Confusing terms – caramelo, tarta, bizcocho

I’ve finally finished grinding through 34 webpages for about 450 desserts at this very interesting Spanish receta website.  That study has certainly revealed a large number of terms related to desserts (dulces y postres) and I’ve isolated several that have multiple meanings and thus are difficult (without the picture and recipe) to recognize.

Let’s start with caramelo. Oxford translates this as ‘candy’ (for US,  or ‘sweet’ for UK) or ‘caramel’ (in the context azúcar fundida (molten sugar)). Checking the reverse translation for ‘candy’ yields golosinas (in confectionary context) and caramelo (in the individual piece context). golosinas appears nowhere in the 34 pages of dulces y postres and caramelo appears 7 times, sometimes as a candy, other times as caramel. has the same translations as Oxford except they say ‘caramel’ (in culinary sense, instead of molten sugar sense; IOW, they’re more general). If I were writing a receta (or menu item) I’d know which I mean but if I’m reading I’d have to guess.

The issue of tarta and bizcocho arise in a specific item I’ll discuss but tarta appears 60 times and bizcocho appears 49 times. Google Translate converts tarta to ‘cake’ (most of the time) but also to ‘pie’ and ‘tart’. There is quite a bit of difference between these and if I were ordering I’d like to know which the menu item is.  Google Translate converts bizcocho to ‘sponge cake’ (most of the time) or just ‘cake’ and a few times to ‘biscuits’ (meaning the UK name for cookies). Unlike tarta, bizcocho seems to have a fairly specific meaning (this English Wikipedia article covers it quite well including all the meanings based on geography and this Spanish Wikipedia article has multiple pages about it), especially in Spain, but the alternate translations it can have outside Spain is probably what confuses Google Translate.

The specific receta that triggered all this is:

Bizcocho genovés para tartas y brazos de gitano Genovese cake for cakes and gypsy arms

This allows us to explore several interesting topics.

First note the word-by-word correspondence where Google Translate has converted both bizcocho and tarta to ‘cake’ (we’ll get to brazos de gitano later).  But it’s actually the genovés (Genovese) that really tells us what this receta is.  And that is, otherwise known by its original name, genoise,

A genoise, Genoese cake or Genovese cake; rarely spelled “génoise” in English) is an Italian sponge cake named after the city of Genoa and associated with Italian and French cuisine.

So this is a basic sponge cake to use in making various other desserts under general notion of tarta. Now the recipe has this information in its preface:

hoy venimos con un básico, el bizcocho genovés, que no es más que la típica plancha de bizcocho que se usa principalmente para hacer tartas con relleno, brazos de gitano, y algún que otro postre que también os enseñaremos a hacer muy pronto. today we come with a basic, Genovese biscuit, which is nothing more than the typical plate of cake that is used mainly to make pies with stuffing, arms of gypsy, and the odd dessert that we will also teach you to do very soon.

Note that here Google Translate converts first instance of bizcocho as ‘biscuit’ (UK term for cookie) and the second as cake – how’s that for silly “context sensitivity”? Oxford translates bizcocho as ‘sponge’ or ‘sponge cake’ (as a pastel) and ‘sponge finger’ (as a galleta) which only slightly clears this up. Sometimes this would lead to viewing bizcocho as a ‘ladyfinger’, a cookie which is used in various desserts. Also it decided tarta refers to pies which we’ll see later is rarely the case.

Note also the use of plancha which has the corresponding word ‘plate’ in the Google Translation.  This is interesting since we normally encounter plancha (on menus) as a la plancha which more-or-less translates to cooked on “grill” (really an iron flattop in most restaurants).  plancha has the direct translation (from Oxford) as ‘iron’ or ‘griddle’, but also ‘plate’ or ‘sheet’.  Now ‘sheet’ is used in the context of metal or wood, but in this receta this is clearly a reference to ‘sheet cake’  (rather than ‘plate’) even though that’s not included in dictionaries.

So before moving on to tarta let’s address  brazos de gitano, which is literally ‘gypsy arm’.  This is discussed in the Wikipedia article on “Swiss roll” which says brazos de gitano is the equivalent term as used in Spain. In short this is just a rolled up sheet of sponge cake with some filling. The Spanish Wikipedia has a longer description.

So tarta translates to ‘cake’, ‘pie’ and ‘tart’ in the recetas at this site. Is this just an artifact of Google Translate or are these different items. Yes and No. Looking at the photos and instructions (for a sample, not all 60) tarta can be a pie or cake or tart (the distinction between pie and tart is less than with cake, if you happen to be a baker).

Oxford translates tarta only as ‘cake’ but has these two definitions:

1 Pastel redondo, dulce o salado, hecho con una masa en un molde de paredes bajas, que se cuece al horno y se rellena o cubre con diversos ingredientes que suelen mezclarse con huevos, leche o crema. Round cake, sweet or salty, made with a dough in a low-walled mold, baked and stuffed or covered with various ingredients that are often mixed with eggs, milk or cream.
2 Pastel dulce, generalmente grande, redondo y adornado, hecho con masa de bizcocho y relleno o cubierto de crema, nata, chocolate u otros ingredientes; en ocasiones se sirve helado o acompañado de otros del mismo tipo en varios pisos. Sweet cake, usually large, round and garnished, made with cake dough and filling or covered with cream, cream, chocolate or other ingredients; Sometimes ice cream is served or accompanied by others of the same type in several floors.

There are all kinds of interesting translation issues here (esp. pisos as ‘floors’, really ‘layer’ in context of a tarta), but I’ll leave these to you, Dear Reader, to study.

Meanwhile in contrast translates tarta as ‘cake’, ‘tart’ and ‘pie chart’ (in graphics context). But let’s look at the reverse.

