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 spanishdict.com 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, www.mamirecetas.com/glosario. 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 2C (Ponferrada)

After a few fun digressions let’s get back to looking at text we can find on the Internet and how that helps us look at restaurants in Spain. We’ll continue with just the text describing a restaurant (Mesón la Taberna) and compare that to how much ones learns in 642 days of studying Spanish. Recall that I mentioned earlier I wrote so code for tools of analyzing text which I use here.

Let’s try to get through the text and study how Spanish fluency is described by searching in Ponferrada  and maybe the other restaurant connected with this website. So here’s all the text, from the main page and the Más Info for Mesón La Taberna with the Google translate for the English:

Legend: not Duo but Spanish, not Duo but specialized, in Duo but not with standard meaning. One portion of the text (under the see more) is exactly the same so I marked that out. All words emboldened have not been encountered in 102 Duo lessons, nearly two years of study.

Home Page  
MESÓN LA TABERNA MESÓN LA TABERNA
Antigua bodega de piedra y madera rehabilitada.

Cocina casera tradicional berciana, elaborada con los mejores productos de temporada que ofrece nuestra tierra.

Disponemos
de Botillo completo todos los días del año sin necesidad de encargo y de una amplia variedad de tapas y raciones de elaboración tradicional.

Cuenta
también con menú del día casero durante toda la semana.

Old restored stone and wood cellar.

Traditional home cooking from Bercia, made with the best seasonal products that our land offers.

We have a complete Botillo every day of the year without the need for an order and a wide variety of tapas and traditionally made portions.

It also has a homemade menu of the day throughout the week.

   
Más Info Page  
TAPAS Y RACIONES CAPS <huh> AND PORTIONS
La Taberna se encuentra en una antigua bodega del siglo XVII, construida en piedra y madera rehabilitada. La Taberna is located in an old 17th century winery, built in restored stone and wood.
Cocina casera tradicional berciana, elaborada con los mejores productos de temporada que ofrece nuestra tierra. Disponemos de Botillo completo todos los días del año sin necesidad de encargo y de una amplia variedad de tapas y raciones de elaboración tradicional.

Cuenta también con menú del día casero durante toda la semana
, y una amplia selección de vinos D.O. Bierzo.
Traditional home cooking from Bercia, made with the best seasonal products that our land offers. We have a complete Botillo every day of the year without the need for an order and a wide variety of tapas and traditionally made portions.

It also has a homemade menu of the day throughout the week, and a wide selection of D.O. Bierzo.

UBICACIÓN Y CONTACTO LOCATION AND CONTACT
Para cualquier consulta, puedes llamarnos o enviarnos un email con los datos que aparecen arriba. For any questions, you can call us or send us an email with the information that appears above.
Si quieres que lo hagamos nosotros, por favor, déjanos tu teléfono o email en este formulario y lo haremos lo antes posible. If you want us to do it, please, leave us your phone or email in this form and we will do it as soon as possible.

So this text contains 84 unique words of which 34 are not found in the first 102 lessons in Duolingo, IOW, I’ve learned 59.5% of the words used to describe this restaurant but do I understand? Another way of looking at that is it has taken me 12.76 days of study per word I know. At my rate of learning it would take 433 days to learn the remaining words, or a total 2.96 years – good luck with studying Spanish to teach you to read a menu.

So here’s what’s left:

amplia  antigua  aparecen  berciana  bierzo  bodega  botillo  casera  casero  construida  consulta  datos  déjanos  disponemos  elaboración  elaborada  email  encargo  enviarnos  favor  haremos  llamarnos  necesidad  piedra  productos  raciones  rehabilitada  selección  taberna  tapas  temporada  tierra  tradicional  ubicación

