A circuitous route to the right answer?

I was doing my usual process of researching entries in the GallinaBlanca diccionario. For a word, get their definition in Spanish, translate to English via spanishdict.com, translate the term itself to see if there is simple literal translation. Then consider the result and see if this makes sense or whether I need to do further searches (and then with what search terms) to figure this term out, at least the way the author of GB diccionario meant.

I was starting with Q words and the first was quark. Right away I knew these would be a problem in my approach since ‘quark’ is a word in English and thus spanishdict would be looking for the equivalent Spanish term. But looking at the definition and translation

QUARK Es el queso no madurado ni escaldado, alto en humedad, de textura blanda o suave, preparado con leche descremada y concentrada, cuajada con enzimas y/o por cultivos lácticos y separados mecánicamente del suero, cuyo contenido de grasa láctica es variable, dependiendo si se agrega crema o no durante su elaboració It is the unripened or scalded cheese, high in moisture, soft or soft texture, prepared with skim milk and concentrated, curdled with enzymes and/or by lactic cultures and mechanically separated from the serum, whose lactic fat content is variable, depending on whether Cream is added or not during your Elaboració

I tried search terms ‘quark cheese’ which then quickly disclosed this article in Wikipedia and the translated definition and the article align nicely to strongly suggest this is it. I’m sorta a foodie and know cheese reasonably well but I’d never heard of this (it’s close, but still a bit than ricotta than is made in a similar fashion). But what was interesting is that the Wikipedia article mentions this:

Quark is similar to French fromage blanc, Indian paneer, and the queso fresco/queijo fresco made in the Iberian Peninsula and in some Latin American countries.

That peaked my interest in that I’m quite familiar with queso fresco so I assumed queijo fresco might be the version in Spain instead of the more familiar Latin American name (wrong, now, I think, that was probably the Portuguese name given it too is on the Iberian peninsula – shouldn’t jump to conclusions). But no harm, no foul, this article popped up in response to search for queijo fresco. So I’d say queso blanco is the closest equivalent to quark for Spain. So strange, a dictionary for use in Spain has the English name instead of the Iberian name (nowhere in this dictionary). I guess the point is that Iberian cooks would already know queso blanco but never heard of quark and so this dictionary is explaining the foreign term rather than the domestic one (why then, with this idea, didn’t they just define quark as queso blanco? This dictionary has a large number of terms that are not Spanish (or at most Spanish cognates to words that originated in another language). Why? As I’ve found more and more of this I’ve wondered and decided it’s an aid to Spanish cooks (given this dictionary is tied to a large list of recipes) in case they encounter the foreign term.

So done with that term right away I hit another interesting term to run down. Here’s the GallinaBlanca definition and spanishdict translation:

QUEBRADA Masa quebrada o brisé. Una masa para tartas saladas o dulces. Las proporciones son mitad de mantequilla y doble de harina. Broken mass or brisé. A dough for salty or sweet tarts. The proportions are half of butter and double of flour.

Looking up quebrada for a literal translation spanishdict suggested trying quebrado instead. This is common since it’s the gender thing in adjectives and usually the dictionary contains the masculine (‘o’ instead of ‘a’) form. quebrado has meaning translations none of which seemed to have any connection (didn’t key on ‘broken’ or lookup brisé and I might have gotten to the answer sooner). So I did a search just for quebrada and got nothing that had any connection. So looking at the definition I decided to add ‘dough’ to the search and then got something that at least made some sense, this article,  which is about gordita, but has this bit

An old variant of corn gorditas uses masa quebrada (broken dough) where the corn meal is coarsely ground, leaving bits of broken grain.

I was happy to see quebrada (turns out spanishdict’s suggestion was right, I should have noticed ‘broken’ as a translation of quebrado). BUT, I thought a gordita is: a) a lot different than the definition GallinaBlanca provided, and, b) this is Latin American, not Spain, and while the GB dictionary has had other terms that don’t seem to be used in Spain I always try to figure out if the Spain term is different (as in the notorious example of tortilla, entirely different between anywhere in western hemisphere (given tortilla is now fully a loanword into U.S. English) and Spain).