In Oxford, cake is pastel (generally) and tarta (Spain); pie is pastel (generally) and empanada (savory); tart is tarta (we’ll ignore the slang fulana, you can check that). In cake is pastel (generally) and tarta (Spain) and bizcocho (in Puerto Rico, just to confuse things even more); pie is tarta, pastel and empanada; tart is tarta and pastel.

IOW, these translation dictionaries weren’t any help is disambiguating tarta as it might occur on the menu.  However, chances are, whether it’s cake, pie or tart it will probably be tasty enough to risk ordering.




Something different: Ingredientes

As I’ve mentioned I’m using various sources to extract side-by-side Spanish (Iberian) and English food/cooking/cuisine terms and phrases. Since my goal is useful translation of menus that is my primary source. But I’ve found two other (major) sources (and a few minor ones) that supplement and add diversity to the terms I’ll be adding to my corpus. Dictionaries (especially with definitions in Spanish) and glossaries often provide a completely different set of terms that might occur in menus.

But recently I’ve been looking at a website for recetas (recipes) and finding yet another look at cooking terms in Spain. Now recetas include instructions for preparation which yields some interesting terms but these are unlikely to be encountered on menus; nonetheless they can be an interesting addition to my corpus. The recipe names also often reveal words with no English translation (e.g.  polvorones, an almond shortbread cookie) and thus something one must just know (by description) if found on a menu. And then there are the list of ingredientes which may include terms one would see on menus but also other terms unlikely to appear.

So with that long preface let’s take a look at a few fragments. I’ve been looking at the receta website which is a very good source (even to use a few of the recipes as the Google Translate is adequate to make some of these items). This has a pull-down list of categories and today’s post comes from examples in dulces y postres (sweets and desserts). There are 34 pages (usually with 14 items per page, including photos for each and a link to the full receta) in this category and I’m only dealing with interesting fragments from the very first page.

As an example, we find

Galletas de avena y panela con frambuesas para hacer tus desayunos más saludables Oatmeal and panela biscuits with raspberries to make your breakfasts more healthy

Of course the translate is biased to using the UK definition (biscuits) of galletas instead of the USA (cookies) but the item to note here is the untranslated panela.  One might guess this had something to do with bread but it doesn’t. Instead panela is an unrefined whole cane sugar. This gets translated, in other references, under various names: ‘brown sugar loaf’ (by Oxford); ‘brown sugar’ (from web search and recipe) and the best explanation (though not exclusively for Spain) is in the Spanish version of Wikipedia, It’s interesting that Google translates avena as oatmeal since the literal translation is just ‘oats’ but oatmeal is actually more appropriate in this context, so chalk one up for Google’s claims to use context.

But it was one specific receta that had a few interesting tidbits:

 ingredientes section from galletas de limón craqueladas, un vicio confesable (Crackled lemon cookies, a confessional vice)


Mantequilla, 30 g (a temperatura ambiente) Butter, 30 g (at room temperature)
Azúcar, 50 g Sugar, 50 g
Ralladura de medio limón Grated lemon half
Huevo L, 1 Egg L, 1
Zumo de limón, dos cucharaditas Lemon juice, two teaspoons
Harina de repostería, 145 g Pastry flour, 145 g
Levadura química, media cucharadita Chemical yeast, half teaspoon
Sal, una pizca Salt, a pinch
Colorante amarillo (opcional) Yellow coloring (optional)
Azúcar glas, para rebozar Sugar glas, to coat

Even though some of the terms in such a list (e.g. pizca (pinch), cucharadita (teaspoon)) are unlikely to appear on menus they are interesting to add to my corpus. cucharadita is interesting since it’s a diminutive derived from cuchara (spoon). But the two terms marked in pink which have “strange” translations warranted additional research.

I do a fair amount of baking, either with yeast or other leaveners and I’ve never encountered ‘chemical yeast’ (Google’s translation of levadura química). Now Oxford does literally translate levadura as ‘yeast’ and química as ‘chemistry’ so Google has the  translation literally correct. But looking for this we can find this article in the Spanish Wikipedia that then offers, as a synonym, the more obvious polvo de hornear (also literally, ‘baking powder’). Now this is what I suspected this ingredient was but I couldn’t immediately conclude that without a literal research, a common issue when encountering a suspect machine translation (which is an issue in menus as well). So levadura (which clearly stems from same root as leavener) would be better translated, as minimum, as ‘chemical leavener’ (a bit more generic than ‘baking powder’) but knowing whether this means baking powder or baking soda is rather important in making cookies.

Additional the adjective modifier, glas, to azúcar (a common enough word I know it by memory, i.e. ‘sugar’), without any translation to English left another puzzle. But I’ve seen, in a glossary (a different way of extracting terms) multiple azúcar xxx type terms to cover the various types of sugars (note the contrast in the above-mentioned panela, however, it’s not  azúcar marrón). Again the Spanish dictionary provides a good explanation with this article where glas is translated (in the article text, by Google) as ‘icing’.  Looking at ‘icing’ is the UK literal translation and . ‘confectioner’s’ is the US literal translation but it would be best known as ‘powdered’ when applied to sugar.

So while levadura química (or polvo de hornear),   colorante amarillo or ralladura de medio limónare unlikely to appear on any restaurant menu panela or azúcar glas or mantequilla (or any of the common terms in this ingredient list) might.

So receta websites do seem a potential rich source to extract for my corpus (as well as some interesting stories).

Menú degustación

Degustación literally means ‘tasting’.  Many of the restaurant menu’s I’m studying, especially the more “upscale” (AKA “expensive”) restaurants offer this kind of menu. Like the Menu del Dia this is a fixed price (prix fixe) but whereas the del Dia seems to be the more common items of the restaurants the degustación seems to be their showcase items.