So these four words are not really Spanish vocabulary or have English translation; these two words shouldn’t count (favor comes from por favor which is in any Spanish lesson); these four words are close enough to call cognates. Now using a little general knowledge learned from studying Spanish these two words (adjectives) have the same meaning, just different gender, so only need to learn one (homemade, which I’d learned from my previous menu study); these two words are verb infinitives that are in Duolingo with a so-called object pronoun affixed, something you’d learn by A2 Spanish. So that culls our list a bit to:

amplia antigua aparecen bodega casero construida consulta datos déjanos disponemos elaboración elaborada encargo haremos necesidad piedra raciones rehabilitada temporada tierra ubicación

Now a few of these are closely related to cuisine so if one had been just studying menus and looking words up (and remembered what you learn), you would know these words:

  1. bodega, a bit complicated for us in USA who encounter Spanish from Latin American influence, since we’d think of this as a small grocery store, but in Spain it much applies to winery, places where is stored (wine cellars) or specialized wine shop. Some restaurants have this in their name.
  2. casero is fairly common on menus and is derived from casa (home) to be homemade, or something made in the restaurant as opposed to bought from a supplier; this often applies (in menus) to postres (desserts).
  3. elaboración and elaborada are also often found in text explaining menus. elaboración is equivalent to its English cognate EXCEPT in the context of cooking it really refers to the overall process of generating the dish. For our general knowledge of Spanish we’d know elaborada is the feminine adjective for elabarado which is the past participle of the verb elaborar (to produce, make, prepare, devise) or then elaborated in English. But the meaning in terms of cooking is fairly specialized so knowing the English equivalent isn’t that helpful.
  4. encargo you, Dear Reader, should know if you’ve looked at my restaurant phrases page because in the restaurant context (often por encargo) it means on/by request where the dictionary literal translation is order (something ordered)
  5. raciones is quite common, especially in Basque Country, since it close to its literal meanings (ratio, portion) but usually a larger quantity of some small plate item (tapas) to be shared (para compartir in my phrases page) between multiple diners, usually in the center of the table; but look where this occurs in the prose above and the Google Translation and see if that makes any sense to you. But a Spanish class would take a long time to getting around to teaching the dining meaning of ración (btw, do you see the ó in the singular (did you know you could drop the -es), what’s that all about?)
  6. temporada and tierra are trendy restaurant terms everywhere which we could just call, seasonal or local. tierra is literally land/earth/soil (also EARTH) but it really implies something raised in the nearby countryside (although huerto or campo are also used for this)

So not that leaves us:

amplia antigua aparecen construida consulta datos déjanos disponemos haremos necesidad piedra rehabilitada ubicación

No so bad and some of these are likely to appear in future Duolingo lessons (or your choice of classes, say the equivalent of two years of high school Spanish). So between Duolingo AND Google Translation one can read most of this.

But there are two words in this text that have appeared in Duolingo but have a very different meaning here. Here’s one in context.

Cuenta también con menú del día casero durante toda la semana. It also has a homemade menu of the day throughout the week.

Now cuenta is very important restaurant word (the check, as in la cuenta, por favor) but if you line words up with the Google translation you’ll see it corresponds to “it has” (también is the also so ignore it). But “it has” is very common and would be learned in baby Spanish as tiene (this is the third person singular conjugation of tener (to have) AND subject pronouns (it) are usually omitted in Spanish because they can be deduced from the conjugation (yes, this is all in beginner Spanish). But this didn’t make any sense to me (I guess I’ve learned something). If you look up cuenta in dictionaries you just get ‘bill’ but if you’ve been around the block a bit in Spanish you’ll notice this is a “stem changing” conjugation of an irregular verb, which I eventually guessed was costar which means “to cost” which still doesn’t make any sense.

So now another thing you might learn in classes, sometimes Spanish uses several words to mean something, like a veces (sometimes), a lo mejor (maybe), querer decir (to mean, weird since it is literal, to want to say). Or what came to mind for me is intentar is the infinitive for to try, but tratar de is also to try and that de is critical because tratar alone means to treat.

