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 2A (Ponferrada)

To restart my search for menus in Spanish and studying them I started in Ponferrada just coincidentally. In all my previous work on this project the larger cities, often also the ones popular with tourists, have the most raw material, but several towns along the Camino are more interesting, i.e. Logroño and now Ponferrada.

I recently happened to see another story about the Camino and also about Ponferrada and that rekindled my interest. I did some quick searching and it seemed like Ponferrada would have interesting material. Many of the people who do the Camino for the tourism value, not the original religious pilgrimage, start in Ponferrada, often in escorted tours, and just do the last 206kms. Frankly, from my virtual tour this makes sense to me because: a) it’s really the prettiest part (much of Camino would be like walking the Cowboy Trail in western Nebraska, dry, hot, boring, treeless and brown), and, b) it’s much greener and then mostly into Galicia which has the best food since Navara (and even there the Camino Frances doesn’t hit the Basque Country culinary hotspots).

So I did the usual thing, an initial Google search which either yields direct results or a link to Trip Advisor which has been a reliable guide (even if I don’t buy their ratings) to all/most of the restaurants in a given area. I could use this as starting point to then find websites for some of the listed restaurants, or as I’ll do in this series of posts, just some photos (either on Trip Advisor or back on Google Maps) to get raw material.

Now, the “top” (as rated per Trip Advisor) restaurants in Ponferrada are not particular Spanish and I’ve found this to be in other cities in Spain. Usually European, even “Italian” oriented restaurants get the highest ratings, also often with the highest prices, which probably just indicates a bias from tourist reviews instead of locals. And frankly, the highly touted tourist places don’t interest me (either for this project or to actually visit) since I can find equally good restaurants closer to home. If I’m in Spain, I want a Spain culinary experience. Perhaps I’m a bit more confident about that as I could struggle through ordering and eating with my newly learned Spanish, but really it’s just closer to the original point of this project.

So, after my usual excessively long preface, I looked at Trip Advisor’s top 30 restaurants and, disappointingly, found few online menus, in fact, only one as a document (a few others as photos). But one restaurant did have an appealing website even without a menu AND it triggered an idea.


After doing some of what I intended in this post it was getting long (big surprise) I’ve decided to split discussion of the first restaurant I’m looking at in Ponferrada into three sub-parts. In the second sub-part I’ll discuss a couple of words from one restaurant that Google didn’t know and do have any real translation. Then I’ll cover the rest of the language about that restaurant in the third part, and who knows I may have to split that because there are two restaurants at the same website.


Also I know I wander a lot in these posts but that’s actually what I find interesting. Little did I know when I started this I’d end up looking at la gastronomía berciana and Botillo del Bierzo (check out part 2B).


Normally I have a rule not to use someone else’s picture from the web, but a free picture from a guest on a free website that support the restaurant I’ll be talking about in the next part, here goes:


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.

A short example of finding cooking verbs in context

In order to create my list of cooking verbs here at this blog, for you and for me I used a process I’ve used (and refined a bit over time) for using various online sources to compile lists (this post has details). Then, after the tedious compilation and collation process, I attempt to generate my own, best-guess (from all the data I can find) at an English equivalent for Spanish verbs. Of course, in many cases there is no simple/short equivalent , so while ahumar is simply ‘to smoke’, what is the short equivalent for acanalar?

This is a tried and true process and if it is done very carefully can produce a very good list of cooking verbs with adequate and brief English equivalents. It is, by the way, rather hard to do this well and many lists I find on the net are not so great.  And if one is thorough it’s also possible to create the most comprehensive list one can find. So this is a challenging project even if it turns out few people will find this source.

So now I’m looking at a different process, described in this previous post about how I’m changing the focus of my work, that is now looking at recipes instead of menus to find a robust vocabulary of food/cooking terms in Spanish.  Now given I’ve actually spent 1.5 years learning Spanish I can use other techniques to find source material.

So here is a very short example as: a) the full recipe has lots of interesting tidbits, and, b) I don’t have enough time, today, to explain all of it.