In the USA ‘tasting menus’ have become more common over the decades I’ve been going to better restaurants. The first memorable one I recall was here in Omaha, at a restaurant specializing in fish with an excellent Peruvian chef (thus some of the Spanish influence). I recall my first time there – we received an invitation for a New Year’s Eve tasting menu (with wine pairing, of course, which is not as obvious that is part of the menus in Spain). The food was excellent and since I was just starting a weight loss program I was pleased, despite relatively high cost, that the portions were small and incredibly tasty. The most beautiful tasting menu I ever had was in a restaurant in Beijing, near the Grand Hyatt (I couldn’t find its name). Bizarrely that place was straight out of LA and possibly the fanciest restaurant in my experience, thankfully on expense account on business travel (although China has AMAZING value at its restaurants, the same place in LA would have been 500% more expensive). It was amazing and a lot of fun as well as tasty, to be surprised by incredible dishes.

The inspiration for this post is my continuing search for restaurants in other regions of Spain, than northern Spain which has been my primary focus. So I looked at Cartagena in Murcia, near the Mediterranean coast with the assumption I’d see either local items or more seafood influence. The menu that is the source of this post comes from Magoga (website) and its tasting menu.

As a small digression, triggered by the idea that one item from this menu seems to relate (after some translation research) to molecular gastronomy. In many ways Spain is the prime mover on this. For many years elBulli (now closed, but still has website) and Ferran Adrià was the top ranked restaurant in the world. More recently the world’s top restaurant has been French Laundry in Napa Valley California. I’ve never been able to afford (or at least justify the luxury) of dining there with the price of their tasting menu and wine pairings easily exceeding $500 per person.

OTOH, my first encounter with fine dining was also in Napa (when I still lived in the San Francisco Bay Area) at Domaine Chandon, which as I was searching for its link, now, sadly, seems to be closed. Domaine Chandon was my first luxury restaurant and over the years it began my personal indicator of inflation and what I could afford. It was always expensive but still reachable (with Silicon Valley high tech salary) for at least special occasions. After my initial visit I returned to treat my sister on her birthday. A better foodie than me she taught me that discussing the menu (even off menu items) with servers enriched the experience. Some of the servers I encountered were students at the nearby California Culinary Academy (undoubtedly working at Domaine Chandon for handsome tips plus experience at top notch restaurant). These people were very knowledgeable about the menu and thus discussing it with them added to the experience. I still can remember the fabulous house smoked trout appetizer that I would have never ordered without the pitch from the waiter. But as I’ve grown older and been lucky enough to eat at many fine restaurants I’ve become more disappointed. Domaine Chandon was a special occasion for me and an delightful experience. At one visit we were joined by some golfers at an adjacent table. Unlike us this was routine for them and they wolfed down their food like I would eat at a fast food restaurant. That made me realize I’m not one of the 1% and thus unlikely to ever enjoy the tasting menu at French Laundry (which I saw on a foodie show, but have never been able to afford in person) so elBulli was also a place I only “virtually” experienced through a TV special.

Be that as it is Magoga (and others I’ve seen) I might be able to experience if I could somehow get to Spain.

But on to some items from the menu itself.

Snacks Snacks

I guess the word for ‘snacks’ in Cartagena is snacks, no idea what this item might be. But this item is a bit more interesting:

Langostinos, coliflor, pomelo y crema de sus cabezas Prawns, cauliflower, grapefruit and cream of their heads

Yes, cabezas does literally mean ‘heads’ and I assume this applies to the langostinos, not the coliflor or pomelo.  I know enough cooking to use the shells from peeled shrimp to boil in water and reduce to use as a tasty base for a sauce, but with research it appears adding the actual heads of the shrimp enriches the shrimp stock even more. The only time I was invited to eat the head of a shrimp was a beautiful bento box in Japan (I declined, still not that adventuresome diner).

Ensalada de cebolla asada y salazones Salad of roasted and salted onions

salazones was a mystery, literally it simply means ‘salted’. But salted what, the onions? The photo at the website didn’t clarify this but it was an interesting presentation in a “submarine” ceramic plate.

Papada de chato, guisante del campo de Cartagena y trufa melanosporum Double chin, pea from the field of Cartagena and truffle melanosporum

This is a perfect item for research. papada does literally translate as ‘dewlap’ or ‘double chin’. chato was a bit harder to find but it appears to be a breed (the source says “brood”) of pig unique to Murcia. “local” is a big deal in contemporary cuisine. As far as I can tell chato is not DO but does seem to be something “local”. One of my other experiences with ‘tasting menus’ was another restaurant, here in Omaha, that, by invitation only, did special items, with the wine pairings, where the chef explained each item, down to the actual supplier of the ingredients and the sommelier then explained his wine choice to go with the item – a lot of food but a bit too pricey for our routine consumption. I can’t quite imagine eating the double chin of any pig but I’m told (not having direct experience) these odds bits of the animal are more tasty than the common cuts (please, recall my post on Iberian “secret”, something similar to skirt steak, that is available online for about $60/lb, sorry, I’ll skip that).

Colmenillas a la crema y alcachofas en dos texturas Morello with cream and artichokes in two textures

Google Translate got colmenilla correct in other parts of the menu from this restaurant so I have no idea why it picked ‘morello’ than simply ‘morel’ which, interestingly for me, led to my first attempt at a food dictionary. I once visited a restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea California where the menu was entirely in Italian. Fortunately everyone there spoke English so I was to inquire about one of the dishes and had this fabulous veal dish with morels (the more favorable Italian dried). Coming to Nebraska one of my in-laws harvested morels in the wild around here but they were nowhere near as good as I had in Carmal.

But it was really the en dos texturas that inspired this post. A search for just texturas revealed little, but en texturas did lead to this source:

Spherification is a spectacular cooking technique we introduced at elBulli in 2003 which enables us to prepare recipes that no-one had even imagined before. It consists of the controlled gelification of a liquid which, submerged in a bath, forms spheres.

