Observations from menus from restaurants in city of Palencia

I’m falling behind in doing posts about interesting things I find on menus so I decided to do two different things.

First, normally I would not manually extract corresponding English (usually from Google translate, sometimes from searches or dictionary lookups) and Spanish words or phrases and then collate the results across multiple menus. This I’ll do thoroughly, someday, with a more comprehensive approach using custom software and a corpus (of these kinds of extractions), critically with the “certainty” (expressed as a probability) that the translation is correct. Only with this very careful approach can I use “big data” effect (i.e. small wrong details wash out with lots of instances of word pairs) to get most accurate translations, or, in some cases, confusing translations that take a lot of research to decide (such as exactly what cut is solomillo). But because I’m behind I decided to go do the manual extraction and collation and analysis for many menus I studied in Palencia.

Second, normally I’d make a post on individual menus about what items are interesting, either the strange machine translations (or lack thereof) or items that required more than translation (such as recognizing a term is really a classic dish (recipe) or an ingredient from specific location or type of preparation). And such posts, of both necessity (lack of time to create) and less raw information are shorter than this consolidated post will be.

So instead I’ll really blast you, Dear Reader, with a vast amount of observations from all these menus at once. Since this is a lot of work my actual information may be in less than complete sentences and/or with explanation.

So here we go.

First, I made a list of some words/terms that can be very confusing (at least to me) since there is only minor spelling difference between words that are quite different, e.g. o. pata (leg) pato (duck) pavo (turkey). So here are some more:

  1. azafrán (saffron) azúcar (sugar)
  2. calidad (quality) caliente (hot)
  3. fresa (strawberry) and fresca (fresh, could be fresco)
  4. fríos (cold) and fritos (fried); both are adjectives so o might be a and s might not be included.
  5. frita (fried, masculine frito is less confusing) and fruta (fruits)
  6. mollejas (gizzards, sweetbreads) and mollete (a soft round white flatbread)
  7. oreja (ear) orejones (dried apricot) oveja (sheep)
  8. picada (minced) and picante (spicy)
  9. piña (pineapple) and piñones (pine nuts)
  10. roja (red) and rosa (pink)
  11. vieiras (scallops) and Viernes (Friday); zamburiñas frequently refer to scallops nominally of the “variegated” type (Chlamys varia) which stumps Google
  12. añejo (aged) and añojo (yearling, e.g. veal)
  13. cocina is usually kitchen (can also mean cuisine) whereas cocida usually means cooked (sometimes boiled); also cocinada is used as cooked.
  14. especiada (spice) especialidad (specialty) espinaca (spinach) espárrago (asparagus) espagueti (spaghetti)

These are more different in spelling but still easy to confuse or misunderstand:

  1. confitado can mean confit (the process, so confited if that were a word), but also candied as a modifier of some other ingredient and then confitura is jam which really isn’t same thing as confit
  2. guisantes (peas) and guisadas (stewed) and guisos/guistoes (stews)
  3. lima (lime) and limón (lemon, but sometimes also lime)
  4. melocotón (peach) and melon (melon) membrillo (quince or quince jelly)
  5. plátano (banana) and plato (dishes)
  6. postre (dessert) and potro (horse)
  7. tarta (cake, sometimes pie) and taza (cup, usually for hot drink, copa for cold drink)
  8. ternera (usually veal, but often can be beef) terrina (terrine, a cooking dish)
  9. tiempo (time) ande tierno (tender)
  10. agridulce (sweet and sour) and aguacate (avocado)
  11. alcachofa (artichoke) and alcaparras (capers)
  12. lomo (generically loin portion of any animal) or lomo (a special cured pork product)
  13. bacon and beicon both are used for ‘bacon’ but lacón is something entirely different (cured ham shoulder)

And here are a bunch of observations that I find interesting in food terminology in Spain’s menus.