So an eureka moment, maybe costar and con together mean something else, and, behold, it does mean to count on, to expect, to anticipate. SO, wow, using my nearly two years of Spanish and so lookup try putting “also count on” into the Google translate instead of “it also has”. Makes a bit better sense, eh! So here’s at least one case I could not have improved the Google Translation (or even understood what was meant) without my study – hurrah, but to get one sentence in 638 days of work, pretty low yield.

And one I can’t figure out (possibly need to be B1/2 level)

Si quieres que lo hagamos nosotros, por favor, If you want us to do it, please,

I was surprised to see I’ve had this word in Duolingo since I don’t know what it is. Well, this is a bit on me. Often Duo will only introduce a conjugated form in its drills, in this case, I would have seen haz and haga in the exercises. These come from the verb hacer (highly irregular, to do it, to make it): haz is the “command” (imperative mood in Spanish) for the informal you (), IOW, what you’d say to your kid (or spouse) DOIT!, haga is a bit more complicated, because it is: 1) DOIT to a formal/polite you (usted), like a waiter, but it’s also a conjugation of present tense in subjunctive mood (definitely well beyond beginner, no direct equivalent in English). Anyway, in the structure of my XML vocabulary so a verb, mood, tense word is introduced in Duolingo I put in the whole thing (in my notation that gets parsed into XML)

HACER (-, haz, haga, hagamos, haced, hagan) to do, to make (imperative)

Amusing Spanish has no word to tell yourself to DOIT, I wonder why, so that’s why I have -, where the yo conjugate should go). I had forgotten this since Duo has never used the nosotros conjugation in imperative, but my file is more complete. And sure enough Google translated it to DOIT, but it’s not the imperative DOIT, it’s the subjunctive one which is used in situations that may or may not happen, so when GT saw the si (if, and, not , yes) that triggered it to make this be subjunctive.

OK, that’s as far as I got, the total sentence, still doesn’t make sense to me, given it followed a fairly clear sentence.

 

Now as a side thing there is a “scam” (I believe a fair term) online to Learn 100 words in Spanish and you’ll know 80% of Spanish writings. Like English, or probably any language, a lot of small words get used a lot but actually carry little meaning in and of themselves (they may be critical in sentence construction). So here are the most common words (where I group some together, not because they’re the same (like el/la) but they have a similar role in prose.

de (8) del (3) 11
y (8) o (3) 11
en (3) por (1) para (1) con (3) sin (1) 9
la (2) los (3) 5
un (1) una (3) 4
lo (3) 3
que 3

The total number of words in this descriptive text (remember there are 84 unique words) is 129, but the simple words above are about half (65) but it is the less common words that really make the sense in this prose description of this restaurant.

Well, whew, this is even long for me! I can’t imagine anyone reading all this, but perhaps I will in a few years (especially if I have learned Spanish better and want to see my struggles) but it might give some hint of what one does need to know to interpret a menu (or just description of the restaurant).

 

Back to Menus in Spain, Part 2B (Ponferrada, gastronomía berciana)

In the previous subpart I included a photo of a restaurant that was mentioned by Trip Advisor and now we’ll look at it a bit. The Trip Advisor page for the restaurant has a website link that is actually for a hotel that then mentions two restaurants connected to the hotel. Studying this led to a discovery of an even broader culinary topic that is connected to Ponferrada.

The two restaurants, RESTAURANTE LA VIOLETA and MESÓN LA TABERNA, have a single paragraph on the home page and then a MÁS INFO link. So I’ll start with MESÓN LA TABERNA, analyzing the paragraph from the home page and then a few paragraphs from MÁS INFO page. I couldn’t find any human English translation so I’ll do, as usual, side-by-side Spanish and Google translation to English, which I’ll correct a bit.

Now the point is, this is just text, nothing from the menu. Well, as one of the few places in Ponferrada with a website at all then I might try to use my newly learned Spanish to read this material and decide if I want to dine at either of these, perhaps also judging from the user contributed photos at the Trip Advisor site.