I recognized the name Ferran Adriá from my virtual experience with elBulli (I watch a lot of foodie TV even if I’ve never visited these places). So this is my guess, that the restaurant in Cartagena was probably influenced by elBulli, so I think my guess as to the meaning of en texturas is at least plausible.

And then there is this item from the tasting menu:

Arroz de conejo y butifarra Rabbit and butifarra rice

A search for butifarra yielded this plausible result, but there it is called botifarra. That is the Catalan term for this sausage and the more general term in Spain is butifarra. Another item:

Pichón de Bresse con su jugo Pigeon of Bresse with its juice

yielded, via search:

The pigeon of Bresse is a pigeon brood coming from the village of Bresse, in France, where they are reared in small farms under strict legislative controls. They are birds with Denomination of Origin.

Again this shows one of the challenges of interpreting menus. I suppose some people have heard of Bresse, as a source of pigeons, but I had to do some research to figure this out.

And finally:

Milhojas de avellanas y cuatro especias Hazelnut and four spices millefeuille

I am guessing Google Translate is correct and mihojas is millefeuille.  But unless you’re more skilled than me as pastry converting a Spanish term to a French term doesn’t help much. At this the article on millefeuille seems to be an adequate description of what is otherwise, sometimes, called a Napolean.

So this was a fun menu to analyze (and probably a very tasty one to actually consume) but it does show some of the challenge of figuring out menus in Spain. The online source for the restaurant didn’t list the precio for this menu but I’d guess it is enough that I’d really want to understand what I was getting before I’d decide I could splurge on it.

Speaking of that I also received this recommendation to try this place, Au Courant, for my next special occasion, my 20th wedding anniversary next week. It will be a splurge but $55 (before wine pairing) is probably cheaper than flying to Cartagena and trying the menú degustación at Magoga which I can at least dream of doing.











Ensalada ilustrada or Ensalada mixta

I was crunching through menus at Restaurante Asador San Quintín in Logroño and decided to detour into understanding why a salad might be enlightened (a literal translation of ilustrada). ensalada itself is easy to remember as it actually is what its cognate implies. But ilustrada, as the past participle (normally ilustrado but ensalada is feminine so requires -a ending) of the verb ilustrar, mostly means illustrated but has a special context of ‘a follower of the Enlightenment’ and thus ‘a person who is learned and educated’. I wonder if eating this salad endows one with enlightenment.

This salad is common enough that it appears on a list of salads and has its own webpage in the Spanish Wikipedia. There it is described as

es una ensalada mixta de verduras muy típica de la cocina aragonesa

Many images can be found with a Google search and there is even a video of making it on YouTube (not very helpful to me as it is entirely in rapidfire Spanish where I hardly get any word). Searches for ‘receta ensalada aragonesa‘ gets similar but not identical recipes. Of course, though, recipes are likely to vary (consider Caesar salad in English).

But ensalada mixta is often used on menus and appears to be more generic than any specific recipe.  mixta does have the obvious meaning of ‘mixed’. From past research many mixta salads are quite simple and plain but some of the receta for ensalada mixta are almost identical to some from ensalada ilustrada so it’s tough to distinguish them. Most, but not all ensalada ilustrada recipes include asparagus (espárragos) which can appear in other salads but then usually under another name. mixta recipes seem to include more vegetables (often cucumbers (pepino)) whereas the emphasis in ilustrada seems to be tuna (aka bonito). In short I’d guess mixta is the equivalent of ‘house salad’ in the USA and so it’s whatever the restaurant wants to use.

But whatever ilustrada is there was some fun in figuring out recetas as these use terms you wouldn’t ordinarily see on menus but are amusing to try to figure out.

1 puñado de yemas de espárragos 1 handful of asparagus yolks

I remembered yemas (yolks) from previous posts usually in the context of huevo (egg) so this was a bit mysterious. An alternate meaning for yema can be ‘Sprout of a plant from which branches, leaves and flowers develop’. In fact, one translation of ‘bud’ is yema. On other menus cogollo is used to reference the inner portion of a head of lettuce so yema seems to have the same meaning (the video I mentioned made this clear even though I couldn’t understand what was being said).

1 escarola limpia 1 clean escarole

limpia (limpio when modifying lechuga) is better translated as ‘cleansed’, again something the video makes clear, i.e. careful washing of both the lettuce and escarole. A good example of how not to guess this is a cognate for ‘limp’. And I’d certainly hope I get clean ingredients in my food.

Filetes de anchoa en aceite Campos Anchovy fillets in oil Fields
1 frasco de bonito del norte Campos 1 jar of bonito of the north Fields

Campos threw me for a while. It does translate to ‘fields’ as Google did and so I thought somehow this might imply something about the source (is it modifying aceite or anchoa? If anchoa (anchovy) then it might make sense as modifier of bonito as well). Searching for Campos mostly reveals a town in Spain but nowhere near the sea and thus no obvious connection. However searching for ‘aceite campos’ did pop up some online shopping sites and so, this is just a food brand.

1 Bolsa Tierna. 1 Tender Bag

This one really ran me around in circles until I lucked out and saw one of the small images on the search results page and then zoomed in. In this case it really was a bag (plastic) with Tierna as the label and it was clearly the prepared greens we see in supermarkets in USA. I also ‘tender’ is used in the same context as ‘spring’ or ‘young’ since it’s not a term I would expect to apply directly to lettuce, or certainly to a bag.

1 ud Tomate raff. 1 Toma raff.

Two things threw me on this. What is a ud? I’ve seen this on menus and eventually concluded it is merely the abbreviation of unidad (unit). It’s not clear why I need to be told 1 unit of tomato rather than just one tomato, however. raff  (Raf) turns out is a particularly variety of tomato as described in this Wikipedia page.