  1. bellota rarely means literal ‘acorn’ and usually refers to special pigs fed on acorns and thus rather expensive type of ham
  2. tabla (a serving board/plank/platter) is not the obvious cognate ‘table’ which is actually mesa
  3. bollería can refer to the place (‘bakery’, then on a menu implying something from a bakery) or directly translated as ‘pastries’
  4. bola literally translates as ‘ball’, which makes sense as a term for a ‘scoop’ of ice cream
  5. bodega, in Spain, is not a store so it is a ‘winery’ (or place with wine)
  6. caldo is not the obvious cognate ‘cold’ (which unobviously is frio) but is a ‘broth’ or ‘stock’
  7. cogollos is frequently translated as ‘hearts’ (which is more likely corazón if from an animal) but it may be the ‘center’ (of a leafy vegetable, hence ‘heart’) or ‘buds’ or ‘shoots’ (of a vegetable)
  8. yema most often would refer to the ‘yolk’ of an egg, but it may also mean ‘buds’ or ‘shoots’ (as does cogollo as previously mentioned)
  9. garbardine is not a fabric but means literally ‘overcoat’, i.e. some sort of batter coating
  10. anchovies can be referred to as anchoas or boquerones where usually anchoa is the preserved version and boquerones is the “fresh” one, though both words equally apply as the name of the fish itself
  11. dorado is usually ‘gilt-head bream’ not the adjective golden. It’s not clear if, in Spain, it really is the same fish as mahi-mahi (dolphinfish) which may be the meaning of dorado outside of Spain
  12. empanado usually means breaded (form preceding masculine noun, otherwise empanada) in Spain; whereas empanada is a particular filled pastry elsewhere (and sometimes in Spain as well). It is derived from empanar which can be either ‘to coat in breadcrumbs or pastry’ which adds to the confusion
  13. galleta is often translated as ‘biscuit’ which is confusing to Americans (not Brits) since UK biscuit really is US cookie and galleta is cookie in Spain (not something like the southern US biscuit)
  14. guindilla (usually a specific pepper but used generically as hot pepper) or pimienta (or pimiento) may be any pepper or a specific type of pepper
  15. jijas is a particular mix of meat and spices to be used in making sausage, but it also may be itself cooked and then served, usually as a tapa
  16. jugo and zumo both can be translated as ‘juice’ but zumo is almost always the beverage and jugo is the juice derived from something else via cooking
  17. manillas has numerous translations (handles/hands, feet; trotters) but manos usually means hands but either on menus this usually means ‘pig feet’ (oh yum, almost as good as chicken feet I had in China)
  18. just módena often appears on menus, but it refers to balsamic vinegar which is famously from Modena in Italy and thus this name
  19. paletas translates as ‘shoulder’ or ‘shoulder blade’ (and other things) as does paletilla which probably means paletilla is the diminutive and thus from a smaller animal (say piglet verse mature pig)
  20. pata de mulo is not the unappetizing leg of a mule but instead a particular cheese
  21. perrito is the diminutive of perro (thus small dog or puppy) but appears on some menus (sometimes followed by caliente) as the term for hot dog, I guess a literal reverse translation; OTOH puerro is a leek
  22. pez refers to the animal (fish) vs pescado as the recipe ingredient (fish) and often a section of a carta
  23. boletus (a genus of mushroom-producing fungi) is often on menus rather than setas or champiñones or hongos (less common in Spain than elsewhere); generally setas are more “wild” (like porcini or Chanterelles) and champiñones are more cultivated (like button or cremini); hard to say what you’ll get and you might not like some fungi under a particular name
  24. ternera, usually translated as ‘veal’, may also be any cut from a cow, albeit typically from younger cattle
  25. vegetal can refer to vegetables sides or to the vegetarian dishes
  26. ventresca, nominally the belly portion of a fish and bonito (a specific type of fish) often can be referring to tuna (atún)
  27. de corral (literally of the ‘yard’ or ‘farmyard’) is the Spanish version of the trendy term ‘free range’, usually in reference to chickens
  28. calamares, sepia, chipirones, chopitos, puntillitas, quisquillas all refer to preparations of a squid-like animal with most the difference being size and source of the animal, or sometimes the method of preparation. rabas which is literally tails and most often since as rabo (sometimes with de buey) is ‘oxtail’ can also refer as “rings” of the squid body
  29. chuleta and chuletillas are both (usually) chops (aka ribs) with bone attached. The main difference is chuletillas are (typically) smaller (as implied by being a diminutive of chuleta) and usually in reference to unweaned animals (mostly lamb (lechazo) but might be suckling pig or veal)
  30. sausages go by a variety of names: embutido, salchicha, salchichón; sometimes chorizo is used generically to mean any sausage and worse sometimes morcilla is also used generically as sausage (or with misleading translated as pudding)
  31. the verb guisar (to stew) leads to several different terms for stews or stewed (as a modifier); guisad{a|o} is usually ‘stewed’ whereas guisos or guisotes are ‘stews’, but then estofado (from verb estofar which is also ‘to stew’ ) is also stew/stewed; menestra is sometimes used generically as stew, but it usually implies a vegetable stew and often a particular recipe.
  32. a la brasa (‘grilled’, usually directly over coals), a la parrilla (‘grilled’, usually on a grate over fire), a la plancha (‘grilled’, but on iron plate not directly over fire), ahumado (‘smoked’, not necessarily with cooking at same time), al carbon (cooked over charcoal); parrillada de X often appears and seems to be a serving of ‘grilled’ X (mostly likely vegetables rather than meat)
  33. Have fun figuring out bocadillos, bocaditos, bocados, bocatas and chapatas which are all some variation of “snacks”, usually in the form of sandwiches (usually small) with rolls or loaf bread rather than sliced bread. Just to make things more fun, pepito is a small meat sandwich (whereas pepita is a seed, or in Mexico a pumpkin seed)
  34. And don’t even get me started on the confusion between Spain and Mexico on: torta, tortitas, tostada, tostas and  especially tortilla and as previously mentioned empanada.