So how well would I do. Below is the paragraph on the main page. The words that are embolded are words I have not learned after 102 lessons in Duolingo. I’ll elaborate more about all the text associated with this restaurant in the next sub-part as it turned out just looking at a two words led to a lot of discoveries about food in Ponferrada.

MESÓN LA TABERNA MESÓN LA TABERNA
Antigua bodega de piedra y madera rehabilitada. Cocina casera tradicional berciana, elaborada con los mejores productos de temporada que ofrece nuestra tierra. Disponemos de Botillo completo todos los días del año sin necesidad de encargo y de una amplia variedad de tapas y raciones de elaboración tradicional. Cuenta también con menú del día casero durante toda la semana. Old restored stone and wood cellar. Traditional home cooking from Bercia, made with the best seasonal products that our land offers. We have a complete Botillo every day of the year without the need for an order and a wide variety of tapas and traditionally made portions. It also has a homemade menu of the day throughout the week.

First, amusingly Google didn’t translate the name of this place: MESÓN LA TABERNA at all. Now while I haven’t had taberna in any of my Spanish lessons I’d encountered it before in studying menus so didn’t have to look up that it is the, fairly obvious (i.e. cognate), ‘tavern’ or just ‘bar/pub’. Gosh, one would think Google would know that (and in does when not all CAPS and inside some prose). One tiny bit of my Spanish learning is that I correctly guessed that is feminine noun, even without depending on the obvious la in the name.

But mesón confused me (and also MSWord, where I’m using the Spanish spellchecker which decided this was misspelled and changed it to meson). Was it something like French maison which is a favorite (and often pretentious) part of a restaurant name? Well, kinda. spanishdict.com just defines it as: inn, tavern, bar, which kinda then means the literal translation would be “tavern the tavern” or “inn the tavern”. So I just double-checked in the Oxford translation dictionary would then said ” old-style bar/restaurant” as well as saying that tavern was a archaic use of the term. Interesting. Meanwhile back at spanishdict.com I noticed the “sense” (aka context) for a particular translation is ” old-fashioned” and “rural restaurant”.

Added: I later discovered GT doesn’t translate since it’s all CAPS and in lowercase it comes up with “inn the tavern”, as I figured out on my own, above. I also had second thoughts whether the picture I posted in the previous part, which I found via Google Maps is really the right place. Note that on the picture it also says Cervecería although it’s not clear that is part of the name (a cervecería is a beer oriented bar, aka, beerhall). Study of the map, however, shows this place behind the hotel and the LA VIOLETA in front of it, so hard to say.

Now only a fussbudget would waste 10 minutes and two paragraphs on this, trying to translate something Google couldn’t, but as usual, I learned something. Maybe you did too. IOW, I’m sum it up as saying they’re trying to position their taberna a bit more high end than the usual tavern by adding mesón to it. And looking at the photos I’d agree, it looks like a cool place and better than your run-of-the-mill bar, in Spain, that does have some food.

So let’s get on with and look at the text. But I’m going to analyze this from the POV of what could I read, after 638 days of learning Spanish. As my regular readers know I also spent my professional life in various jobs of creating software, so now I just do a bit of programming for fun, or some little thing I need. So I had developed a simple lexer (extract all the words in some text, a bit trickier than it sounds) and then a drill tool with an XML vocabulary I create from extracting vocabulary in my Duolingo lessons, which, therefore, can also compare a lexicon to see what is missing. So this means I have this:

Now the first bit of this I want to explain, two words Google couldn’t translate and are hard to find in dictionaries, is Bercia (also berciana) and Botillo. The full text is the in next part and the cyan was my coloring scheme for unknown words.