70gr Bonito en aceite. 70gr Pretty in oil.

I’ve seen this enough times in other samples to know that bonito (a type of tuna) confuses Google but interestingly it got it right in the example I showed discussing what Campos means. ‘pretty’ is a reasonable, but wrong translation. Often another fish, dorado, ends up as ‘golden’ which is actually a kind of truth since the fish got its name due to its color.

150 gr. de queso en taquitos 150 gr. of cheese in taquitos (taco is ‘Small piece, thick and dice-shaped, in which a food is cut’)

And this took some work and I can’t confirm my “guess”. taquito is not a word in any dictionary. Searches reveal it to be a diminutive of taco (the food item, or even something you can buy in freezer section of a USA grocery store) and nothing else. But this made me curious what taco means in Spanish and way down in the list of meanings at Oxford is this (indicated used in Spain this way):

Trozo pequeño, grueso y en forma de dado en que está cortado un alimento. Small piece, thick and dice-shaped, in which a food is cut.

So I’m going with the idea that taquito is derived from taco and so it means really really small pieces. It’s hard to spot the queso in the picture and I couldn’t find any other source so this is just a guess. BUT it’s clearly not taquito one would find in Mexico or USA.

But this one continues to baffle me ( though got it while writing post):

1 sopera de mostaza 1 mustard tureen

I can’t find much else other than ‘tureen’ as a definition. I thought maybe this was a type of mustard (mostaza makes sense as ‘mustard’ based on the instructions of the recipe) but it also should be a unit of measure (to fit the pattern of other ingredients).  I had seen sopera together with cucharada which literally means tablespoon so the hint that sopera might also mean spoon didn’t quite fit. But alas, Spanish language Wikepedia comes to the rescue again since it includes both words together in this article in the sentence:

Su medida corresponde aproximadamente al volumen contenido en una cuchara sopera Its measurement corresponds approximately to the volume contained in a soup spoon

So this is a unit of measure, approximately a tablespoon.

So digging through recipes for items I find on menus is another source for my corpus but I have to be really careful not to create misleading extractions.



Merluza a la Vasca

by Penelope Casas or Merluza y Almejas en Salsa Verde (by Teresa Barrenechea). These recipes are very similar and I made a version of these for dinner tonight.

I’ve been falling behind a bit. My research into Spain’s culinary vocabulary has been a bit slow of late. And I have some painful issue with my toe that I’ve decided to give it a rest and therefore am not accumulating any mileage along my virtual trek of the Camino. I suppose I’d just have to push through it if this trek were real but I have the luxury of experimenting with various things that might alleviate any pain. After all I don’t want to injure myself in just practice and training. The idea of some physical limitation hitting on a real trek is discouraging but one thing to deal with realistically.

So when it was suggested I should make dinner with some frozen hake we have in freezer. I immediately looked for recipes of one of Spain’s most popular fish, merluza. The package lists the fish we had as Hake Loins (Merluccius), wild-caught as a product of Namibia, not exactly the Bay of Biscay (and not fresh) version of merluza. But this is probably the closest we can get here.

Both recipes, despite one emphasizing Almejas (clams) in the title, call for fresh clams (and Casas wants mussels as well). No such luck here in middle of winter in the midwest. But we did have clam juice which is generally good as a substitute for fish stock in cooking. The Barrenechea recipe calls for cooking the clams separately and then using the reserved cooking liquid for cooking the hake so using clam juice instead is close.

At least a couple of ingredients come from our garden ( huerto) – the parsley was harvested during the summer and frozen and the lemons are actually growing on a lemon tree in our atrium (with snow on the ground outside). When I lived in California I had a lemon tree in the backyard, here it lives inside but produces some very nice lemons, weird to see with freezing temperatures outside.

This is a bit different approach than I first learned from a Julia Child recipe (Filets de Poisson Pochés au vin Blanc) that is a killer recipe. In the Spanish recipe the fish is lightly fried prior to poaching and then the poaching liquid has already been thickened with flour (in the Julie Child version the poaching liquid has no starch and is reduced and thickened to make sauce after the poaching). That, plus frozen fish, made it a bit uncertain when the fish would be properly cooked. I extended the 20 minute cooking time by another 5 minutes and it might have been good to go just a bit longer. Frozen hake is a long way from the fresh petrale sole I used for Julia’s recipe but it was acceptable. Hake (and sole) is pretty mild in flavor so most of the flavor comes from the sauce.

So this was a decent little dinner but I wonder what it would be like in a really good restaurant in northern Spain. Hopefully I get the chance to find out.


A la Riojana

My virtual trek has now taken me just past Nájera in La Rioja and there is one restaurant there, Los Parrales, that offers the following menu (plus individual items with a la Riojana as a modifier): [Note: translations are from Google Translate of webpages]

Menú Típico Riojano Typical Riojano Menu
Los sabores más tradicionales de La Rioja The most traditional flavors of La Rioja
Descubre la gastronomía riojana de la mano de nuestro menú típico riojano. Discover the Riojan gastronomy hand in hand with our typical Riojan menu.

If you’ve ever gotten wine from Spain you’ve heard of Rioja. This is the best-known and probably premier wine growing area. Like Napa (which is a region, county and town) La Rioja is a political entity, an autonomous community of Spain, consisting of a single province. The capital is Logroño which was my previous stop on the Camino. The wine region of Rioja is not exactly the same area as the political entity but roughly aligns with it. And Riojana is the demonym of people and things from this region. A la Riojana is a designation, used with food, to indicate the preparation is the one typical used in Rioja. This is similar to Italian practice, e.g. a la Bolognese (a meat-based sauce originating from Bologna).

But what is it?