Here is the webpage for making Tacos Tlaquepaque. This a great site with many recipes and I encourage you to take a look. I’ll extract a few bits to add my analysis but I’ll honor their IP rights by not reproducing any of their material.

When I first started trying to extract Spanish food terms and their English equivalent I’d copy some text from various restaurants (only in Spain) and do my own processing (basically putting it in a format I could annotate in MSWord). Then I’d get the Google Translation (or in a few cases a human translation) to put side-by-side with the English. I figured I could just match up bits from one column to the other column and thus extracts “pairs” (Spanish and English) to put in a corpus. I quickly learned this was a fairly naive idea and I had a lot of fun writing earlier posts about quirks that descend from this approach.

Now that I’ve learned some Spanish, although still below intermediate level, I can “parse” (to put it in computer sense) a corresponding English (whether GT or human) and match up much better with the Spanish and I’ll show a few examples of this.

So let’s get started. I’m going to take step 1 (of this recipe) of the instructions or Elaboración paso a paso (step-by-step elaboration (that’s literal from GT, preparation is a bit clearer than elaboration)).

Retira la carne del paquete y enjuague bien, seca con toallas de papel. Coloca en una olla de cocción lenta o en una olla grande normal. Cubra con agua. Agrega la cebolla, el ajo, las hojas de laurel, la mejorana y el tomillo. Cocina durante 8 horas si usas la olla de cocimiento lento a temperatura baja. Si prefieres cocinar utilizando una olla normal en la estufa, cocine durante aproximadamente 2 ½ a 3 horas hasta que la carne esté muy suave y se pueda deshebrar fácilmente. Una vez que la carne esté cocida, deshebra y separa 6 tazas de carne para hacer los tacos.

So let’s reformat this and break it down the way I do it to study.

Retira la carne del paquete y enjuague bien, seca con toallas de papel.

Coloca en una olla de cocción lenta o en una olla grande normal.

Cubra con agua. Agrega la cebolla, el ajo, las hojas de laurel, la mejorana y el tomillo.

Cocina durante 8 horas si usas la olla de cocimiento lento a temperatura baja.

Si prefieres cocinar utilizando una olla normal en la estufa, cocine durante aproximadamente 2 ½ a 3 horas hasta que la carne esté muy suave y se pueda deshebrar fácilmente.

Una vez que la carne esté cocida, deshebra y separa 6 tazas de carne para hacer los tacos.

Remove meat from package and rinse well, pat dry with paper towels.

Place in a slow cooker or large regular pot.

Cover with water. Add the onion, garlic, bay leaves, marjoram, and thyme.

Cook for 8 hours if you use the slow cooker on low heat.

If you prefer to cook using a regular pot on the stove, cook for about 2 ½ to 3 hours until the meat is very soft and can be easily shredded.

Once the meat is cooked, shred and separate 6 cups of meat to make the tacos.

So that’s the original Spanish, with some spacing to make it more visible and the Google Translation, which, actually, is pretty good. Now in my MSWord file I’ve eyeballed and found all the verbs (or verb derivatives) and marked those with color (which I’ll now repeat as WordPress lost my coloring of bits of text). I can do this (mostly), even for verbs I don’t know because I can now “parse” the Spanish even if I don’t know all of this text.

Now, Dear Reader, if you know a little Spanish you will see how relatively easy this is to parse and tie together English words to Spanish. For everyone else only some basic knowledge of Spanish is required to know that the order of words changes (paper towels is towels of paper (toallas de papel)), a bit, from Spanish to English, or sometimes two words are used in Spanish for one in English (una vez, literally one time, is once) and otherwise it’s fairly easily to associate.

So let’s look at the first sentence and what I extract from this:

Retira la carne del paquete y enjuague bien, seca con toallas de papel.

