methods, but I have yet to find a Spanish language cooking show.

So in all these methods only a small fraction of the learning time is focused on food. Sometimes the lessons on shopping contain as many food nouns and the lessons on dining.

So as the only real quantitative data I can provide from 89 lessons (about 60%) of Duolingo in 502 days I have 202 terms (nouns, verbs, adjectives) directly or at least related to dining. Of those, and just masculine singular version of nouns, I have 124 (only 87 of which I’ve seen on menus) which I’ll list here:

aceite, agua, alcohol, almuerzo, arroz, azúcar, banana, bar, bebida, boca, bosque, botella, brazo, cabeza, café, cafetería, camarero, campo, carne, carta, casa, cebolla, cena, cerdo, cereal, cerveza, champán, champiñón, chef, chocolate, chorizo, cliente, cocina, comida, conejo, copa, corazón, cuchara, cuchillo, cuello, cuenta, cuerpo, dedo, desayuno, dulce, ensalada, espalda, estómago, frijol, fruta, fuego, galleta, granja, grupo, hamburguesa, hielo, huevo, jamón, jugo, leche, limón, limonada, mango, mano, mantequilla, manzana, mar, menú, mermelada, mesa, miel, naranja, nariz, océano, ojo, oreja, oveja, pan, papa, paquete, parrilla, pasta, pastel, pato, patata, pera, pescado, pez, pie, pierna, pimiento, pizza, planta, plátano, plato, pollo, postre, precio, primavera, primero, queso, refresco, reserva, restaurante, sal, salsa, sándwich, silla, sopa, taza, tazón, té, tenedor, tinto, tomate, tostada, vaca, vaso, vegetal, vegetariano, verdura, vino, yogur

If you compare this list to my glossary you’ll see this is only a small fraction of what I’ve compiled just from the menus I’ve looked at.

So, IOW, you’re not going to learn very much of the vocabulary you’ll find on menus in a generic Spanish class. And it will be worse if you just do some quickie conversation class before going on a trip.

Now, OTOH, I have two phrasebooks (one acquired over 30 years ago) and since dining is a big part of what is covered in those guides the vocabulary from those (which I can only report anecdotally as I don’t have detailed analysis) is actually quite a bit larger than I’ve learned in 500+ days of various Spanish learning methods. So a phrasebook can be handy BUT, frankly, those also cover only a fraction of what one finds on menus.

A menu is not prose so all the grammar and verb conjugations and such are almost entirely useless for reading menus. The vocabulary used is quite extensive compared to standard classes. And, especially in Spain, many of the words on a menu aren’t even in any dictionary, so rather unlikely to have been encountered in any Spanish courses. And beyond nouns, other words in the menu entries are closely tied to unique vocabulary of cooking. And some of those words not in dictionaries are just the names of dishes or ingredients.

So, you want to learn how to read menus, here’s what I would suggest (and I’ve never seen any class or book oriented to this curriculum).

  1. read cookbooks, in Spanish, doing whatever you have to do (Google Translate, dictionary lookups, web searches for terms not in dictionaries) to “read” the material and then make your own set of flashcards of every word you think you’ll need to know.
  2. read online recetas (recipes) websites which are easier to analyze and translate and create a set of flashcards from that.
  3. search for any websites oriented to cooking, in Spanish of course, and extract what you can from those.
  4. And, guess what, do what I’ve been doing, i.e. finding menus online and analyzing them.

Now when it comes to food you definitely have to be careful to concentrate your study on the country you expect to visit and be reading menus. There is a huge diversity of food/cuisine terminology in the Western Hemisphere Spanish-speaking countries where terms have different meanings in different countries (or often are unique to just a few countries, even regions within the larger countries) and are quite different (even contradictory) to Spain.

So you’re in for a major bit of work to spend weeks in Spain, dining with only Spanish source material (menus or verbal). So the difficulty of finding what one needs means there is a big hole to fill, which can be the revised purpose of my effort here. A couple more years of studying Spanish and then doing a ton of my four steps above, and then converting all that learning into a form that can be more easily accessed for someone who is merely going to visit.



Unplanned post of menu translation

Instead of my planned post I’ve digressed into analyzing the menu of restaurant in San Sebastián Spain, recommended by a loyal reader, Gandarias.

I’ve been working (offline) on a series of posts comparing my experience of now nearly 500 days of learning Spanish language with my original approach of analyzing menus from Spain and deducing menu vocabulary. My purpose has been to first find source material and translate it, create a corpus of translated material, extract from that corpus “translations” (not word-by-word, but more meaningful translations) and then create a smartphone app to contain all the deduced vocabulary and food/cooking terminology for a person trying to read menus in Spain.

I had originally planned to find source material and create a corpus without learning Spanish. I felt I could accomplish my purpose without language fluency. But somehow I got convinced to learn Spanish (I’m not good at languages so this is quite a challenge for me) and so for the past year I’ve had few posts about menus and interesting items I was finding. Just having a Spanish dictionary is not very helpful for figuring out what items on a menu happen to be.

So before posting some more on this general topic I had planned to show some menu items to just present some examples of some of the issues. I’d picked a restaurant, more or less at random, in Leon and had some examples ready to go. Instead circumstances provided me a different opportunity. While reading a post of another travel blogger about San Sebastián I decided to take a hint. While I can’t actually go to the restaurant, as recommended, I did find it had a good website that also resulted in an unexpected adventure.

On most of my previous analysis of menus I have not had a human English translation, partly because I was looking at small restaurants along the Camino de Santiago. So for my initial analysis I’m dependent on Google Translate, which often botches menus as I’ve pointed out in previous posts, plus then other investigation to figure out items.

In a few of the larger cities restaurants sometimes do have English translation and this provides some extra calibration. When one is trying to build a corpus it is inevitable some errors creep in, but the quality of the final consensus view of translating menu items is enhanced by having as much raw material as possible, so human English translations really supplement the guesses, I and Google, are making in our translations.