I immediately thought bolillo was a misspelling as my lessons have had la botella (which more than once I’ve misspelled as el botello). Now sometimes in Spanish a word can be both genders (not the same as neuter in other languages), e.g. turista or dentista or principiante but other times the last letter changes, e.g. el gato or la gata., el maestro or la maestra. IOW, is botillo something related to botella? Well, just barely. Google can’t translate this, but spanishdict.com says “A small wine-bag, a leather bottle” and but Oxford and the DLE (official regulated dictionary of Spanish) have no clue.

But it turns out, and this has often been the fun thing to figure out analyzing menus, botillo is actually a food item, ” a dish of meat-stuffed pork intestine” that is also a specialty of El Bierzo, a county in the Spanish province of León. So while there must be some connection to a wine bag (more likely bota as backpackers would know) the real definition is, as with other menus I blogged, a totally regional reference (possibly not even well known in other parts of Spain, but I doubt my Spanish teacher would know.

Now I actually just fooled myself which led to another mystery. When I saw El Bierzo my mind thought this was the other untranslated word, Bercia. But, alas while I was trying to get a link for you I couldn’t find it (but kept getting hits on Bierzo) so there is a connection. And here it is, after more research, “Bercian is the generic name of the linguistic varieties spoken in El Bierzo region, in the province of León, Spain.” And guess what, Ponferrada is capital. And, while I’ve never had it in Spanish classes, usually something like berciana is just a resident of this area (or possibly member of this ethnic group).

 

So there is quite a bit of research just to cover two words that I’ve neither learned in studying Spanish or that I can figure out, just from Google translation or dictionaries. AND, I’ve found this over and over again in Spain, some term that is some kind of regional reference that then implies certain culinary dishes. IOW, there is nothing to “translate” so it does raise the challenge of what to put into an app to aid people looking at menus.

 

p.s. I just discovered I insulted Google Translation a bit. Here’s the relevant bit:

Cocina casera tradicional berciana,. Traditional home cooking from Bercia,

 

so, a-ha, Bercia never appeared in the Spanish text, but Google figured out that berciana should be “from Bercia”, clever Google. Now I discovered that while spanishdict.com didn’t know this at all, Oxford dictionary has these definitions: Adjective “Relativo a El Bierzo, comarca de la provincia española de León, o a sus habitantes.” (Relating to El Bierzo, a region of the Spanish province of León, or its inhabitants.) or Noun “[persona] Que es de El Bierzo.” ([person] Who is from El Bierzo.) It’s amazing what one finds if we keep digging.

 

Now if you want to learn more about la gastronomía berciana, you can try this link but you’ll have to figure out the Spanish yourself (and there will be a quiz)

https://www.ponferrada.org/turismo/es/gastronomia

And just for more fun here’s the official website for Botillo, including recetas – enjoy

https://botillodelbierzo.es/

 

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.

Nuevas aventuras en español

Perhaps the old, “seek and ye shall find” applies for this post. Two days ago I complained how my routines for learning Spanish (most of what I do during my day, being retired and now stuck indoors due to COVID) was getting tiring. Well, I just got a new burst of energy. Sometimes to supplement class type study I just watch the many Spanish language TV channels on my cable subscription or try to find Spanish TV shows or movies I can follow. As is well known the speech is way too fast for me to keep up, but I do hear/understand some of the words; some people claim just continuing to do this will eventually produce comprehension. Well, maybe, but while listening might train me to hear the sounds of the language better I doubt I’m going to guess the meanings of words and plain old-fashioned cram vocabulary is required.

Also, I’ve never been a big fan of YouTube, not necessarily due to any specific content, but the whole idea. Unfiltered stuff can go there and get huge audiences, so all sorts of misinformation is rampant, esp. climate change denialism and anti-vax (and generally anti-science), and of course a huge dose of truly horrible political propaganda. Not my favorite source of information.

But when it comes to Spanish it is a rich resource. I’d done some exploring before, looking for some material, mostly course material which is usually pretty dull and dry and I have a hard time paying attention, plus it’s like some meals one eats, an hour later you’re hungry again. And since most of the content is aimed at beginnings, I get a lot of repetition of stuff I already know and then when I do find something new I rarely retain any of it. I think it’s partly I’m just used to TV as idle time entertainment, not learning, so the material is in one ear and out the other with nothing sticking.