There are three verbs in this:

  1. retira has corresponding ‘remove’. This is because retirar is the regular -AR infinitive but the -a ending is a little tricky as it appears two places in a conjugation. -a indicates 3rd person (he/she/formal-you) indicative present OR it indicates 2nd person (informal you) imperative. Using is a bit more common in Mexico than Spain and this is a “friendly” website so it uses the informal you and corresponding conjugation. Thus retira is not ‘he /she/it removes’ but instead [you] remove!, as a command. Note that Spanish is interesting in that often pronouns are omitted so one has to detect person directly from the conjugation, which makes this a bit tricky, especially in spoken Spanish when races by at a million miles an hour. So from this single word I extract the pair: {retirar : to remove}, which instead of listing as a “cooking” verb (since retirar could apply to lots of things) I would go ahead and put this in my “common” verbs section of my COOKING VERBS page, since, well, it’s likely to appear in recipes. Now if I hadn’t learned some Spanish I might have just put {retira : remove} in my corpus, which, while technically correct, isn’t very accurate. Whew, a long explanation and one no fluent Spanish speaker would need, but perhaps some of my readers are also trying to learn Spanish.
  2. Now enjuague is fun as it corresponds to the English ‘rinse’. Looking in my favorite dictionary I find enjuagar which it turns out is the irregular verb ‘to rinse’.  So this is the conjugated form for 3rd person imperative, which is interesting, since 2nd person was used for the other verb. Now rinse could apply to other things than rinsing food but I’d call this a “cooking” verb and in fact have it in my list, although undefined at the time of this post.
  3. So that leaves us with seca which corresponds to the verb ‘pat’ but given what we’ll know about this, now it’s two words in English that correspond to one in Spanish, so ‘pat dry’ is the equivalent.  And that’s what makes this interesting and Google’s translation kinda cool. seca alone is from secar (to dry), or 2nd person indicative present or 3rd person imperative. Where is ‘pat’ in all this?  Well, ‘to pat’ doesn’t have a direct (infinitive) Spanish equivalent; instead the dictionary says dar palmaditas or acariciardar palmaditas is fun because it is literally ‘to give a little pat’. IOW, actually there isn’t a direct one word equivalent in Spanish of ‘to pat’ in the context of this recipe. Now guess what. In my learning Spanish I did get ‘hacer ejercicio‘ (or hago ejercicio conjugated for I). In English we have the verb, ‘to exercise’ but there is no direct equivalent in Spanish, so we have to say ‘do exercise’ so ‘do’ is the verb and ‘ejercicio/exercise’ is the noun. So, really the most direct translation is simply “dry with paper towels”, not pat dry. So this is cute that Google has found, statistically that seca in this context is ‘pat dry’ which, frankly is a bit better translation in this context – cool, congrats Google.

OK, you can see why I said I couldn’t cover the entire recipe if just crunching though one sentence has taken this long!

So I’ll leave as an exercise to my reader, what would you put into my verb list {Spanish:English) from just one step out of seven in a recipe?

So I’ll close with this: deshebrar. This infinitive is implied bythis sentence:

Una vez que la carne esté cocida, deshebra y separa 6 tazas de carne para hacer los tacos. (Once the meat is cooked, shred and separate 6 cups of meat to make the tacos.)

So deshebra (shred) is a conjugated (imperative) form of deshabrar. But this is the main point of this:  is not in my list, so analyzing this one step of one recipe I’ve found something to possibly add to my list.

The dictionary definition ( has a strange primary meaning: ‘to unpick’ (in the context of sewing, not even sure what that means) or ‘to unstring’ (in the context of to strip of fibers). HUH! But then, it turns out, as SD says, unique to Mexico, it also means ‘to shred’. Bingo, now we have a pair {deshebra : to shred}. Cool, except how many people in Spain might get this? And thus, I don’t have this in my list, because nothing I found online had this. So now I have something new to add to my COOKING VERBS, but, I must qualify it as Spanish only used in Mexico! Now, interestingly, has the multi-word cortar en tiras as the culinary sense of ‘to shred’ and the word-by-word is literally ‘to cut/chop in strips’ (not quite the same as I think of with ‘shred’).

So in this tiny amount of original Spanish I hope I’ve exposed you to the challenges I fact (in creating my COOKING VERBS list) and you (also me) would face in reading recipes.

Fun, eh!