So Restaurante Gandarias has both Spanish and English, as well as Euskara, the Basque language given this restaurant is in the heart of Basque Country. It is also a very popular resort and thus likely to attract many clients who will appreciate the English version. And even in the Spanish menu some items still use the Euskara terms.

Now a note about “menu”. In most restaurants that’s what a diner gets, but in Spain it is common that there are designed menú, that is several courses chosen by the restaurant and combined as a single order, also as prix fixe to use the French term. The “menu” I had originally planned to use for this post is in that category. OTOH, some restaurants (and their websites) also provide a carta, which Google translates as ‘letter’ which is nominally correct and totally correct in other circumstances (ahora escribo una carta, see I’ve learned something, did that from memory) and it can also mean card, as in cartas de juego (playing cards, as opposed to tarjeta de credito for credit card; also fun when there are so many meanings for words, both to and from Spanish). But for this restaurant carta has the meaning, from the French and sometimes found in USA, a la carte. Or basically individual items ordered separately at the diner’s choice.

For the Gandarias carta it’s divided into sections: Todas (all), Ensaladas (salads), Entrantes (starters), Pascados (fish), Carnes (meat) and Postre (desert) – and yes, I’ve had all but Entrantes in my Spanish lessons. So I selected Todas (in Spanish version) and got four webpages of pictures of food with captions as to the item. Fine, I scooped up all four pages, did some fiddling to reformat and created the first column of my typical table I use for analysis. Knowing there was English I wanted to get the Google Translate first so I did that and lined up items in a second column of those (all this will be at the end of the post).

Then in what I expected would be a routine mechanical process I switched to the English version of the website.  Since Ensalada de bogavante was the first item I didn’t even need the picture to realize that Roasted baby lamb was not the same thing. A bit more poking around and I realized while it appeared the English and Spanish menu had the same items they were in totally different orders.

AH. A challenge. Now I have to take the English description of the item and find the corresponding Spanish. Now for this item,  Lettuce and onion salad I was able to pick   Ensalada de lechuga y cebolla even without looking at the Google Translate with is exactly the same, easy-peasy.

But it wasn’t all so easy; for instance Scrambled eggs with cod matches with Revuelto de bacalao, not just because one easily remembers bacalao is cod (about as common a food term as there is in Spain, even obvious from bacalhau where I actually had it multiple times in Portugal).  But also because while  Revuelto has dictionary translations: messy, upside down, mixed up, disheveled,  untidy, nauseous, cloudy, turbulent (and more), but most usefully scrambled. I have dug through enough menus in Spain to known that scrambled (and implied to be of eggs) fits, hence scrambled eggs with cod (even though huevo is missing in the Spanish). Amusingly Google doesn’t get the implied eggs and therefore thinks it’s the cod that got scrambled so it says: Scrambled cod so if you were using your phone do you think you’d order this.

Now a few stumped me a bit more than others, but like one of those games where you match up things in columns I only had a few left and thus got my clue:  Grilled magret was the human English translation. ¿Qué?  Magret stumped my usual translation sources and Google had missed it, but in a Spanish dictionary (with Spanish definitions of Spanish words, not translation) I did find:

Filete de pechuga de pato o de ganso muy utilizado en la cocina francesa.

which I can almost translate myself but here’s the GT

Duck breast or goose fillet widely used in French cuisine.

So, in other words, it isn’t a Spanish word, but the key hint (as well, a bit, the picture) is pato, so I was able to match up with Magret de pato (I never just did searches in my text, instead trying to translate myself).

So I wanted to do a couple of more to finish my point, about some challenges of translating menus (which, btw, are NOT solved by just learning to speak Spanish):

Almejas a la marinera Clams a la marinera Fisherman´s style clams

So it helps to know, a la marinera, which one would more typically associate with Italian food, is a particular style, really, just a typical tomato sauce, EXCEPT, typically in Spain and with clams it is NOT a tomato sauce – fooled yah. Yep, the human translation of Fisherman style is real helpful, might be useful in San Francisco.

Arroz con leche casero Rice with homemade Milk Rice pudding

Google is just too literal, arroz con leche is just rice pudding so the homemade (a valid translation of casero) just applies to the desert, not the milk,

Besugo a la plancha Grilled sea bream Grilled sea bream
Bogavante a la plancha Grilled lobster Fresh lobster grilled

Both of these provide a little fun as to exactly what a la plancha means. Yes, it does, more or less means, grilled, but then think about what a la parilla means (also grilled).  Usually a la plancha (literally on a plate, or in Italian, on the iron) means just cooked on a hot steel plate, cast iron pan or ‘flattop” in a diner.  a la parilla usually means a grate over some kind of open heat, either just gas or it can be wood (a la brasa). Now being fairly good with a grill myself these are quite different and I’d want to know which it really was. Which therefore brings up another point – reading a menu is not enough so being able to speak to your waiter (if knowledgeable) or even the chef may be required to really figure out if this is the dish you want. And therefore, that’s a different reason to actually learn to speak Spanish.

Chipirones a la plancha Grilled squid Grilled squids

chipirones can be interesting because it’s only one of the words for squid, but in this case it means baby (small) squid and frequently, in Spain, battered and fried squid, or as we’d order in USA as fried calamari. BUT, in this restaurant, given the picture, that’s not what this dish is.

Now: A brief side personal digression. For a couple of years I made multiple business trips to Japan. Learning Japanese was not going to happen but worst trying to learn the written is hard. My job required me to learn how Japanese is written (not the 1945 standard Kanji, just the algorithms of typography). At the time most Japanese restaurants had displays of plastic food (rarely picture menus) with little labels in Kanji. I quickly learned, while I had no clue what the Kanji meant, how to copy them into a little notebook and chose my item from the plastic food and then show the Kanji to the waiter. It worked fine and I always got what I expected. But I have no idea if the actual menu in this restaurant (unlike the website) would have the really dumbed-down version to show the pictures.

Now a few interesting ones that being fairly fluent in Spanish or knowing much about Spanish food won’t help so much, plus these stumped Google a bit.