So I hope this post (plus the now updated glossary (merged these Palencia derived terms with the previous set) shows how much can be learned (and left as questions) by close examination of a bunch of menus. It may be a pain to do the tedious mechanical work but it all provides a lot of interesting exercises in trying to learn Spanish, specifically in food and Spain context.


anguila o angula – a typo?

I first encountered angula in the context of a menu item: gulas a la bilbaina. Now gula itself seems to translate as ‘greed’ or ‘gluttony’ so I assumed this was some outrageous dish. But a few more searches convinced me gulas is just a colloquial short form of angulas. The first time I tried to get a translation I mistyped angula as anguila which I then learned was ‘eel’. Also in searching about the dish I got some hint there was a connection with eels so I added angula as eel in my corpus.

But on a proofreading session I looked up angula again and got this definition (in Spanish with Google Translate):

Cría de la anguila Eel breeding

which didn’t exactly make any sense.  It turns out the 4th definition (in Oxford) of Cría makes more sense:

Conjunto de las crías que tiene un animal en un solo parto o una sola puesta Set of offspring that has an animal in a single birth or a single laying

Switching dictionaries I just went back to a straight translation (not definition) and got ‘elver’. My problem was I’d never heard of elver before and so didn’t know it by the more colloquial ‘baby eels’ which would have cleared up all the mystery.

But as this very good article on this food item explains, elvers, while tiny, are hardly ‘babies’:

When these tiny eels arrive in fish markets, they are already two or three-years old, but are only about 3 inches (8cm) long, and as thick as a strand of spaghetti.

While they are tiny they are outrageously expensive, even more than caviar or truffles. So, in fact, they’re rarely used and instead a substitute “mock” angula, which is then known as a gula, is almost certainly what you’ll get with this tapas.

As this article explains:

the fake angula, made of the same surimi with which the Japanese fabricate artificial crab

surimi itself is:

fish (often pollock) that is minced to make a gelatinous paste that is then flavored, reformed into flakes, sticks, or other shapes, and colored

Now back to the original issue, what is the dish gulas a la bilbaina?

angulas in an earthenware dish with garlic, olive oil, and chili peppers cut in rings

recipe and picture found here.

So the claim that gulas are a reasonable substitute for angulas seems likely given the huge price difference and a preparation that probably masks the taste anyway.

Now anguilas seem to be more common and reasonably priced in Spain but don’t mistake this word for anguilla which is a British overseas territory in the Caribbean.


Will eating acedia give me heartburn?

I’m grinding through a lengthy and complex Glosario de Alimentos and will have much material for posts but this is a short amusing bit. Despite being in the context of food and specifically a text description of a fish (which this source claims is a ‘wedge sole’) Google Translate didn’t use any of that context and so translated acedia to ‘heartburn’. Oxford agrees this is one of the definitions:

Sensación de ardor en el estómago o en la garganta provocada por un exceso de ácido en el estómago. Burning sensation in the stomach or throat caused by an excess of acid in the stomach.

But the definition provided in the glosario goes more like this:

Pescados Blancos o magros White or lean fish
GENERALIDADES Pescado plano, muy consumido en la región andaluza. Sus capturas proceden fundamentalmente de la región suratlántica. GENERALITIES Flat flatfish, very consumed in the Andalusian region. Their captures come mainly from the South-Atlantic region.

And Oxford agrees and has this definition:

Pez marino de cuerpo plano parecido al lenguado, pero de unos 40 cm de longitud, escamas más fuertes y unidas, y color pardo con manchas amarillas o anaranjadas; vive en el Atlántico y el Mediterráneo, cerca de la costa; su carne es comestible. Flat-bodied marine fish similar to the sole, but about 40 cm long, scales stronger and united, and brown with yellow or orange spots; he lives in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, near the coast; his meat is edible.

So in the context of alimentos I would say it’s far more likely to translate acedia as this fish instead of heartburn. But the authoritative DLE only offers these two definitions:

Pereza, flojedad. Sloth, looseness.
Tristeza, angustia, amargura. Sadness, anguish, bitterness.

which are neither the fish or the stomach affliction. Huh. But interesting DLE gives a hint (a bit cryptic) with this:

From lat. Acid, and this of the gr. ἀκηδία akēdía ‘negligence’.