So I did a search for masa quebrada and I got one of those strange connections between Google search and Wikipedia I’ve mentioned before. Nowhere in the displayed text for the article that came up is either masa or quebrada, but somehow Google connected this too. For this example it’s good it did as ‘shortcrust pastry’ is a much closer match to the GB definition, especially this bit:

It is based on a “half-fat-to-flour” ratio (twice as much flour as fat by weight).

And then there is this bit, pâte brisée is mentioned as one of the types of shortcrust pastry (a bit different flour/fat ratio) and that triggered my connection to the untranslated term in the GB definition, brisé (which is in none of the dictionary, including the authoritative one for the Spanish language (Diccionario de la lengua Española from Real Academia Española) but the similarity might just mean it really is supposed to be the French word and they misspelled it (who knows). I call this closing the loop.

So I believe that quebrada is shortcrust pastry, but in fact quebrado is a better choice since it does have broken (and no more) as its definition where quebrada doesn’t. But perhaps dough is thought of as feminine and hence ‘a’ was used despite then conflicting with another literal lookup. I assume the author and perhaps people reading this dictionary would know that but it’s quite a bit of investigation for me. And I’m fairly sure this is not related to a gordita which provided the clue for subsequent search to the right answer.

Now I suspect this term is unlikely to appear on a menu and instead one of the 87 recetas at GallinaBlanca use it as an ingredient and those names might be on a menu. But some menus have descriptions of an item and so it’s possible quebrada might be something a traveler would want to know and not spend nearly half an hour, as I did, figuring this out.


Interesting verb marear

In my previous post I pointed out some interesting issues with the GallinaBlanca dictionary – in particular for each word there is a link to go see where this word is used in recetas (recipes) on this site. This turned out to be very helpful for this verb whose Spanish definition and spanishdict translation are below:

MAREAR Es lo mismo que rehogar. Sofreír un alimento para que se impregne de la grasa y los ingredientes con que se condimenta. It’s the same thing as a fry. Sauté a food so that it is impregnated with the fat and the ingredients it is flavored with.

usage example in receta: cook until the onions are dizzy (marear)

spanishdict has translations for marear which are:  1) a variety of translation in the sense of (to produce nausea) {I suppose that might apply to cooking}, 2) to make dizzy in sense of (to disorient), 3) to confuse in sense of (to disconcert), and, 4) to make drunk in sense of (to intoxicate) {I suppose this might apply to cooking if we’re soaking the food in booze but that’s another word}.

But looking at the English translation and then clicking the link to find the use of this word in recipes (which Google then translated as dizzy) I think the real cooking issue is to cook something (like onions in the usage example) is sufficient quantity of oil and for sufficient time for then to absorb most of the oil (and also any fat-soluble flavors).

So it would have been almost impossible to determine anything approximating the meaning of marear (relative to cooking) without this specialized dictionary and some of the usage examples. While I suspect it’s unlikely it does seem possible this verb might be used in the description of some food item on a menu and thus good to know.



Asymmetry in translation dictionaries

I’m at the mercy of online translation dictionaries to do this project and I’m using them a lot and thus gradually learned some of their eccentricities. So I thought I’d mention a very simple example. This is based on using spanishdict.com which in general is a tremendously helpful source and thanks to them very much for providing it, free, online.

But I’ve found a challenging issue of asymmetry in looking up Spanish words to get English versus looking up English words to get Spanish. For instance, for Spanish word X you might get English results A, B, C, but then looking up A or B or C you may not get the original X and/or you get Y and Z Spanish words. Likewise, as this example will show you look up English word D, which was not in the list for lookup of X, but it does show X.

Here’s what I mean in example (this is GallinaBlanca’s definition of gourmets (yes with the s)).

Persona entendida y de gustos refinados en la gastronomía.

The spanishdict translation is

Understood person and of refined tastes in the gastronomy.

Now needless to say this looks a little clunky PLUS ‘understood’ just doesn’t seem to fit. Matching the bits of the sentence it is entendida that is being translated to understood. Looking up entendida in spanishdict.com it is listed under the verb entender (to understand).  Digging through the conjugation on the spanishdict’s page for this very entendido is listed as the past participle (don’t understand the masculine form there and the feminine form in the sentence, but that’s a different mystery). Hence ‘understood’ is the direct literal translation.