Well, that’s a long windup to get to my point, so ya basta.

Somehow, while doing some searches I stumbled on my first find, the YouTube channel, Why Not Spanish. There are a ton of episodes and the hosts, Cody and María are a delight. The balance of María as a native speaker and then Cody as a second language speaker still learning is a great format for entertaining and informative lessons. And I get the extra kick that my 600 days of less fun type of study is paying off because I can understand most of what they’re saying (of course, as a teaching video they make that a bit easier than just a TV program with native speaker).

Once I got into the part of YouTube with this kind of content Google’s suggestions (right hand side of web pages) revealed other channels, some also interesting and helpful (so many I haven’t sampled them all yet), but then I found another delight, Butterfly Spanish. Ana, the host/teacher delivers a real punch and is quite fun to watch as well as doing a great job of organizing and presenting the material. Connected to the subject of my blog you might sample Vegetables in Spanish, or Learn to Order Food in Spanish, or How to order food in Spanish, Learn how to talk about eating in Spanish, and covering some of the material I’ve presented What’s the difference between Spanish in Mexico, Latin America, and Spain?

Ana reminds me a bit, in personality and method of teaching, to my current teacher, Erika. Both discuss subjects in English, but insert lots of Spanish (often then repeating in English). So in addition to whether the lesson is the student gets a lot more practice hearing. Interesting I find hearing both Spanish and English intermixed in a conversation is very helpful to me. But also, with both people I encounter via video (our teacher is using Zoom from Cuernavaca) the incredible enthusiasm, energy and friendliness is a huge incentive to learn Spanish and go meet people like this in real life.

So just after admitting to some learning fatigue I have a new burst of energy, thanks to these people (and others I’ve discovered or am still exploring).

Spanish Study Fatigue

When I started this blog to study and analyze menus in Spanish I had no “required” activity; I could pick and chose what I’d look into and when. Then I decided to actually try to learn Spanish. It’s been fun but now it’s become a chore.

See I don’t really have any knack for languages. I can manipulate symbols, find patterns in raw data, analyze and comment on findings – that’s easy. But none of that requires actually committing anything to long-term memory.

OTOH, learning a language means practice, practice, practice. And more practice. If you stop for a while you start forgetting what you learned. Use it or lose it – progress is easily lost if you don’t constantly refresh your memory.

Now learning your first and initially only language is easy. What else do you have to do. Every waking hour you’re exposing the that language, listening, even if purely passive in the hearing range of some conversation (as a baby would), reading (what else could you read except that language), writing and speaking. But when it comes to a second language, especially one you don’t actually ever need during your waking hours, except in the context of study, you don’t get that constant repetition.

And here’s a tough thing. When you start learning a language and don’t know anything, it’s actually pretty easy. Most of the online learning systems depend on this, starting from scratch in a few weeks you think you know something.

But here’s the bad news. Even you learn faster than I do you’re looking at years before you even approach fluency. And worse, the more you learn, the more you forget. You learn a lot of words and some prose constructs you rarely use, a variant of the 80-20 rule. IOW, 20% of the language you use 80% of the time. I can’t even do anything without seeing y or el or para, so naturally that’s easy. But how often do I use pasillo or pizarra or patines.  Even if you only look at menus or recetas, how often do you see berza, cebollino or remolacha

If you don’t repeat what you’ve learned you will forget. I use two primary techniques to learn Spanish – Duolingo (self-study, online) and now my live class. I’ve done Duolingo for almost 600 days, faithfully every day, through now 98 of the lessons. I’ve done nearly 90,000 individual drills and have accumulated at least 5000 word forms. My real classes are now nearly 50 hours of immersion (Spanish only conversation and lessons).