So off I went to Spanish Wiktionary to find more

Etimología Etymology
Del latín acidia, a su vez del griego antiguo ἀκηδία (akedía), ἀκήδεια (akédeia), del prefijo privativo ἀ- (a-) y κῆδος (kẽdos), “preocupación”, del protoindoeuropeo *ḱeh₂dos, “preocuparse”, de la raíz *ḱeh₂d-, “odiar” From the Latin acidia , in turn from the ancient Greek ἀκηδία  ( akedía ), ἀκήδεια  ( akédeia ), from the proprietary prefix ἀ-  ( a- ) and κῆδος  ( kẽdos ), ” concern “, from protoindoeuropeo * ḱeh₂dos , “to worry “, from the root * ḱeh₂d- , ” hate “

and definitions:

1 Falta de esfuerzo o dedicación para la realización de las tareas necesarias o prescritas

   Sinónimos: véase Tesauro de “desidia”.

1 Lack of effort or dedication to the realization of the tasks required or prescribed

Synonyms: see Thesaurus of “neglect” .

2 Estado emocional de dolor y descontento, desagradable para quien lo experimenta

   Sinónimos: aflicción, desdicha, pena, pesadumbre, quebranto, tribulación, tristeza.
   Antónimo: alegría.

2 Emotional state of pain and discontent , unpleasant for those who experience it

Synonyms: affliction , misery , grief , sorrow , grief , distress , sadness .
Antonym: joy .

Neither of these sound like either a fish or heartburn, but the Wiktionary more closely matches the authoritative DLE than Oxford does.  Interestingly Wiktionary then has this:

Wikipedia tiene un artículo sobre acedia

which leads to an article, in Spanish, about Dicologlossa cuneata which is a (Redirigido desde «Acedia») and starts with this sentence (Google Translated)

The acedía or lenguadillo (Dicologlossa cuneata) is a species of pleuronectiforme fish of the Soleidae family .

Amusingly here Google didn’t translate acedia as ‘heartburn’ so yet another strange inconsistency. Also Wiktionary linked to a relevant and useful Wikipedia article but not at all related to its definitions. So this is another real run-around for a single term.

Fish names are notoriously difficult for translation. Even the scientific (Latin) names are often in dispute but their common names in any language are often confusing so translating one confusing name in Spanish to another in English is often going to be problematic and a real challenge for my corpus. But in this case once we dismissed heartburn as the translation and then got to Dicologlossa cuneata we can now get to the English Wikipedia article on Wedge sole (and other search results)

But, knowing what kind of fish is going to appear on your plate can matter.  In this case this looks like a tasty fish I’d like. But as I’ve mentioned I’m not very adventurous eater so there are plenty of things from the sea I wouldn’t want.

Mystery post – pez/peces or pescado

My title contains some bits of useful information. While I’m not absolutely certain some sources say peces is the plural of pez. Of course in English the plural of fish is fish so peces seems relatively uncommon. pecado also translates to fish BUT the key difference is that pescado is the piece of fish on your plate and pez is the living animal.

I let Google Translate loose on my previous “mystery” post and it had three types of results: 1) a few of the words translated correctly, 2) some translated but to nonsense, and, 3) some were missed altogether. I’ve tracked a few of the latter.

My big list of words (with cognates or loanwords removed to avoid giving a clue) was a lengthy list of the names of fish, probably as they are called in Spain. I found two long lists on the Net with Latin (scientific names) as well as names in English, Spanish and some other languages. Both were European sources so less likely to include fish found primarily in South America, but who knows how lists get compiled.

Plants and animals from natural world (versus cultivated plants/animals) are frequently misidentified and very tough to get accurate common names. Sometimes even the scientific names are in dispute or contradictory so big surprise the more colloquial names are. After all who but ichthyologists, some fisherman and a few fish mongers actually know these names accurately and/or could just by looking at a fish decide what to call it.

So this is probably the toughest area to compose an accurate Iberian Spanish to English translation list. I’m going to have a third post in this series about the names I conclude are fairly likely but for now here’s a subset of the list from the mystery post that Google failed to translate at all.

alfonsino Golden eye perch
badexo Lythe or pollack
boga bogue
brama bream Pomfret
brotola de roca Greater forkbeard
calion Shark, porbeagle
callas Callas
capelan capelin
chicharro scad – also called horse mackerel
chincharro Horse mackerel or scad
choupa Black bream or porgy or seabream
chucla picarel
cigala crawfish Norway lobster – also called Dublin Bay prawn
colin Coley or saithe
côngrio conger eel conger eel – also called conger
coregono whitefish
escolano smelt – also called sparling
espadilla frostfish – also called silver scabbardfish
espadín sprat sprat – also called brisling
espárido sea bream
illiseria megrim
lanzon sandeel – also called sand lance
limanda dab
longeirón razor clam – also called razor shell
lucioperca pike-perch
lumpo lumpfish Lumpfish
maganto Dublin Bay prawn or langoustine or scampi
mendo Witch or Torbay sole
merlan whiting
mollera poor cod
muergo razor clam – also called razor shell
musola smooth hound – also called dogfish, flake, huss, rigg
pardete Grey mullet
pejerrey silver side, sand smelt argentine – also called silver smelt
pejesapo angler fish Anglerfish or monkfish
perlón Grey gurnard
pescadillo Hake
plegonero whiting
quisquilla shrimp prawn – also called shrimp
salton sandeel – also called sand lance
salvelino char
solla plaice

The left column is the Spanish (with at least one spelling error, don’t know which (chicharro chincharro) is actually correct). The middle column is the few that the Oxford dictionary recognizes. And the third column is from one of these two sources (here and here) which I originally used to compile the list (I found a third list with scientific (Latin) names but didn’t originally use it and haven’t (yet) processed it). I’m a bit surprised Google missed the names that are in Oxford as I’ve encountered some of these in other places.