But reading the sentence and knowing what a gourmet is (that word being a loanword into Spanish) I thought ‘knowledgeable’ would fit the definition much better. Now while ‘know’ is one of the definitions of entender (as intransitive verb) it’s hard, from just scanning spanishdict’s entry on entender to conclude ‘knowledgeable’ is one of the meanings.

So here is the asymmetry (just this one example, I’ve encountered this before in multiple case). Lookup up ‘knowledgeable’ in spanishdict.com.  Under the general sense of “knowing a lot” the first translation is informado which is qualified with the sense (of current affairs). Then second translation is  entendido  which is qualified with the sense of (about a specific area). And the third is  culto which is qualified with the sense of (in general).

Now (and I should have tried this before launching into this post) looking up entendido (instead of the entendida used in the original text) spanishdict tells me this is ‘expert’ which might be even better than ‘knowledgeable’.

So what is the point? If one has studied a foreign (to them) language a lot and really gotten into its structure and rules and vocabulary, plus colloquial usage, all these things I’m noticing are probably obvious and a fluent Spanish speaker would probably laugh at my stumbling through these things. Fine, that’s not the point. I’m writing these posts for people like me, i.e. willing to acquire some familiarity with Iberian Spanish for the pragmatic purpose of getting what you want at restaurants. Sure, fluent conversational skill in Spanish is an excellent idea for an extended tour of Spain but that may not be feasible. (I’ve consulted with a couple of people who’ve studied Spanish for years and, frankly, they haven’t been much help on some of the details I’ve been encountering as they are more focused on broad and general conversations).

And in contrast hauling along some small paper translation or phrase guide (as I’ve done in multiple countries) or these days using an app on your app (assuming you want to pay the stiff tariffs for Net connection while trekking) these tools do these same simple things I’ve been doing in this project AND THUS often getting a bad answer. Now unless you want to spend hours analyzing a menu before placing your order it’s best to have something more sophisticated than the best tools available today. Now maybe in a few decades Google (or someone) will have an incredibly great translation app but the state of the art today leaves a lot of gaps. So, now, entendida human translation beats the machine and if I succeed, at least for a narrow area of discourse, I hope to create that more sophisticated translation for diners.

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 spanishdict.com 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?

Why we need better than literal translation (or more than phones)

If you were in Spain and using a simple dictionary (or your phone, at least with Google Assistant, maybe Siri is smarter (I can’t test it)) you might end up ordering something you really don’t want. Some of you may have followed Andrew Zimmern and Bizarre Food, but I almost couldn’t watch that. Some food, which may be terrific, that people eat in other parts of the world grosses me out. That’s why I’d like to know the most accurate (and possibly detailed) translation for menu item.

So I just encountered this one, manitas de cerdo, in the category of cazuelicas (which in itself is a small mystery; hint it’s derived from cazuela) on a menu for restaurant in Puente la Riena (Navarra, right on the Camino). A quick look in the dictionary (or possibly a word you will have learned from my list since it is frequently used) shows cerdo to be pig which we may safely assume means pork even though puerco (a bit easier to guess as a cognate) is also commonly used. Fine. cazuelicas (I’m going to do a longer post on these) are small dishes which then contain the food, basically a small casserole or stew. Fine, sounds, OK, some casserole with pork.

But what about manitas? With just a dictionary (or phone, or in my case Google translate) this comes up as ‘handyman’ (or just ‘handy’ or ‘good with one’s hands’). Huh, what kind of pork preparation is somehow connected to being a handyman?

Well, with a bit more research (if you had the time to do it in a restaurant instead of quickly using my list and its app, when I get it done) you’d find this is pork trotters, as in the feet (even the hooves) of pigs. Oh yum! Andrew Zimmern might like this, an adventurous diner might relish this dining novelty in Spain, even folks from nearby Iowa which is pig raising capital of U.S. would find it familiar, but I’ll pass.

The web version of the menu I’m looking at doesn’t have any pictures so I can’t even use that to exclude choices I don’t want. This worked for me in both Japan and China, as pictures (or plastic food in Japan) was a great clue, but they’re not available in this restaurant in Spain.