Changurro al horno Baked Changurro Baked spider crab

You see Google didn’t know changurro. BUT, remember we’re in Basque country, so a bit more searching is that this word is really txangurro, where the tx, even just the x is a giveaway this is the Basque word and thus the Spanish spelling of it.

Kokotxas de bacalao al Pil-Pil con almejas Cod Kokotxas al Pil-Pil with clams Cod cheeks in pil-pil sauce with clams

The unusual spelling of kokotxas is another giveaway this is the Basque word, literally, cheeks, and really one needs to know this is a particular dish unique to Basque cooking to really have a clue what this means.


Pantxineta Pantxineta Pantxineta

I think you get this, obviously Basque, dessert where this is as good a description as any.

Rodaballo con su refrito ligado Turbot with its tied rehash Turbot with its thickened sauté

An amusing Google translation.

Tarta “Gandarias” elaborada por Rafa Gorrotxategi “Gandarias” cake made by Rafa Gorrotxategi Pastry chef Rafa Gorrotxategi´s “Gandarias” cheesecake

Totally meaningless terms, in any language. Even the generic Spanish tarta is ambivalent exactly what this might be.

Solomillo de vaca vieja con foie al Oporto Old beef sirloin with foie gras in Porto Old cow sirloin with foie in Oporto style

So here are a couple of interesting terms that just don’t translate (at least from Spanish): foie (the French word for liver, most foodies would just know this as language independent) and Oporto (second biggest city in Spain so probably most travelers would recognize it, but is it Port or OPorto (clue, in some language O is the)). And what style is that? If I was telling you about BBQ and said “Texas” style would you know that’s brisket withOUT sauce?

Tabla de ibéricos de bellota «Joselito» Table of Iberico de bellota «Joselito» Mixed iberian “Joselito”

I’ve mentioned Iberico de bellota in many posts before and if you go to Spain you’d better know what this means as you’ll pay a seriously premium price to get some slices of ham.

Personal Note: Here in flyover Nebraska there is actually a farmer who grows very similar pigs and lets them roam, yes, among oak trees and eat some acorns. AND, there is a gourmet butcher in Fort Calhoun, CURE (just there yesterday) who makes very similar (air dried, no smoke or salt) hams from those pigs, and, yes for a really serious price. I may never had had Spanish Lomo but it’s delicious from CURE.

Callos calluses Tripes

I had to include this one because, well, one reason I want to know about menus in Spanish is there are things I choose not to eat and this is one of them. Given Google can’t translate it, I’m glad I’ve got this in my lexicon.

And just for fun

Coulant de chocolate Chocolate coulant Chocolate fondant

chocolate is the literal word in Spanish for the same word in English (and nearly the same in French) BUT it doesn’t belong to any of these languages since it’s really xocolātl, so even Spanish has plenty of loanwords. But what about coulant, which is really a French word, meaning flowing, but interesting fondant in Spanish but that’s just another French word. And there is no English word, so if you don’t know what this is, there is no point in trying to translate.

So after a long post, you’re probably ready for dessert, so how about

Crema de yogur con mango crujiente y sirope de fresa Yogurt cream with crispy mango and strawberry syrup Yoghurt cream with crispy mango and strawberry syrup

Looking at the words on menus only reveals a bit about dining. Knowing a bit more about cooking, in general and Spanish in general, helps a lot. But if a person only had one chance to go to this restaurant and wanted to get the most interesting items some discussion with, hopefully, knowledgeable, waiter is essential.

So one conclusion from all this is that the basic idea of my project, translating food, is fundamentally a failure. One can translate words, or even combinations or words, and still have little idea what a menu item is.

Translation, as it is said in math, is a necessary, but not sufficient condition.

A beautiful song

Every now and then I do a digression from my main blog topic of translating menus in Spain to something else, in this case some music from Spain. In my attempt to actually learn Spanish many sources suggest using a variety of techniques, not just a single method of learning. And one, of course, is listening to videos, in Spanish.

Fortunately here on our cable, plus with Netflix and Amazon Prime there are a many programs, some originally in English, that are in Spanish, sometimes with closed captions (more literal than subtitles). But perhaps the most challenging listening assignments is trying to hear the vocals of Spanish language songs. Now actually I often can’t hear the lyrics in English language songs so this is especially challenging for me. While words are not so clear in songs, however, one advantage is that the speed is much slower than listening to spoken Spanish, especially news programs.

The first time I tried to listen to a song was a consequence of stumbling on a Spanish audio version of the movie Desperado with Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek on cable. While almost all the actors have Spanish has their first language the movie was actually made in English. Despite its heavy dose of violence I’ve watched the English version several times. Watching the version on a Spanish channel  was amusing seeing it dubbed into Spanish and with closed captions, given it takes place in Mexico with Spanish speaking actors.

But the part that really got my attention was the opening scene with Banderas singing (if it was him). A bit of searching led to discovering the song he’s singing is Cancion del Mariachi and there is a video on YouTube of this opening scene. Doing a variety of searches I found the lyrics, in Spanish, and various English translations (some pretty bad, a few amusingly not very literal). I merged these lyrics, plus the Google Translate (embedded at end of this post) and then re-watched the video. The first time, with the visual guide, I heard almost every word and after a few more tries I could completely follow the song. Unfortunately, take away my visual cues and I don’t hear so much, which is an interesting lesson in itself.

So that was fun but just background for this post. Later I found another “advice on learning” source that suggested listening to music on radio or YouTube. And they gave several links and that’s how I discovered this song which I really like. At first I was confused thinking Ella Baila Sola was part of the song title but I later learned this was a very popular female duet from Spain. The song itself was titled: Cuando los sapos bailen flamenco. I could translate all but sapos and didn’t believe it when almost the only choice (in multiple dictionaries) was ‘toads’, so When the Toads Dance Flamenco. I then figured this was some kind of expression like “chickens have come home to roost” in English or Hablando del rey de Roma (speak of the devil). But, alas, I can’t find any meaning for the title, so it just must be words the writer chose.