Studying recetas

I recently described my shift in focus to learning about Spanish comida terms from studying recipes (recetas) instead of menus (cartas: my original focus) and  also focusing on Mexico instead of Spain. I’ve just begun this project but I have processed a single sample that I’ve analyzed to reflect on the difference.

My basic question is how could one compile the largest and most comprehensive corpus of words related to food, cooking, dining and gastronomy. An extensive and as accurate as possible corpus can then be fed into a computer program (AI, or fairly conventional algorithmic) to generate a “translation” tool, not to translate in literature sense but good enough for a diner to select what they want to eat from a menu.

There are many ways but four main approaches to ordering food in Spanish: 1) be completely fluent in Spanish, as well as the cuisine of the local area, 2) use a translation tool based on a corpus just extracted from menus for the desired cuisine, e.g. Spain, maybe even regions of Spain, or any other Spanish speaking country where it’s likely there may be many terms that are not used in Spain, 3) used a translation tool based on the broadest cooking and dining and gastronomy sources, and, 4) achieve sufficient fluency in Spanish to discuss food choices with the waiter, or chef, if needed, or perhaps other people in seeking recommendations.

So, IOW, learn Spanish generally, but also including specialized terminology for food and cooking and gastronomy or just obtain (or in my case, build) a translation tool specialized on food terms. Which is easier and/or most effective? Which would accomplish my original goal?

So I’ve started with a good/fun/interesting site for getting lots of recipes in Spanish (and some with human English translations) for food in Mexico. Now I actually have about 10 cookbooks (we’re a bit of collectors of cookbooks), all in English. So I’m fairly familiar with Mexican cooking so I looked around, briefly, online to find a good Spanish source and found:

Mexico en mi cocina

I explored this site to get a feel for what content is there and settled on this recipe as my first test case: Tostadas de tinga de atún and a companion site in English Tuna tinga toasts.

Now right away we have an interesting word: tostadas. In the general sense of Spanish (and definitely in Spain) this would be ‘toast’ or ‘piece of toast’ and from any previous look at menus in Spain this is what this word appears to mean (or sometimes equivalent to crostini or bruschetta). But to anyone who has eaten in most any Mexican restaurant in USA (or presumably Mexico), it has the meaning my dictionary lists as applicable to Mexico as tortilla. Now in Mexico (and USA) tortilla is the familiar “maiz pancake” as the dictionary says, although often it may not be from maiz (corn) but also might be wheat flour, sometimes even whole wheat flour. In contrast, in Spain, tortilla is almost universally a kind of omelet (as dictionaries or Duolingo say, but it’s really closer to the Italian frittata than the French omelet; in fact, on some menus I studied in Spain what we norteamericanos think of as ‘omelet’ is called tortilla frances. So right away I have a good example of how Spanish words are not universally understood the same way in different Spanish speaking countries.

All this said, however, a dish in a restaurante mexicano in the USA labelled as a tostada would not be just a tortilla, but a tortilla, usually fried and crisp, placed flat on a plate and piled with various additional ingredients. In fact this receta I’m using as an example,  the corn tortilla has a thin spread of frijoles, then the tinga de atún (tuna in a red sauce), then shredded lettuce (lechaga) and then a dressing of Mexican crema (something similar to sour cream or crème fraîche). I think you can see a picture from this site (or use the main url to go to the page).

I may do some other post about some other interesting issues, on this page, about reading Spanish but now I just want to show a couple of statistics about the issue of knowing Spanish (generally) versus just looking at food/cooking related Spanish.

As of today, I’ve studied in Duolingo for 550 days. I’ve done 94 of their lessons (known as “skills”). According to their statistics I’m 59.1% complete,  and have done 2623 lexemes (58.7%) out of 4466. Several of the skills have been focused on restaurants or grocery scenarios. My rough guess is I’ve spent about 1500 hours just on this study. In addition I’ve now completed about 30 hours of intensive “immersion” technique classroom study. I’ve come fairly close to completing the A2 (CERF) standard level of Spanish, which means I’m getting close to intermediate level, although in terms of verbal proficiency I’m still back in early A1 level, IOW, just barely able to talk to a waiter, not hold an extensive culinary discussion. All this is certainly in the range of about one year of high school Spanish, maybe even a bit more.