Now, of course, if you’re fluent in Spanish (and didn’t have an accent that would make it impossible to be understood in this part of Spain (as some Spanish speakers from Western Hemisphere discover)) you could query the waiter about what this dish is. You wish! And if you got an answer, could you understand it if you have limited conversational Spanish? (For fun with that try understanding the scene (without subtitles) in The Way where Martin Sheen gets explanation of there being no tapas in Navarra, only pintxos which he confuses with pinchos). If you can’t discuss (or know from previous unpleasant experience) you’ll be dependent on reading the menu. Then either being too conservative (like ordering “safe” chistorra instead since I’ve already explained that one in a previous post and you know it’s edible) and then missing some interesting food you would like; or risk getting something that may be inedible for you.

But, just in case you need more persuading, from this same menu of cazuelicas we have callos (no easy guess at this) which translates (via Google) to ‘calluses’ (or ‘lime’ (as in the building material, not the fruit) according to spanishdict.com). Great not much help, neither sounds like anything I’d want to eat. But here’s the deal – like cazuelicas or salmorejo this is just the name of a generic dish (like goulash or succotash or jambalaya, or even paella from Spain you probably know as just paella in English) that has no direct translation to English (although one online dictionary gave a clue, ‘guts’), only a description. According to Wikipedia this is

Callos is a stew common across Spain, and is considered traditional to Madrid. It contains beef tripe and chickpeas , blood sausage and bell peppers. Chorizo sausage may also be used.

Now all I need to know is what the word for tripe is (some say callos, some say tripa, take your pick given callos is now going to be a circular reference (is there callos in my callos); AND how to ask the waiter if this restaurant’s version of callos used tripe (bad but fortunately easy to ask, ¿includio tripa)) or chorizo (good). [And what Nord Americano who has eaten at “Mexican” restaurants in the U.S. doesn’t know what chorizo is BUT is it the same thing in Spain? If you think so, what do you think tortilla is in Spain? I pick huevo, neither wheat or corn, por favor.]

Just in case you want to make callos for yourself (since you’re not in Puente la Reina, Navarra, where this restaurant serves it), here’s a clear online recipe (at least for the Madrid version, perhaps Navarra is different).

[added after initial post: I’m not sure I should add this (versus do a new post) since it’s my usual style of expanding posts until they’re way too long for web attention spans but I’m going to, this time, anyway]

After handling the cazuelicas part of the menu (and writing the post above) I moved on to a much safer category: HAMBURGUESAS Y SANDWICH (I suspect you don’t need the translation for this, but they might have used emparedado (instead of sandwich) just to make this a little more fun).

After just mentioning using pictures on menus to help pick a dish this webpage does that job. But there is still some fun here even on this easier set of choices (don’t do Google translate, just follow along). sencilla does translate (literally) to ‘simple’ (as Google did) and picture A (vs B, the completa burger) is pretty obvious, BUT, what’s that? Is that a beef burger or a chicken filet or even breaded pork tenderloin in A? Maybe you’d think that’s what sencilla would imply (doesn’t appear too) type of burger in the bun, not just absent the toppings. So pictures can be misleading too.  Then we have the fun part of item C, Menú Hamburguesa.  Aren’t we looking at the menú  (no, this is the carta, as in equivalent to a la carte) so menú  in this case (and others) implies either the works (or we might use ‘meal’ (as at McDonalds) or ‘basket’ (at Dairy Queen)). But what about that picture C (vs B) – looks like a lot more goodies piled on the burger than the completa (the bonus, I guess, for ordering the meal).

But a couple more tidbits to notice from this simple menu. What about that ‘reed’ (the literal of caña Google provided). Just the word, refresco, given even with the simplest knowledge of Spanish that o is or and thus a choice sounds better even without its literal translation of ‘soft drink’ (seems the most common translation).  A bit deeper in the list of meanings for caña we get something a bit more appealing:  ‘small glass of beer’, a definition that is usually used in Spain (as noted by spanishdict.com) and might not get you a small draft beer in Columbia. And finally, (without the picture or my handy-dandy guide) you might not find sandwich york y queso  too appealing unless you happen to know that york is just a typical type of ham (aka, cocido (cooked, but also translates to boiled and fired, which could refer to a ham preparation), simple and presumably cheap versus the many other types of ham in Spain which seems to adore ham (jamón)). [A nice article about Spanish ham here]

So even in a fairly tiny and simple menu, with pictures, you might still have some ambiguity on what to order. Me, I’d go with Picture C just because it looks the best.