So if you try to play the YouTube (it’s short and very nice song, IMHO) here are some lyrcis to go along with it and you can try to follow the words. And, for me, after nearly 500 days of trying to learn Spanish I do most of the words but can’t follow the song without my visual guide, so my audible skills are way inferior to my reading skills, but other than recordings I do zero conversation in Spanish which is pretty critical to ever developing verbal skills.

Good Spanish transcript Google Translate Good Human translation
Me alegra tanto oir tu voz aunque dormido I’m so glad to hear your voice even though asleep It’s so good to hear your voice although you’re asleep
por fin viajabas como en tus sueños you were finally traveling like in your dreams You were finally travelling like in your dreams,
buscando un sitio para volver looking for a place to come back looking for a place to go back to
y sin poder olvidar lo que dejas lo que has aprendido and without being able to forget what you leave what you have learned And without being able to forget what you’ve left, what you’ve learnt
van a cambiar las caras los sueños, los días y yo the faces will change the dreams, the days and I Faces, dreams, days are going to change and
lentamente te pierdo I slowly lose you I slowly lose you
Repeat: Como un regalo que al ensuciarse tiró quien limpiaba Repeat: Like a gift that when dirty was thrown by the one who cleaned Like a gift that when gets dirty and is thrown away by the one who is cleaning
como un vaso después de beber el trago más dulce like a glass after drinking the sweetest drink Like a glass after drinking the sweetest gulp
con un adiós, con un te quiero y con mis labios en tus dedos with a goodbye, with a love you and with my lips on your fingers With a goodbye, with an I love you and with my lips in your fingers
para no pronunciar las palabras que dan tanto miedo, so as not to pronounce the words that are so scary, To not say the words that are so frightening,
te vas y te pierdo you go and I lose you you go and I lose you
Me alegra tanto escuchar tus promesas mientras te alejas I’m so glad to hear your promises as you walk away It’s so good to hear your promises while you go away
saber que piensas volver algún día cuando los sapos bailen flamenco knowing that you plan to return someday when the toads dance flamenco Knowing that you plan to come back when toads dance flamenco
y yo te espero ya ves, aunque no entiendo bien que los sapos and I wait for you you see, although I do not understand well that the toads And I wait for you, you see, although I don’t quite understand that toads
puedan dejar de saltar y bailar lejos de su charco they can stop jumping and dancing away from their puddle can stop jumping and dancing far from their pool
Porque mis ojos brillan con tu cara y ahora que no te veo se apagan Because my eyes shine with your face and now that I don’t see you they go out Because my eyes shine with your face and now that I don’t see you they turn off
porque prefiero que estés a mi lado aunque no tengas nada because I prefer you to be by my side even if you have nothing Because I prefer you being beside me although you haven’t got anything,
te vas y te pierdo you go and I lose you you go and I lose you
(back to repeat) (does repeat)  


So here’s a similar kind of transcript for Cancion del Mariachi

Spanish (very close match to song) merge of several human xlates Google Translate
Soy un hombre muy honrado I am a man of honour I am a very honest man
Que me gusta lo mejor And I fancy what is best That I like the best
Por mujeres no me falta I don’t miss women For women I do not lack
Ni el dinero ni el amor Neither money nor love. Neither the money nor the love
Jineteando en mi caballo Riding on my horse Hustling on my horse
Por la sierra yo me voy I am off to the mountain. By the mountains I go
Las estrellas y la luna And the stars and the moon The stars and the moon
Ellas me dicen donde voy Tell me where to go. They tell me where I’m going
Ay, ay, ay, ay Ay ay ay ay! Ay, ay, ay, ay
Ay, ay, amor Ay ay love Oh, oh, love
Ay mi morena Ay my dark lady Oh my brunette
De mi corazon Of my heart From my heart
Me gusta tocar guitarra I like to play guitar I like playing guitar
Me gusta cantar el “song” I like to sing the ‘song’ I like to sing the “song”
Mariachi me acompaña Mariachi accompanies me Mariachi is with me
Cuando canto mi cancion when I sing my song When I sing my song
Me gusta tomar mis copas I like to drink my drinks I like to take my drinks
Agua ardiente selo mejor moonshine is the best Burning water is better
Tambien el tequila blanco Also white tequila, Also white tequila
Con su saleda sabor with its salty taste With its salty flavor
Ay, ay, ay, ay Ay ay ay ay! Ay, ay, ay, ay
Ay, ay, amor Ay ay my love Oh, oh, love
Ay mi morena Ay my dark lady Oh my brunette
De mi corazon of my heart From my heart
(long guitar solo)    
Me gusta tocar guitarra I like to play guitar I like playing guitar
Me gusta cantar el “song” I like to sing the ‘song’ I like to sing the “song”
Mariachi me acompaña The mariachi accompanies me Mariachi is with me
Cuando canto mi cancion when I sing my song When I sing my song
Me gusta tomar mis copas I like to drink my drinks I like to take my drinks
Agua ardiente selo mejor moonshine is the best Burning water is better
Tambien el tequila blanco also white tequila, Also white tequila
Con su saleda sabor with its salty taste With its salty flavor
Ay, ay, ay, ay Ay ay ay ay! Ay, ay, ay, ay
Ay, ay, amor Ay ay my love Oh, oh, love
Ay mi morena Ay my dark lady Oh my brunette
De mi corazon of my heart From my heart
Ay, ay, ay, ay Ay ay ay ay! Ay, ay, ay, ay
Ay, ay, amor Ay ay love Oh, oh, love
Ay mi morena Ay my dark lady Oh my brunette
De mi corazon Of my heart From my heart

¡Volví! ¿me extrañaste? Ha sido un tiempo.

Si, puedo tutearse ya que nosotros son amigos. Or IOW, I can address you, Dear Reader, as since we’re friends here. And to my new friends, who may read this blog for the first time I’m old and thus more likely senior to you and so I don’t have to use the formal ustedes.

I haven’t written any posts about Spanish to use for food and restaurants as is the plan for this blog since I’ve been very busy. I haven’t lost interest and intend to continue more exciting posts about interesting Spanish terminology you’ll find on menus in Spain (and, mostly, for other Spanish speaking countries).