For me to answer, neither being there in person nor an expert in either Spanish language or cuisine of Spain is a bit of a stretch, so I suggest you find other sources (I’ll be providing some), especially from anyone who is describing their personal experience with a la Riojana.

This article, while in Spanish, has a better description than I can provide. Teresa Barrenechea lumps La Rioja together with Navarra and Aragón, emphasizing the connection to La Ribera del Ebro (the second major river of the entire Iberian Peninsula; ribera is its riverbank, the obvious fertile area for growing crops). While wine is the hallmark of Rioja it is not used, directly, in the cuisine. Instead the cuisine is dominated by vegetables which grow well in the same conditions as vineyards. The cuisine uses less of the fresh seafood of further north but a bit more lamb and beef. It is simple and hearty.

Perhaps the most classic dish is:

Patatas a la Riojana Potatoes Riojana’s style

This is a fairly simple stew (description and typical recipe) of potatoes and chorizo (riojana version) seasoned with ample paprika. It definitely seems to meet the simple and hardy description that is characteristic of much of a la Riojana. It’s amusing that one of the links (for receta) I provided actually uses patatasriojana as the domain name (I guess someone thinks it’s famous).

In terms of fish this also seems to be a classic (description and typical recipe):

Bacalao a la Riojana Cod to the Riojana

I ate numerous cod dishes in Portugal (from desalted salt cod, interesting to see huge piles of it in markets) and, well, it’s pretty blah. The tomato sauce and at least some hint of pepper might elevate this dish above blah levels, but it seems hard to get excited about it.

A more interesting meat dish (again that seems to be a Riojana classic, although not on the menu of this restaurant is las chuletas al sarmiento (chops with the vine shoot, description) which is roast lamb but using the trimmings for grape vines as the smoking wood. The restaurant did have a special menu focused on this dish:

Menú Típico Riojano Especial Lechazo Typical Rioja Special Lechazo (lit: suckling lamb) Menu
Lechazo de Cameros Recién (lit: newly or recently) Asado Newly Roasted Cameros
A elegir de los primeros platos y postres del Menú Típico Riojano Choose from the first dishes and desserts of the Riojano Typical Menu

Now lechazo is a preparation (English link, Spanish link) [and also an alternative term] of cordero lechal . cordero is a lamb (in general), and lechal (derived from leche (milk)) imply a very young and unweaned lamb. So this menu is a variation (at this restaurant and therefore for a certain price) of their Menú Típico Riojano where the lechazo is the required segundo plato.

But it took some looking to finally conclude (as best I can) that the de Cameros (tough to search since a car gets most hits) refers to a geographical area within Rioja, i.e. in and around the Sierra de Cameros in in the south center of La Rioja (in the region of La Rioja Media). Presumably the sheep from this area must be special enough that they’d be labeled on the menu. But this is another typical challenge of deciphering menus.

And then there was this item on the menu:

Revuelto Riojano Scrambled Riojano

I’ve actually mentioned revuelto is a previous post but the images and recipes I find for this seem to be showing off the vegetables that also characterize Riojana. Here is a recipe focused on a version emphasizing peppers. And another recipe that seems to have a bit of everything in a big pile which seems to be merging revuelto and pisto (I love this translation of pisto, hotchpotch, or more conventionally ratatouille).

So that’s our brief tour of La Rioja. Too bad it’s only words since sights and smells and tastes, in real life, would be some much better.

Note: This post took me so long to get it published I’ve passed Nájera and blown into the next town, Azofra. It has a couple of restaurants labeled on the Google map but none (thus far) that appear to have websites to extract their menus. But as a recommendation, Dear Reader, it’s handy to look at these places on Google maps because they collect many photos of food for each restaurant that is a POI. Here is a good interactive map with a GPS trace of the Camino de Santiago.



A challenging menu

I use this blog to report some stories about my Spain food project. I am trying to create first a corpus, then a good delivery mechanism (like smartphone app) for the most robust, complete and accurate translation of menus one would encounter in Spain. This is not just a question of finding literal translation of individual words (as we’ll see later in this post). Many terms simply don’t have an English equivalent. In some cases it’s like – what is the English word for gazpacho? Well, ‘ur, it’s gazpacho. That’s commonly known but what about ajoarriero or pochas or gamba de Huelva? If you can find these at all in some translation dictionary it may not help much as you really need to know, from a culinary point of view, what these items are.

I’ve mostly been working from an online dictionary written in Spanish for cooks in Spain to get a lot of my raw material. But menus may be different, more colloquial, local terms, alternate spelling (is alcahofas a typo or an alternate to the word for artichoke that has an additional ‘c’) and so forth, so I need to continue to primarily collect my corpus from those source. So I have a fairly long list of URLs for restaurants in Logroño La Rioja, along the Camino de Santiago that I am using as focus for finding restaurants as I do a “virtual” hike along the Camino.

So this is the one I did today, Taberna Herrerías (website, which has one of my favorite things, its “address” in GPS coordinates (+42° 28′ 3.14″, -2° 26′ 38.21 easy to find on maps; try GoogleMaps and you’ll also get a POI for the restaurant, click on that and you’ll get lots of photos for your virtual visit)). This carta took me a long time to decipher and so too much to include in just one post. I’ll mention a few interesting bits.

First, in the menu category Verduras de temporada (Vegetables of the season) was this item (with Google Translate):

Pisto con huevo batido Pisto with beaten egg

Oops, Google doesn’t know what pisto is; and neither does  Oops, small digression. I do the work and then come back to do posts and I double-check my claims. In this case I made some mistake that would have given me an answer right away than the roundabout story I have hear (clue, spanishdict does translate this, I must not have done my initial search correctly). Anyway, doing Google search on pisto, my usual thing if I don’t find a term in my chosen dictionaries was fairly useless because all the results were related to pistochio (is pisto a nickname for these?). So I did my usual thing of supplementing search term with ‘beaten egg’ and then I began to get some results, eventually leading to a recipe (amazing there is a domain (  just for this). Reading that I eventually learned this dish is fairly close to ratatouille which, though loanword in English, is known to most foodies. And, the reverse lookup of ratatouille does yield pisto (which isn’t, now, a surprise, given the forward lookup of pisto yields ratatouille). So I may have missed a clue, duh, to make this easier, but at least I got there.