Now what does that do to help me read the receta? Interestingly fairly useful, although I have to say also having the pictures of the preparation of the dish helped me puzzle through some words I didn’t know. And for the most part I could “parse” almost all of the sentences as I’m basically familiar with most of the Spanish grammar to read this.

BUT, and a big but.

I just don’t have enough vocabulary to really read this. So that’s some of the data I’ve analyzed. This is a problem with learning a language. A small number of words are the most frequently used and thus quickly learned in general Spanish classes but then a vast number of words is required to really understand. IOW, you spend 10% of your time to learn 80% of the text (by count) and another 1000% of your time to learn the other 20% (by count). The, of, and, for are handy to know but have little information content.

I have written a couple of programs to help me: 1) a program (lexer) with a lot of options and special features to identify all the unique terms/words/lexemes (essentially the same thing in this context), and, 2) another program (flashcards) I use for my own types of drills, where I have coded all the words I’ve encountered in Duolingo (that 2623 number above) but that I expand with all the conjugations for the tenses I’ve learned and a few more variations so my drill has about 4500 words in it. I then have a option to compare all the words from lexer with all the words in my flashcards to find “new” words.

So the text of the webpage for this recipe, which includes some descriptive material, not just only the recipe, has 226 unique words (for instance, it has cebolla (onion) and cebollas which I count as two words, even though cebollas is just the plural of cebolla; or cocido, cocina, cocínalos, cocine which are different forms of the verb cocinar (to cook); or la, las, los (but not el), which are variants of the in Spanish, the most common words).

IOW, 226 “words” is not very many, but how big would my own vocabulary need to be to be likely to know most of these 226 words?

Well we start with the statistics that I’ve learned 93 out of 226, (41.2%)  of these words in 1.5 years of studying Spanish, so by that measure I’ve got 2.16 years to go. BUT, many of these words are specialized to cooking and thus not very likely to be learned in another two years of general Spanish. So here are the words I’ve learned in 1.5 years, all fairly common:

aceite cebolla cebollas cena cocina comer comida comidas fresco frijoles fuego jugos latas menú mexicana mexicano pescado picante plato preparar queso sal saludable saludables suave taza tazas tomate tostada tostadas vegetal

Not bad, but try to figure out the recipe from just that vocabulary. BTW, fuego, which I’ve learned as ‘fire’  and medio (media for me since it goes with hora which is feminine) I’ve learned as ‘half past'(as in a time) and alto which I’ve learned at ‘tall’ are used in the phrase, fuego medio-alto, which one, with my knowledge I might, but just barely, guess is ‘medium-high heat’. Did you get it, Dear Reader? So while I’ve “learned” these three words I’ve never had them in this combination, so ‘fire half-past tall’ is a pretty lousy translation.

For instance, here are the words (50) from the ingredients part of the recipe (including a few terms for measures), with the words I haven’t had in Duolingo marked in red:

aceite adobo ajo al atún blanca cada cebolla chile chipotle crema cucharada cucharadita de desmenuzado diente en enlatado finamente fresco frijoles grande gusto latas lechuga maíz mediano mexicana mexicano negros o onzas orégano picada picado pimienta pintos queso refritos sal tamaño taza tazas tomate tostadas una vegetal y

So, the words I haven’t learned in a general Spanish class is about half of the ingredients section AND most of the words that are really critical to this recipe I have not learned (some, of course, I remember from studying menus in Spain). So for instance, one ingredient is:

1 diente de ajo grande finamente picado

Now this has an interesting tidbit. In Duolingo I learned diente as tooth and ajo is a very common word most people would know to be garlic. So what is a garlic tooth? My favorite dictionary SpanishDict.Com doesn’t know, word-by-word, what this is, but here’s where 1.5 years of studying Spanish pays off (especially with frequent use of this dictionary and understanding how to look things up) and so the de is an important clue (general Spanish knowledge) which is ‘of’ but more importantly that means ajo is a qualifier of diente, so treating this as a single “term” we find ‘clove of garlic’. So either general study or specific looking at cooking/food terms makes this understandable. Now grande isn’t hard and finamente can be deduced (due to general Spanish knowledge) as an adverb (-mente ending) and a guess (it’s a bit of a cognate) this is either finally or finely and of course finely makes sense in a recipe. Again from general knowledge of Spanish most words ending in -ado are past participles of -AR verbs, which I’d then deduce as being picar. Not very likely to guess that, but by luck, in this blog, I’ve previously learned what para picar means on a menu in Spain. picar has multiple meanings and an somewhat unusual one, ‘to peck’ (like a bird) leads to ‘to nibble’ (for a person), so this somewhat common phrase essentially means ‘to snack on’, i.e. some kind of finger food placed on the table to be shared. But in this recipe its meaning ‘to chop’ applies and the past participle in English would be ‘chopped’, which of course is what it means. So Google Transfer actually got this spot-on

1 large garlic clove, finely minced

So if Google is getting this right, why do we need to either learn Spanish or use an automated tool just for cooking/food? And in fact the Google Translation is very close to the human translation (just a couple of the usual GT mistakes) or my translation. So would be fine as long as you have an internet connection is some tiny town in Mexico, but maybe you’d like to have an app on your phone that works offline.

So let’s consider the final statistic. Of the 93 words in the recipe that I have not encountered in 1.5 years of general study of Spanish, 59 (63.4%) are related to food or cooking. So a word like mariscos (generic ‘seafood’, sometimes just used for shell fish, esp. in Spain is a common “food” word.  espolvorea is the conjugated from espolvorear (to sprinkle) which I call a cooking term (you might see this on a menu) or desmenuzado (past participle of desmenuzar (to crumble, among many definitions), so crumbled) is another cooking term. Note: Both of these verbs are in my unfinished COOKING VERBS page so I guess I’ll need to finish that and possibly expand it as I crunch through recipes, as I note a verb in this recipe, ensamblar, that I don’t have in my list and it is a useful verb to include.

tamaño I had to look up (size) which is interesting as I’d learned talla (also size) in Duolingo but it only applies to clothing which is another interesting point – Spanish words have multiple translations into English (and vice-versa) and some of those only apply in certain contexts, so therefore even learning one of multiple meanings in a general Spanish course may not help, or even be confusing.

One thing I can say is that learning how verbs work in Spanish and various, especially all the common, conjugations makes it easier to figure out things and in some case more clear (for instance, -zando vs -zado, is crumbling vs crumbled and that would be handy to know.

So here’s all the words (93) I haven’t had in 1.5 years of general Spanish with the food/cooking words (59) embolded. and words that I can recall from my previous work (as part of my original purpose of this blog), i.e. translating menus in Spain.

acerca activación adicional adobo agrega agregar ahumado ajo alacena aperitivos aprovecha aproximadamente así atún botana calidad calienta cantidad celebrar chile chiles chipotle cocción cocido cocínalos cocine coloca combina condimenta crear crema cubra cucharada cucharadita decisiones dejar delicia deliciosa deliciosas delicioso derretido desmenuzado elaboración enlatado ensamblar envasado espolvorea expresadas finamente fuente gotas haya incluir ingredientes lechuga liberado maíz mariscos mediano mitad oliva onzas opción opiniones orégano patrocinada picada picado pimienta pintos pizca podrás preparación propósito proteínas publicación raciones realmente receta refritos rico rocíe sabor sartén sea será soltado tamaño tinga total transparente usaremos virgen

And, of course, even in this small sample we see a difference between Spain and Mexico’s Spanish in that chipotle, pintos, refritos or tinga are unlucky to appear in Spain. And, as exercise for the reader, in Spain this phrase: Si te gusta la comida un poco picante, would most likely have os instead of te.

So, what does this [over]analysis say? I would conclude that learning Spanish, even in general way, is helpful, but using a standard math/legal paradigm: a) not necessary (although helpful), and, b) not sufficient.





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.

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.

¡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.