When I started finding and decoding menus along the Camino de Santiago in Spain I didn’t know any Spanish. I thought I could still figure out the Spanish on menus by associating what I find on menus with either human or automated translations, plus a lot of searching for more obscure (non dictionary) terms. Several people insisted I’d need to learn Spanish in order to do this, but, initially, I dismissed that suggestion.

I didn’t try to learn Spanish because I had tried in the past with little success, using the conventional learning materials. But, fortunately, there are new tools today. So I’m now on my 352nd day of using Duolingo to actually try to learn the language. Duolingo is great and I’m about half way through its Spanish course. But at the same time I found I needed to do other things and fortunately there are lots of other sources to use for study.

So I’ve done about 64,000 individual drills in Duolingo and so have picked up over 3000 words. I can (just barely) get through the A1 CERF tests. I’ve also “read” about 50 beginner stories, plus even tried some literature (way beyond even A2 level, but interesting to try). I’ve “read” (with lots of help from dictionary since the vocabulary is more extensive than Duolingo) lots of recipes (recetas) and descriptive text at numerous restaurant websites in Spain. So I get a lot of practice reading.

But I don’t get any practice speaking (no partner/tutor/teacher for that) and not much practice listening (Duo’s audio is easier than real speaking), but I try to follow numerous TV programs or even specialized programs, like the wonder La Casa de las Flores on Netflix. When I started all spoken Spanish was just a blur of sound to me, but now I can catch a little bit. I still don’t have enough vocabulary to recognize enough of the words to detect word boundaries, which really (to my ear) blur together in spoken Spanish.

So while I have another year to study ahead, to finish the Duolingo course and probably get near the A2 level and then also maybe have 5000 word vocabulary I’ve learned enough that it’s much easier for me to read restaurant websites. I’ve had lots of opportunity to see what the automated translation does right and wrong and so I can use both my knowledge, the automated translations and additional analysis to get most of the content.

Thus I should be able to do even better posts. Even though I didn’t know the language, before, I did figure out enough, IMHO, to find and describe some interesting things about Spanish menus, so now I expect to do even better.

Also, in previous posts I described my “virtual” trek on the Camino. Simply, to encourage myself to do exercise on my treadmill, I converted my exercise mileage along a GPS track to find my location on Google Maps and then use their overhead views, photos, the StreetView (when available) and other geotagged sites to “explore” the Camino. And as I previously posted I eventually did the entire distance, 796.4km (about 500 miles) to  Santiago de Compostela.

So, after getting there, I needed a new “virtual” trek goal so as I previously posted I started the French part of the Camino, starting a Le Puy en Velay and I’ve now reached Conques, 125 miles. While “walking” the Spanish part I “stopped” at every restaurant and hotel/albergue to look at all the photos, mostly of food or menus. I could do the same thing in France (and sometimes do) but information about that route is less plentiful and what I find on Google Maps is both French language and French food, which is wonderful (I did have some French in school), but not my goal. So that virtual trek has not been as engaging to me and thus I haven’t done any posts about it (and probably won’t).

Meanwhile I really want to turn all this purely vicarious activity into something real so I continue to look at two things: a) some Spanish speaking country to visit, not just as tourist, but really trying to get to know, and now my focus is on Ecuador, but probably only after some of the political unrest there settles down, and, b) trying to do one of the immersive language study programs in a Spanish speaking country (some excellent sources of these things can be found online).

So I have lots to keep me busy and thus I won’t have time for as many posts as I was originally doing, but now I’ll try to find something, still focused on food, to discuss.

One of my next projects will be this:

abarquillar abrillantar abrir acabar acanalar acaramelar aceitar aceptar achicharrar acidular acitronar aderezar adobar agregar ahumar albardar alcanzar aliñar almibarar almorzar amar amasar añadir andar anisar apagar aparecer aplanar aplastar aprender aromatizar asar asustar atar aviar ayudar bañar bardar batir beber blanquear brasear bridar buscar caer calentar cambiar capear caramelizar cascar catar cenar cepillar cernir chafar chamuscar chorrear cincelar clarificar cocer cocinar colar combinar comenzar comer comprar comprender condimentar conducir confitar congelar conocer conseguir conservar considerar contar convertir correr cortar crear creer cuajar cubrir cumplir dar deber decantar decidir decir decorar degustar dejar derramar derretir desalar desayunar desbabar desbardar desbridar descamar descansar descongelar descubrir desengrasar desglasar desgranar desgrasar deshuesador deshuesar desleír desmoldar desnatar desplumar desvenar dirigir disfrutar doblar dorar dormir echar emborrachar embridar empanar empanizar empezar emplatar emulsionar encender encontrar endulzar enfriar engrasar enharinar entender entrar envolver escabechar escaldar escalfar escamar escribir escuchar escurrir especiar esperar espesar espolvorear espumar estar estirar estofar estudiar evaporar existir explicar exprimir fermentar filetear flambear flamear formar forrar freír frotar fundir ganar glasear gratinar guisar gustar haber hablar hacer helar hervir hornear humear humedecer imaginar incorporar instilar intentar introducir ir jugar laminar lavar leer levantar levar ligar limpiar llamar llegar llenar llevar lograr machacar majar mantener marear marinar masticar mechar medir mezclar mirar mojar moldear moler mondar montar morir mover nacer napar necesitar nevar ocurrir ofrecer oír oler pagar paño parecer partir pasar pasteurizar pedir pelar pensar perder perfumar permitir picar pinchar pochar poder poner precalentar preguntar preparar presentar probar producir quedar quemar querer quitar rallar realizar rebanar rebozar recalentar recibir recomendar reconocer recordar reducir regar regresar rehogar rellenar remojar remover repetir reservar restregar resultar revisar revolver rociar romper rostir saber sabor sacar salar salir salpicar salpimentar saltear sancochar sazonar secar seguir sellar sentir ser servir soasar socarrar sofreír subir sumergir suponer tajar tamizar tapar tener terminar tocar tomar tostar trabajar traducir traer transferir tratar trinchar triturar trocear trufar untar usar utilizar vaciar vaporar vaporear vaporizar venir ver verter viajar vivir voltear volver

Yes, that’s a massive list of the verbs I’ve found in over twenty different sources that relate to cooking or dining. Finding, extracting, cleaning up, merging and then getting “consensus” translations is tedious work but I’m chugging through this list (far bigger than any single list I found anywhere online) and will surely have some material for posts and probably another page (like my glossary) to provide what I think will be the most comprehensive online list. The one I marked with bold are the ones I now just know from my Duolingo study, not bad for an old dog who knew zero Spanish a year ago. But this also shows how little food/cooking/restaurant information is available in standard Spanish courses and how much more there is to learn.