Now note that even with some of the Spanish names “translated” there are bunches of fish on this list I don’t recognize and I suspect few people would. So probably only a small subset of this list (the names Google didn’t recognize, not the full list) would ever appear on menus.

The two longer lists, with scientific names, seemed to potentially be the most accurate lists but I’ve found others at some other websites. The trouble with these is the names may not relate to Spain and may be from other Spanish speaking areas. This is a very common problem trying to find and merge and consolidate lists from the Net. In addition what is the level of authority of anyone who provides a list – rarely is that known and I see enough mistakes in almost any list to shed some doubt on the accuracy of the information. But all that said I’ll be trying, in the next post, to produce the largest and most accurate list from the raw material I can find.

So stay tuned for the final result.

Mystery post

This is some work in progress. Guess based on any terms you recognize what the work may be.

abadejo, abadejo de Alaska, aguja, aguja azul, aguja azul del Indo Pac, aguja blanca, aguja negra, alacha, alfonsino, almeja, anguila, arenque, bacaladilla, badexo, barrilete, berberecho, bermejuela, bígaro], bocina, boga, bogavante, boquerón, brama, brema común, brosmio, brótola de fango, brotola de roca, caballa, cabezuda, cabracho,  calandino, calion, callas, camarón, camaron tigre, cangrejo, cangrejo de rio, capelan, caramel, carbonero, carpa, centolla, chancha, chicharro, chincharro, choupa, chucla, cicloptero, cigala, colin, colin de Alaska, côngrio, coregono, croque, eglefino, emperador, eperlano, escolano, espadilla, espadín, espárido, estornino, esturión, esturion, esturion estrellado, falsa limanda, falsó lenguado, faneca, faneca noruega, fletán, fletan del Pacifico, gallineta, gallineta nórdica, gallo, gallo de San Pedro, galludo, gata, gato, golleta, granedero, hipogloso negro, husio, illiseria, jibia, jurel, lampuga, langosta, lanzon, lengua lisa, lenguado, libre de mar, limanda, limanda nórdica, lisa, listado, lobo, longeirón, lubina, lubricante, lucio, lucioperca, lumpo, maganto, maruca, maruca azul, mejillón, mendo, mendo limón, merlan, merluza, merluza de cola azul, merluzzo Francese, mero, mielga, mollera, muergo, mújol, musola, nécora, ostión, ostra, palero, pardete, pargos, pejerrey, pejesapo, perca, perlón, perro del norte, pescadillo, pez de plata, pez de San Pedro, pez espada, pez sable negro, pintarroja, platija, platija americana, plegonero, quimera, quisquilla, rabil, rascacio, raya, reloj anaranjado, reloj del Atlántico, rémol, rodaballo, rubio, salmonete, salmonete de roca, salton, salvelino, sapo, sierra, sierra del sur, solla, tenca, tiburón, tota, trucha, trucha arco iris, trucha arcoiris, vieira, volador, volandeira

Clue, Latin matters in figuring all this out.



Merluza a la Vasca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Adventures in translation

I continue to march (slowly) along the Camino on my virtual trek. For many days I have not encountered any restaurants that have online menus and thus have no new side-by-side examples of food vocabulary in Spain to add to my corpus. Meanwhile I’ve been grinding through a lengthy dictionary which does provide its own set of challenges for translation.

So I skipped ahead a few miles along the Camino to Viana (still in Navarra) and found a restaurant with online menu. Unlike many others it also has prices which clearly put it into the pricey category (choosing several courses is going to set each diner back about $100 even before wine). So one might assume this is a bit more sophisticated food than the mom-and-pop local restaurants I’ve investigated before.

The restaurant is Restaurante Borgia and it has a well designed website. Here are a few of the fun items I encountered. Please recall I don’t speak Spanish, haven’t been to Spain and while I’m a reasonably skilled foodie I don’t actually know much about Spainish cuisine. And recall that I get translations of menus at these websites via Google Translate with some additional lookups at spanishdict.com.