Then under entrantes (starters) is this item:

Jamón y lomo de bellota Ham and loin of acorn

Now Google may (humorously) think this is body parts from an acorn but it takes about 10 minutes looking at food in Spain to quickly learn about jamón ibérico de bellota. You can drop over a thousand dollars buying about 12 pounds of this at Amazon (for years you couldn’t get it at all in the U.S.). This is ham from a specific breed of pigs that, we could say, are “free range” and eat a lot of acorns they find (sometimes the pigs would be prepped with even more acorns). So what’s the point here? This menu item left out the jamón ibérico de part because everyone would already known that (IOW, a) ham and loin are likely to be from animal, mostly likely a pig, and, b) this is so famous just the shorthand of bellota is sufficient). But if you were right off the plane in Spain and jetlagged and only had a simple dictionary (since you don’t know any Spanish) you would probably be confused.

Now let’s look at this one:

Caparrón de Anguiano Caparrón de Anguiano

Real good translation there, Google – helps a lot (didn’t even translate de which is trivial). When you get a blank like this (in dictionaries as well) chances are this is some highly specific and probably regional term. Fortunately it doesn’t get confused with the wrong things so eventually I arrived at this description, which is a bit of a rant about finding the real thing, i.e. a very special kind of bean. But knowing this is a bean doesn’t give me much clue what the menu item is. A bit more digging led to this recipe (complete with picture). Ah, bean soup with cerdo ibérico and chorizo instead of leftover ham. This is a fairly special set of ingredients so it would be interested to see how a fairly mundane dish would taste at this restaurant.

So now a fairly simple one:

Langostino y gamba de Huelva Shrimp and shrimp from Huelva

Once again Google was mystified by Huelva but at least spanishdict knew it was a city in the Canary Islands (a clue, but doesn’t decode this menu item). Long story short, here’s the answer:

The White Shrimp of Huelva is an exclusive species of this seafood that is only found on the coast of the towns that are located between the mouths of the Guadiana and Guadalquivir rivers and that has very special characteristics.

But, don’t assume a search for ‘white shrimp’ will help any since that turns up a creature from oceans off the coast of North America, not anywhere near the Guadiana and Guadalquivir rivers.

And, finally (there are more but out of time (and your reading patience)) there is:

Taco bacalao a la riojana Cod taco a la riojana

Ah, a fish taco, that sounds good. Now any use of a la X is a clue this is some sort of qualifier about how the cod is preferred. And you’re in Logroño which is in La Rioja – you might just guess this, cod in the characteristic style of La Rioja. But what is that? Well, if you could ask your server you could find out. Or if you had a WiFi connection you could find this (there are numerous receta online). But if you had your simple little dictionary, paper or smartphone, I doubt you’d learn much.

But then the fun part is taco. As this is effectively now an English word (at least in most parts of U.S.) we know what it is – something wrapped inside a folded tortilla. So I wondered if the Mexican taco had reverse invaded Spain and without any authoritative answer it seems unlikely (although, when I went down this road before I found now there are “genuine” Mexican restaurants in some of Spain’s cities where you actually could get a taco or enchilada or whatever). I’ve already mentioned tortilla is entirely something different in Spain than in western hemisphere. I really doubt you can fold an egg and potato “omelet” into a taco. But this was a tough one to track down until I found this (from the trusty Oxford dictionary, Spanish edition)

Small piece, thick and dice-shaped, in which a food is cut.

I can’t be certain (maybe with even more searching I could reach definite conclusion) but some of the pictures I found, searching for recetas (recipes) of ‘bacalao a la riojana’ certainly looked like this sounds. So since taco in the western hemisphere sense is unlikely for this menu item I’m going with the Oxford translation.

Now, as side question, after getting these clues and learning this (assuming I’m right), plus getting even more information about the recipe and how this dish is prepared how would I get this information into my app (my dream to build someday) and you to find it. That’s an entirely different kind of question.

crema: Multitasking word

crema is a fairly obvious cognate for ‘cream’ but that’s not what it  always means. In fact, the conventional U.S. meaning of creme (as a standalone word) would be crema de leche in Spanish. But both English and Spanish use ‘cream’ (crema) in multiword combinations to provide more precise meaning BUT often menus don’t include the additional qualifying words and thus leave one guessing what crema might be.

While crema means conventional English notion of cream in Mexico as well crema has become part of foodie vocabulary in U.S. as the Mexican version of sour cream (sorta) or crème fraîche (sorta). Sour cream in Spanish seems to be crema agria but I can’t determine exactly where this would be used (for instance, is it used in Mexico given everyone just says crema).

But then we move on to another usage: crema catalana which on some menus would merely be listed (presumably under postres) as just crema. The qualification of Catalana (thus Catalan cream in literal English) doesn’t tell a non-Spaniard much, but finding this is another term for crème brûlée would at least clue most English-speaking foodies. In fact, crema catalana is almost entirely what one gets in searches for crema. Meanwhile, as another sweet, GallinaBlanca reminded its readers that crema pastelera is one “meaning” of crema (and presumably sometimes again just crema would be used without the modifier to achieve this meaning); again this is easy for foodies since it literally translates to pastry cream. While there are variations of pastry cream it is mostly the same basic recipe.