By the way here are some verbos of interest:

desayunar to eat breakfast (el desayuno)
almorzar to eat lunch (el almuerzo)
cenar to eat dinner (la cena)
comer to eat
beber/tomar to drink

So plenty to do and hopefully more interesting posts to follow.


Vamos a caminar y comer.


¡buen provecho!


Reading menus in Spain

scroll down to the bottom of this post to see Spanish terms for food allergens.

I started this blog to document work I was doing to collect a large corpus of Spanish terms found on menus (focused on Spain, not Latin America) and from that develop an application to aid in reading menus. You might think this already exists with one of the AI translation systems but those make many mistakes with food.

Anyway that was over a year ago and I’ve gotten side-tracked on various things. It was suggested I should just learn Spanish but I always felt that was too difficult (I’d tried unsuccessfully before) and also menu terms are more specific than more generic Spanish classes. My notion, as a software type, is my application is simply a question of manipulating symbols. Sure reading literature or poetry does required knowing the language and very well at that, but cooking and cuisine and food are a specialized vocabulary with minimal need for understanding grammar or conjugation or what is usually taught in language classes.

Well, in the end I gave in. It turns out reading a menu is one thing, actually being able to ask questions (preguntas) about it and understand the answer is another. My early research demonstrated that what is written on menus, often, is inadequate to actually know what dish you’re getting, what’s in it and how it’s prepared.

So 186 consecutive days later I have been learning Spanish from a very good online site, Duolingo. According to them I’m up to 1526 lexemes (about 1/3rd through their course). But while that’s been very helpful: a) that course doesn’t have much about food or cooking (I have phrases for how to order though and two words for waiter, camarero and mesero and why sometimes it should be an ‘a’ instead of ‘o’ at the end), and, b) even just for reading (like restaurants often have prose descriptions of themselves and their culinary approach on the menu) is not entirely aided by the types of drills common to language learning programs.

IOW, it has helped and is helping, but it’s not enough. So, in fact, my original notion is still fairly valid, focus on menus and how to read them.

Now in order to find menus I do this silly thing of converting miles I put in on a treadmill in the basement to a GPS track of the Camino de Santiago. Then using Google Maps I’ve explored all sorts of restaurants along the Camino. Now most are simple mom-and-pops with fairly limited menu but every now and then you get to a large city where the cuisine can be considerably more sophisticated. And as I mentioned in a recent post I’ve “reached” Santiago de Compostela which attracts lots of tourists and partly as a consequence has 571 restaurants at just one rating site. IOW, lots of rough material to study.

In addition, with help of some Spanish (Spain) cookbooks, lots of exploring menus, that in additional to cuisine in Spain having many regional variations there are also regional languages to deal with. When you start the Camino you see a lot of terms from the Basque language and when you end in Galicia you see Galego which I learned is more related to Portuguese than Castilian. Since I’m casually exploring Portuguese at Duolingo one quickly learns why A and O appear so often in Galicia, being the equivalent of the la and el the’s of Spainish.

So I’m now digging through menus in Santiago and expect to have a number of posts from that work. But just to put a little meat in this post I’ll describe one interesting thing I just saw. The restaurant O Curro da Parra is my first menu I’ll describe but I wanted to discuss this bit. For example we see an item:

Helado de tarta de Santiago, cremoso de chocolate y bizcocho cítrico6

(A: leche, huevo, gluten, frutos secos)

At first I thought the bit in parenthesis was ingredient but then realized (not explained on website) the A: probably stands for alérgeno (allergen) or alergia (allergy). Isn’t that nice of them to provide information, about the dish, for people with food allergies or sensitivities. So I’ve collected this list from the entire menu:

apio celery
crustáceos crustaceans
frutos de cáscara fruit peels 
gluten gluten
huevo egg
leche milk
moluscos mollusks
mostaza mustard
pescado fish
sésamo sesame
soja soy 
sulfitos sulfites
frutos secos nuts

Now most of these are straightforward but there are a couple of mysteries. First is soia which the restaurants website translates as ‘soy’. But that doesn’t match anything I find in references since soy is usually soja (in Spain) and soya (in Latin American) so I assume that’s some regional spelling difference (and Google Translate thinks it’s ‘soy’).  And frutos de cáscara continues to be a mystery. It’s mentioned for a dessert and translated at the website as ‘nuts’, but the websites also lists another item frutos secos  which is the more common translation of ‘nuts’.  cáscara by itself is ‘rind’ or ‘shell’ so my guess is this is actually a reference to ‘peel’ of a fruit (and probably lime since that is included in the name of the dessert). So even with dictionaries and AI translations and even human translations you might still not be able to figure these out exactly and if you do have allergies you probably need to know for certain, so hablo con el cameraro.

More coming, stay tuned.


Next virtual trek – my plan didn’t work out

I know this sequence of posts is way off the primary topic of this blog but this will be the last one (on this topic, at least for a while).

When I last left you hanging I described the method I was going to use to acquire an accurate table of distances, fairly closely space (e.g. 3-6km) along the Via Podiensis so I could spend the next year or so on treadmill piling up miles to then “take” a virtual trek. My plan was to use a couple of GPS tracks I found online to get an accurate distance along the entire trail and then pick intermediate spots for my table and know their distances.