Under appetizers we find:

Croquetas de cigala y salmón ahumado Scampi and smoked salmon croquettes

and under fish main courses we find:

Ensalada templada de cigala, con verdura asadas aromatizadas a la vinagreta de romero Warm salad of crayfish, with roasted vegetables flavored with rosemary vinaigrette

The word in question is cigala, translated as ‘scampi’ (a preparation, not really an ingredient even though some people would use scampi as a term for shrimp which thus makes shrimp scampi really shrimp shrimp which is kinda nonsense) and translated as ‘crayfish’ in the second item. So which is it? From other research I already know there is confusing terminology in multiple sources about exactly what words, generally referring to shrimp, mean very specifically.

spanishdict.com had important clues:  a) under culinary sense, it translates as langoustine, and, b) under animal sense, it translates to Dublin Bay prawn or Norway lobster. This led to more searching and I believe resolution via this article in Wikipedia:

Nephrops norvegicus, known variously as the Norway lobster, Dublin Bay prawn, langoustine [my emphasis] (compare langostino) or scampi [my emphasis], is a slim, orange-pink lobster which grows up to 25 cm (10 in) long, and is “the most important commercial crustacean in Europe”

There is no mention of crayfish which means Google’s context-sensitive all-AI translation had something weird in its corpus of matching terms. So I’m declaring cigala to be a small lobster, which is kinda what a langostino (the Italian term and critter).

Dear Reader, what do you think? Is my analysis correct?

Now this is not a translation issue but an amusing bit about how a foreign (to me) cuisine might use some unusual ingredients:

Tempura de borraja, crema de sésamo y langostino con papada ibérica Borage tea, sesame cream and shrimp with Iberian dewlap (a fold of loose skin hanging from the neck or throat of an animal, especially that present in many cattle.)

Matching up words papada does seem to literally translate to ‘dewlap’ (several sources) but since I didn’t know what dewlap was, especially in culinary sense , I thought there was a mistake, but it was just my ignorance (the answer is added pink annotation). Not sure I’d want to try this. BTW, usually when you see Iberian it really does mean the famous pig and unless they make jamón from different parts than I thought dewlap probably just means using some other part of the pig. But, the mystery word in this case is tempura and the real question is whether it’s even Spanish at all (can’t find any translation that matches) or whether it is just the loanword and thus actually just a tempura-style preparation. But I doubt it’s ‘tea’ so I have no idea where Google got that idea.

This one left me stumped:

Bacalao con ceniza de algas Cod with seaweed ash (can’t find)

seaweed ash (ceniza) somehow doesn’t seem very tasty (nor anything I’ve heard used) but I’m wondering if part of the literal translation gives a clue:  ash is the main translation but it also seems to refers to ashes from body after cremation. The closest search hit I got was that sometimes seaweed is burned to extract minerals, esp. iodine, but I doubt that’s edible. So I wonder if this might be agar which is what remains after some form of processing of seaweed. So no success with this – guess I need to go to Viana with a fluent speaker to find out from the chef what this is.

Google just botched this one:

Lenguado al horno en salsa de lima [Sole] baked in lime sauce

lenguado has fairly consistent translation as ‘sole’ and all the other words in Spanish parse to their associated English translation so Google just flat-out dropped a critical word in its translation. This might be a precautionary note to thinking translation in a smartphone would be all that great.

This one was amusing (I don’t like eating either the Google translation or the more likely correct translation (in pink))

Mollejas (sweetbreads) de ternera braseadas con salsa salsifí Veal gizzards braised with Salsify sauce

You can have my portion of mollejas.

Another miss required more culinary research

Silla de cordero sobre salsa de ginebra Lamb chair (probably saddle; The saddle is from the loin area in the lumbar region and is made up of the loin either side of the animal. ) on gin sauce

Now silla translated as ‘chair’ is a valid literal translation but I’ve never heard of any lamb cut or preparation as chair. Deeper in the list of alternatives at spanishdict I found ‘saddle’ (although it was referring to the literal saddle for a horse, not a culinary term). On the off chance this might be a butchering term I looked it up and found the definition in italics in the English translation.

I’m going to leave the explanation of this next one for another day.

Leche frita  con salsa de frutas Fried milk with fruit sauce

‘fried milk’ is a reasonably accurate direct literal translation of leche frita BUT this is one of the major parts of my project. leche frita is a fairly classic item in Spain with numerous online recipes for making it.  So it’s not a question of translation but actually knowing what this concoction actually is.

And last but not least there is this postre:

Compota de paraguayo  y cerezas Compote of Paraguayan and cherries

paraguayo baffled Google so it just assumed it can’t be translated but spanishdict was a little more helpful and had ‘Saturn peach’ or ‘donut peach’ under its fruit sense of this word (the first option was Paraguayan). That sounded amusing but sure enough, once again, Wikipedia came through with this article:

They are known by many other names, including ‘doughnut peach’, paraguayo [my emphasis] peach, pan tao peach, saucer peach, flat peach, belly-up peach, UFO peach, chinese flat peach, hat peach, anjeer peach, custard peach, pumpkin peach, squashed peach, bagel peach or pita peach.