And then we have this:  crema de calabcín which is a soup made with zucchini, onion, cheese and liquid cream. While this is the only term GallinaBlanca provides in its dictionary I’ve seen lots of other variations on menus and sometimes just as the standalone word crema (usually with clear implication it’s a soup). Now again, this matches English usage, e.g. cream of mushroom soup (we, of course, add the soup, hardly needed as qualifier and it appears sopa (the literal soup) doesn’t appear as a qualifier in Spain. And I’ve never seen sopa de crema whereas you do see its English equivalent (cream soup) on menus in U.S. which, presumably, would confuse a Spanish speaker a bit.

So the exact meaning of crema on a menu may involve some guesswork but it probably resembles a fairly similar usage in Spain. The one thing it probably doesn’t mean (while it could literally) is cream for coffee as that almost always will just be de leche.

However, additionally, one place Spanish is different than English in regards to ‘cream’ is  crémor tártaro which you would probably, correctly, guess is cream of tartar. This is curious too because it’s an instance in English of using the x of y phrasing which is common in Spanish but usually occurs as y x in English.

No translation, it is what it is

One of the fun challenges of this project is that some words that describe a dish in Spain simply have no translation to English, or, if the dish is well-known just have the Spanish word used in English, e.g. paella and gazpacho – these are common enough to just be known by the Spanish word in any English menu.

But, what about dishes that are less well known? Eventually I expect to compile a list of these (as one of my reference pages) because there is no translation into English, just an explanation of what the dish is you’ll just have to know.

So, while probing the mysteries of the online dictionary I found (which more and more doesn’t look to be specific to Spain even though I found it on a website in Spain) I encountered this:

FIDEUA – FIDEUÀ Plato semejante a la paella hecho con fideos en lugar de arroz. Paella-like dish made with noodles instead of rice.

Initially I was interested in this entry in the dictionary due to the two different spellings, as a potential clue to how this dictionary applies. I’d already encountered this in this dictionary having an entry “FRÉJOLFRIJOL” and learning that fréjol is primarily used in South American countries, not Spain (in fact, is frijol itself used in Spain or is it judía (not judia, accent is critical) or alubia? – all these are some sort of ‘bean’). Thus, perhaps, this dictionary is not only not Spain-specific but it may contain words not commonly used in Spain and/or that have a different meaning in Spain.

Anyway back to fideuà. This was an easy one to track down (relative to the main topic of this post). As good as anything else is this information from Wikipedia:

Fideuà (dialectal pronunciation of the Valencian/Catalan word fideuada “large amount of noodles”) is a seafood dish originally from the coast of Valencia which is similar to paella, and even more to arròs a banda, but with noodles instead of rice. Its main ingredients are: pasta noodles (usually hollow), fish (rockfish, monkfish, cuttlefish, squid), and shellfish (Squilla mantis, shrimp, crayfish). It is seasoned mainly with lemon.

and this source ( is very helpful (assuming it’s correct and it seems to be in casual reading) at explaining the difference.

So an interesting question (for me) is how to handle this kind of “word” in both my lists and then in software? It’s not a term that translates so what should I say in the translation?

btw: My attempt to understand the translation provided exposed me to the interesting phrase,  en lugar de (instead of) which is one point of doing all this tedious work, i.e. I’m learning some Spanish by seeing how words are used (now can I remember any of it?)

revuelto explained

I’ve encountered this word on numerous menus and the literal translation gives a clue but not a very good one. For instance,

Revuelto de champiñón Mushroom scrambled

So what is this, a mixed up bunch of mushrooms? (champiñón should be easy for you if you happen to know French, champignons; but setas is also common with one source distinguishing this word as used for “flat-top” mushrooms (vs round-top for champiñón)). And this is a good example of Spanish elsewhere than Spain having words for mushrooms you (probably) would not find in Spain: hongo (Latin America), callampa (Chile).

But revuelto, according to has a ton of meanings: messy, upside down, mixed up, scrambled (getting close), mixed, unsettled, rough, disheveled, untidy, upset, nauseous, cloudy, turbid, restless, turbulent, and then finally, 9th in the list, the one we want (under heading of culinary), scrambled eggs.

Now most of us wouldn’t put mushrooms in “scrambled eggs” (in an omelet perhaps, so maybe that is what this is).

This website, which describes lots of Spanish egg dishes provides this:

A revuelto is another Spanish egg dish that is ripe with possibilities. Revueltos are always served with one or two other ingredients mixed in. Some of the most popular scrambled egg add-ins are blood sausage, asparagus, cod fish or garlic stalks.

While this source makes the comparison to omelets the sample picture it shows (as well as other images in Google searcch) clearly shows something more like a scramble than an omelet.

And this webpage which has a full description says thusly:

A revuelto is a dish of scrambled eggs mixed with other ingredients. In Spain, you will find revueltos served in bars and restaurants, but they are also cooked at home. They are kind of like the omelets that Americans enjoy. Think of them as scrambled eggs served Spanish style.

Revueltos appear on menus with a wide variety of ingredients mixed into the eggs. While this source makes the comparison to omelets the sample picture it shows (as well as other photos) clearly shows something more like a scramble than an omelet.

And just for fun, here’s some combinations this source shows so you get a look at a manual translation for a change.

Ajetes, trigueros y gambas Garlic shoots, asparagus and shrimp
Champinones y gambas White mushrooms and shrimp
Gambas y tomate Shrimp and tomato
Jamon y cebolla Ham and onions
Setas y morcilla Wild mushrooms and blood sausage
Espinacas Spinach
Gambas y rape Shrimp and monkfish
Salmon ahumado Smoked salmon
Pimientos y cebolla Peppers and onions
Bacalao con salsa de chipirones Cod with squid sauce
Sesos de cordero Sheep brains
Trufas Truffles
Chorizo Spanish chorizo sausage

Now you know and you’ll remember this, right?