Since the software I have on my PC only covers the USA my only available tool (at least in initial plan) was Google Maps (or later tried Google Earth which has more features).  I quickly learned two things: 1) the high resolutions (4000 waypoints) GPS track was very tedious to enter (all manually) into Google Directions which has a limit of 10 points along a route and thus I was getting less than 1km of trail for 5 minutes or so of work, 2) every now and then, but in minor ways Google didn’t want to generate precisely the same route as I could see on the map where I could display the entire track (but not get any distances).

So I switched to the lower resolution track (only 500 points, visually on the maps it’s a bunch of line segments that don’t precisely follow the road/street/path/trail). But I figured I could find the flaws in that and patch in bits of the high resolution data.

Now in some ways I’m really being OCDish about this. What difference does it make to be highly accurate. Well, consider this, a real walk has to go where the path goes, not in straight lines across country or through someone’s house or yard. And most of the backroads where the Camino goes are not straight super highways but meandering paths. Now if you’ve ever hiked in the real world you know your actual path can be a lot longer than just a compass line on a maps. All those zigs and zags add up. The small set of straight line segments would probably be off, in total distance, by hundreds of kilometers. IOW, not much use for accurately converting treadmill miles to a location on the ground in France.

But not to worry, Google knows this and so it actually follows the road between two points on the road. And while it does a bit of rounding in the distance that’s still going to be fairly accurate.

So other than being a tedious process my preliminary results showed, at the cost of more time than I’d hoped, I could get a fairly accurate route.


I was manually entered a set of points, having worked out a record keeping procedure for doing all this and everything was fine and, then, the next point, probably only 50m from the previous with a road showing in map mode and even clearer in satellite photo mode and Google routes this round-about path, about a kilometer that was essentially a giant U-turn to reach that point from the other direction!

No sometimes, at least here doing geodashing in the midwest, that’s exactly what one has to do. Yes there is a road on the map and yes you can see it in the satellite photos and NO you can’t go that way because there is a gate or a damaged bridge or whatever. But presumably the GPS track I’m using means that person who recorded the track DID go that way so it’s possible.

After more experimenting I eventually discovered that what I’m seeing is gaps in the Google underlying database, i.e. some abstracted mathematical description of all the possible roads/paths/trails they know. And in that database you can’t get from point A to point B, at least not just going forward.

So after reading manuals and searching online I eventually discovered (I think) there is no way to solve this. So electronic mapping systems let you manually enter “vias”, i.e. some line segment that connects two bits of road together. That software is letting you use your knowledge (you can go that way) to override their database that can’t allow you to go that way.

But Google isn’t designed for complex routing issues. It’s designed for ordinary users to do simple things and thus doesn’t clutter up its UI with all sorts of advanced features. I encountered this with my standard USA mapping application (now defunct as the company was bought out and their products dropped; I won’t mention the name). That program was for “pros”, people who had complex navigation problems. For a while it was the only car-based solution but gradually the dashboard GPS came out and also, of course, Google Maps on smartphones. Those solutions are generally much easier to use, but they are “dumbed-down” relative to people with complex navigation requirements, which of course is a very tiny fraction of the market that they can afford to ignore.

So after searching for other solutions (there are a few other online mapping systems, but most have even less data than Google) it appears, like my route on the map, I just can’t get there.

As someone so often says, “SAD”.

So that means I have to use the one other data source I have which has two problems: 1) the distances between the 34 overnight stops are rounded off and add up to about 50km less than the known distance of the route (which, often, there are multiple answers to that to be found, but all the distances are greater), and, 2) there are just the 34 waypoints which will takes weeks for me to reach each (yes, the trekkers do them in a day, but I couldn’t imagine doing 20 miles / 6 hours on the treadmill in a day).

Plus my purpose in all this is a “virtual” trek. I did learn that Google has lots of detailed data at short distance intervals, restaurants, hotels, gîtes (the French equivalent of alburgues) and other points of interest. So I need all that detail to “see” what the trek would look like. It turns out that only doing relatively short daily distances on treadmill allowed me to follow (where available) the entire streetview (so literally walk into a town and look around). I have lots of experience looking at satellite photos (though mostly in plains and midwest US which doesn’t look much like France, or even Spain) but online satphotos aren’t the high resolution spy photos so often you can’t “see” very much. And looking at the roof of a house or building is much less interesting than looking at it at ground level.

So while I can use the table I did find, just for statistical purposes, I’m going to have to really guess (from zooming in on GPS track displayed in Google Earth, unless I can figure out how to load KML files into Google Maps) where I am. It’s not going to be pretty and that’s a bummer that make take too much “fun” out of my virtual trek to just bother.

At least one thing, though, is I can take a look at some French restaurants and while I’m not interesting in trying to build a translation app for that at least I can see lots of pretty pictures of food (already seen some, first course in France seems to routinely be pâté not cured meats as in Spain).

So with all this discussion out of the way I can get back to my regular topic, menus in Spain, since Santiago has a ton of restaurants, some with online menus I can decode.

Next virtual trek

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I had completed my virtual trek of the Camino de Santiago. That is, I take mileage I accumulate on my treadmill in the basement and convert it to locations along the Camino. Google Maps and Streetviews then provide a good “look” at the route.

Why do I do this? First, I want to actually learn as much as I can about walking the Camino and my relatively low daily distances on the treadmill are easy to follow on Google Maps, also allowing me to find restaurants and albergues along the Camino and study their photos and menus to learn more about food, or generally something about what walking the Camino would be like. Second, using a treadmill is boring so I need some sort of incentive – knowing I’m just a short distance, along the route of my virtual trek, to a particular POI (Point of Interest) on a map gives me motivation to do a bit more on the treadmill.

So now that I’ve “finished” the Camino what do I do?

Now I put “finished” in quotes because the data I have for the Camino’s route (and thus distances along the route) is somewhat uncertain. I found a Google Earth GPS track of the Camino and used that for while, but whoever set that up didn’t renew their Google license (for embedded maps in webpages) and it failed. So I found another route. And guess what, they’re not the same.

There’s an old joke that a man who has just one watch “knows” what time it is, but a man with two watches isn’t sure, i.e. different sources of data almost always disagree. Also, until my latest exercise I didn’t try to get distances along the Camino directly from the GPS data but instead from a table I found on the Net. I did enough analysis to confirm that table seemed relatively accurate and so used that data to declare I had “finished” the Camino.