Cute type of peach (check out the picture at the Wikipedia link), never heard of it before.

So not only is this menu an adventure in translation it’s an adventure in learning a bit more culinary knowledge.

A couple of interesting new sources

For the most part I started collected my corpus of dual Spanish (Spain) / English words or phrases from menus I find online of restaurants that are definitely in Spain (so avoid other variations of Spanish in other parts of the world). It’s a tedious process to dig out the menus and create side-by-side tables in MSWord. But the slow and tedious process also allows me to learn (i.e. actual human intelligence vs Google’s AI approach) something that I’d miss with a more automated process.

And as I’ve mentioned my choice of restaurants to research comes from my virtual tour of the Camino de Santiago where I plot my cumulative mileage on a treadmill in my basement to actual waypoints along the trail. Given Google does a nice job of annotating various points of interest, esp. restaurants, I can find those that have menus online.

Fine, but recently I realized I can expand my sources for the corpus a bit more. Just out of curiosity I explored a link to a large grocery chain (BM SUPERMERCADOS) in Spain that happened to have an outlet in Estella. Exploring that website I found the Compra Online  link (Google translates to ‘online shopping’). And that part of the website has a large list of products one can purchase online (usually with pictures; and in categories) so a side-by-side translation corpus can be created, but also some brand names can be learned to subtract out of other menus where the brand name doesn’t translate and therefore is confusing what it means.

But then I found something even more interesting, again by accident. This is a real jewel, https://www.gallinablanca.es/recetas/. This is a large collection of recipes (recetas) which means lots of instruction of cooking terms plus lots about ingredients.  I’ve only just begun to explore this site but I also found it has a Diccionario (I think you can guess this as a cognate) truly a dictionary in that you click a word and a definition pops up, in Spanish (no English and Google Translate doesn’t work in these popups, so lots of fun to copy-and-paste the definition into a translation site). The website is produced by Gallina Blanca, which appears to be the maker (or brand) of various packaged food products which are also on sale at this site. There is a lot of food information here – too bad they don’t do an English version of the site so I’d get a better translation than Google. It’s a huge site as witnessed by its search results for ‘huevos’, 7,909 results!

And finally (and I’ll do a separate post on this) I found some food terminology that isn’t directly related to menus but can be used to supplement my corpus. Juice&World in Villatuerta is the manufacturer and distributor of various bottled drinks and they have their product list in both Spanish and English so I can obtain their translations (which, btw, doesn’t guarantee they do it any better than Google but hopefully they do). But  you get things like this to cut up to put in the side-by-side corpus

De la mezcla de zumo de lima, naranja y limón, con un toque de hierbabuena y menta, hemos creado esta bebida sin alcohol dando un estilo personal a la tradicional bebida cubana We have created this non-alcoholic drink from a mixture of lime, orange and lemon juice with a touch of spearmint and mint to give a personal style to the traditional Cuban drink

Now even though I don’t know Spanish I’ve done enough fiddling to figure out how to associate bits of the Spanish with their connected bit of English, like (easy) lima (lime, obvious cognate), naranja (orange, I happen to remember that) and limón (lemon, obvious cognate). But less obvious is hierbabuena which translates to spearmint even though spanishdict.com merely has its translation as mint because the y menta is the clue to tie to and mint in the translation and thus deduce spearmint as the word before y.

Interestingly it took a little remembering that adjectives follow nouns (often) and thus non-alcoholic drink is bebida sin alcohol.

This muddling through pieces of text with some sort of translation and with lookups, plus at least short-term memory, is actual part of my learning experience. If I had the time to do this all day-long (and I have tons of source material for that, already way behind on my inventory of links just from Estella alone and I really haven’t had the chance to do Pamplona, an even bigger list) I probably would know a lot of Spanish just from all the repetitive work that does help to burn words (plus a little structure of the language) into one’s brain.

Note: Added after original post. I was trying to locate the grocery I mentioned above on Google maps and instead ended up with this one, Dia, also in Estella. This gave me another interesting idea about confusing translations. Their online shopping is in categories so I was looking at pescado y marisco (fish and shellfish (or sometimes just generic term for any seafood)). And on that page there are images but also everything is either fish or some seafood, except tubo de pato which Google amusingly translated as ‘potato tube’. Since I’d just earlier been looking at potato options I wondered what a tube of potato might be (there is more to this story). In the image associated with this item it sure looks like the body of a squid and is labeled tubo de pato on the package. spanishdict.com fairly quickly resolves the silliness of Google’s translation by indicating pato is cuttlefish (the reverse lookup for ‘squid’ yields calamar, an obvious cognate to Italian but I have a hard time seeing any difference).