But two new items for me. While I had learned that “Camino” itself is a vague term (there are many routes of the Camino) I didn’t realize that the Camino Frances (the most popular route) doesn’t actually start in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port; that’s just the most popular starting point resulting in about an 800km walk. Instead that particular Camino really can start various places in France, but most commonly in Le Puy-en-Velay France (and then that segment goes by the name, Via Podiensis). Adding that segment (and also going past Santiago to Fisterra) turns the walk into a 1000 mile trek, not just the <500 miles of the conventional route.

So now I have an obvious extension to the Camino to use as my new virtual trek, the entire 1000 mile distance which will give me something to do on my treadmill for another year. So that gives me a new project, figure out the distances along the Via Podiensis. Right away (and I’ll describe this in more detail in a followon post) I found several GPS tracks but all of those have some “issues” as to figuring out distances and milestone waypoints. I also found, at a website that does escorted walks, a table of distances between the 34 overnight stops they make. But that route is: a) not exactly the detailed route of the Via Podiensis, and, b) the distances are round numbers whose sum of all the segments is about 80km less than various sources claim is the total distance.

Now people actually walking the Via Podiensis could care less about all this; they’ll find the route (possibly with some misdirection) and get to their destination. But I need as accurate as I can create route and table of distances to do my conversion from miles on the treadmill to locations in France.  And so that’s what I’m working on now and will report in a short while.

Fortunately I have plotted about the first 40km and as I’m now only (on cumulative treadmill distances) about 2km past Santiago I can restart my virtual trek for at least a couple of weeks while I figure the rest out from the multiple sources I have (and perhaps even more I might find).

Now how do I do this?

I have a long history with GPS and GPS tracks and I’ll bore you, Dear Reader (and record for myself) some details.

I first learned about GPS when I was working at a small startup in Silicon Valley and one of the engineers was recruited to go work at a new startup, Trimble. I’d never heard of this (or GPS) but learned an ex-HPer, named Trimble, had started the company and was recruiting colleagues he’d known at HP (now in the diaspora of former HP employees populating all the other startups). At that time GPS was a military technology and had a hugely expensive system (in nuclear submarines) but Trimble believed this could be re-engineered for a consumer (albeit only professionals) technology. Later, in another company I used to ride my bike to work and I often noticed people with huge backpacks and an attached 6′ long stick with electronics  on top. I didn’t know it at the time but these engineers were testing the early Trimble prototypes.

So fast forward about a decade and when I first moved to Nebraska I was going crazy in the winters (having been spoiled by California) and so just set out driving south, eventually ending up in Big Bend National Park. Driving solo and trying to read a paper map was nearly impossible so I was in the market for a better alternative. A bit of research revealed that GPSr (the ‘r’ is for ‘receiver’) had truly been reduced to consumer (affordable) level and so I bought my first laptop and the DeLorme GPSr and its software. The world of automated navigation was opened to me.

While the laptop worked fine in the car (I had to also discover “inverters”, then uncommon to power the laptop) but was useless for walking. That led me to discover handheld GPSr’s, in particular the early Garmin eTrek models which I bought at the original Cabellas (in Sydney Nebraska) and used for the first time hiking in the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming, learning an important first lesson, use the GPSr to record the location of your car so you can get back to it.

All this led me to the world of geodashing, one of the various geo-xxx “sports” in the earliest days of consumer GPS where they were still rare and so enthusiasts would find a way to make a game of using a GPS. Over time I learned more about mapping and especially the early satphotos to use to study a place one might go, where despite roads being shown on the electronic maps (the data was crummy back then) might not really exist. Over the years I got better and better at using these tools, which eventually led me to my first “virtual” trek.

Now raw GPS tracks are usually pretty messy data. For instance, here’s a set of tracks, made over multiple days (since time affects GPS accuracy) of a corner near my house.

or even this set of tracks including the driveway of my house (the red lines are actual paths of the streets as taken from a surveyed map) – note all the scatter in the data, this will come up as an issue in my next post.

Each GPS has various options for recording data and as you can see in this image (I recorded the maximum data) there is a lot of variability. IOW, early on, with my own experiments I came to look at GPS tracks with a bit of skepticism. So tracks I found on the Net I know are not quite right.

So with all this practice and knowledge I set out to create my first virtual trek, the Pacific Crest Trail (which, btw, I did “finish”, as in do the necessary distance on my treadmill). This was years ago and I don’t remember the details but I remember writing my own code to convert the KML (Google Earth) file I’d found into Delorme “route” info. I quickly learned that Delorme couldn’t handle the entire PCT as a single “route” so I had to break it in pieces.

BUT, the key thing was Delorme could convert the waypoints (fortunately closely spaced) to distances. Given the PCT doesn’t follow any “roads” the routing within Delorme itself was useless, but I found a way to get distances from the GPS track and from that I could then convert my cumulative treadmill distances to location. Of course I used Google Earth to “view” the PCT, but: a) at that time Google hadn’t done Streetview yet, and, b) the PCT is a wilderness trail that doesn’t follow any “roads” in the Delorme database. But Delorme was designed to use (the Topo) version for people doing outdoor recreations and thus was happy to have routes that didn’t follow any known paths in their database and still get distances.

So all of this led to where I am now. I hoped to repeat the process but knowing: a) there is a lot more and newer information, mostly from Google, and, b) Delorme only has detailed maps for the USA. So now I had to find a new way to replicate the process I used for the PCT and apply it to the Via Podiensis.

And I’ll end this post with this, to be continued with the explanation of the process I am discovering (still having to experiment some) for Via Podiensis which eventually means I’ll have what I need: a fairly precise table of distances (at roughly 10km intervals) that actually follows the roads, paths and even off-road trails (not known to Google, but I can guess some). It’s a tedious process but for me, with my weird obsessions, an interesting exercise in itself with the ultimate outcome (still a hope but fairly sure I can do it) to create what I need for another ~750km of virtual trek.