But based on only a single source is this information (Google translated):

They are selling a cephalopod of lesser gastronomic value than the squid that we appreciate,

The squid or giant squid , also known as luras in Galicia or cuttlefish in South America (although the cuttlefish is actually cuttlefish in our country, and is called choco when its size is like that of the palm of the hand), it constitutes several species , such as the common pota ( Todarodes sagittatus ), the flying squid ( Illex coindetii ), which is small in size, or the Argentine squid ( Illex argentinus ), which is granted greater quality.

Amusingly Google translated this article as “difference between squid and squid” given my query was ‘difference between pato and calamar’. It’s hard to say from a single source this is a correct distinction but it sounds good. Which then raises another issue – mislabeling of ingredients on menus. If one were concerned about this I suppose this is another reason to actually learn to speak and hear Spanish so one can query the server whether your menu item is the lesser cuttlefish or superior squid.

Note2: My other story was another stab at attempting to determine what patata fritas are (mentioned in earlier post). So, this grocery store has a convenient search so in went patata fritas and I got multiple pages of hits: mostly potato chips (including good old Lays) but also frozen potato wedges (kinda like steak fries, probably the closest to the literal translation) and also numerous frozen French fries (some with English on the packages, e.g. ‘frites’, ‘golden long’, and ‘wedges’). So this didn’t help any but it seems clear that if you want fries with your lunch you need to ask the server whether you’ll get chips or fries and I have no idea how to do that with minimal Spanish fluency.

An example of challenge in translation

In my past efforts and this v3.0 I quickly run into a lot of challenges for translating certain words found in restaurants offerings, largely because I couldn’t (at least with a few minutes of effort) find any clearcut notion of what a particular word means. One such I’ve now hit several times is gulas.  The online dictionaries I use agree with Google’s literal translation: gluttony. That word simply doesn’t fit in any of the menu listings I’ve found.

But searches for that alone yield several recipes (receta) and mentions. The frequent reference is to small eels, but it really doesn’t seem this are actual eels. Now here’s the challenge to a non-Spanish speaker, non-Spaniard  – a single reference (at least that the first couple of pages of search results that yield:

The gulas is a substitute of the eel and that is made with surimi. The surimi, which in Japanese means “pressed fish muscle”, is made with various parts of fish (usually pollack) that are cleaned and washed and then pressed and create the gluttony. It has a high nutritional value and low cholesterol.

at this webpage.

Should I believe this? (with so little quantity of data?) The few tidbits and clues I get might indicate gulas has some overlap with umami, i.e. a savory taste sensation, which also has no English translation but is gradually falling into common use by U.S. foodies just as umami (not exactly same as ‘savory’). Is is possible gula (as literally defined as gluttony) is the same thing?

So as clever as I might think I am about solving puzzle in a language I don’t know there are limits and this is clearly one of them. I have some hints but nothing decisive. So how would I ever resolve this and get a firm definition of this word? And if I can’t do it with a considerable amount of searching, how would you ever interpret this term on menu when you have just minutes to decide and order?

It makes one wonder how much one can really learn about the cuisine of a different country wrapped in vocabulary that is difficult, maybe even impossible, to definitively translate.

Now I just found another clue. There are frequent mentions of angulas (baby eels) and this is an interesting clue.

For those who want to taste angulas without spending a small fortune, mock angulas made of Pollock fish are available in jars or cans (111 gr/4 oz) in stores Spain for a fraction of the cost. These mock eels are generally referred to as gulas.

This shows the value of persistence in searching and trying to solve the mystery (clearly the restaurant knows what gulas are, but it’s me trying to decipher this. Again if I were fluent in Spanish (or a native knowledgeable about cuisine) it might be easy, but for anyone else, how do we get a valid translation. For a casual traveler (non-foodie, non-fluent Spanish speaker, i.e. typical pilgrim on the Camino) how would we know what this one word (and many others like it) actually means.

Once when I was in Japan on business the person (U.S. citizen from Hong Kong) was assisting us navigating Japanese customs, especially food. He made us a deal – we had to first try some food before he’d tell us what it was since knowing what it was might deter us from trying. I remember following his requirement and trying to chew through some real rubber bands (completely transparent) and then earning the right for him to tell me this was jellyfish. Oh boy, not sure I needed that. But, OTOH, chowing down on yakitori turned out to be tasty.

So the intrepid traveler might just order the items on the menu that the can NOT determine what they are, in order to get the surprise (and possibly exciting discovery) of another culture. Good luck with that. I’m a bit adventurous but not that much. In Portugal, on recommendation from our lodging hosts, we tried leitão and it was a wonderful experience (not just the pig, but the whole restaurant and sides). So I recognize that sometimes knowing too much about translating menus may inhibit one from trying something that turns out to be a great experience, but meanwhile I can do without a whole lot of the food I see in photos (of tourist) along the Camino. So balance is the real goal.