I’m quite pleased with the progress I’ve made, given three times before I failed to make any headway at all trying to learn Spanish. But now it’s becoming an ordeal. It’s not just my age, as it is commonly believed that learning another language is harder as one ages and much harder in one’s twilight years, but I got nowhere with this language, that half a billion people can easily speak fluently, even when I was younger.

So, of recent I’ve gotten a bit tired of my routine I’d developed over 1.5 years and began to try other things. Also I decided to focus more on learning new material than repeating old material.

What are the consequences?

My error rate has skyrocketed. Constructs that were once easy and I now miss in stupid ways. It is inevitable that repetition, given the same amount of study time per day, is going to decrease. If you’ve done ten lessons and you do 5 lessons per day, half new material, half repetition, it will only take you four days to repeat all previous drills. But push that to 100 lessons and more than half the study time to newer material now the average duration (I keep tons of records to analyze) between repeating a lesson is now over 15 days. And that, being a statistic means a classic Gaussian (bell curve) distribution which means some lessons are repeated every 30 days and some others every day or so. In fact, the program I wrote for myself to schedule what lessons I should do now has a bias to almost force me to repeat lessons I haven’t done for 30+ days. That bias is now slowing down my time devoted to lessons in new material.

And I’m only 61.6% done with Duolingo lessons, about 40% done with vocabulary from various “stories” I used for reading practice and only about 20% done with the vocabulary at least mentioned once (that I can record) in my immersion lessons. Despite working really hard it feels like I’m just falling further and further behing.

And then every now and then I go try to read online real-world stuff (not the graded materials for learning, like CERF A2 stories which is about where I’m at). Discouraging. As much as I feel I’ve learned trying to deal with real world Spanish makes me feel like I’m a baby, hardly able to communicate at all.

But, and the point of this post, is the more I learn, the more I forget, plus the more I realize I need to learn. Almost every day, certainly every week I learn something (not just more words) that I hadn’t seen before, so, por ejemple, now I just learned what se vende queso really means, i.e. using the passive instead of active voice (I’d muddled through this before, catching most of the meaning (simple) but not the actual phrasing).

So now, every day I feel like doing something else than just drills, I end up feeling guilty. If I don’t do drills there another something I’ll forget. Go a week without drills and my error rate (which I record and analyze diligently) noticeably increases. And that’s on top of the fact that many mistakes I made months ago I make again today. Try as I can and the usual difficulties, ser vs estar, preterite vs imperfect, por vs para, I still make almost as many mistakes as I did when I first learned about these things.

I feel like if COVID weren’t stopped me, now if I went on a vacation I’d forget everything I’ve learned.

So this is turning out a bit like my exercise routine. Almost every day I do miles on my stationary bike and my treadmill. If I skip one day, it’s fine because I’ll actually have rested a bit and the next day doing exercise is easier. But skip a couple of days and then it’s hard to do the same workouts I routinely did. And try as I do to avoid the ravages of age, my obsession with record keeping and programs shows my steady decline even when I manage to keep it up.

So when I realize how much more I have to learn losing any progress I’ve made feels awful. And that makes me a slave to all this. Simply put: a) the language learning isn’t fun any more, and, b) I’m not even doing the things I originally wanted to do, i.e. reading menus and recipes. Just trudging along every day.

And, por cierto, I’m retired and don’t even have the time conflicts of work, plus now stuck at home due to COVID, even much of any other activity to do. I clearly have the time but now I’m really losing the motivation.

So I really hope the COVID thing gets over (as almost every other person does) so I can have a goal. If I were headed to Spain next April or even Oaxaca in December there is a reason I need to be able to have some Spanish fluency. Sheesh, even something locally available, shopping in the Latino grocery stores, would be an incentive, but unfortunately the highest local infection rate is in that part of the state. I’ve love to ask a grocery what the difference is between jitomate and tomate (not just one is used in Latin America and the other in Spain).

I started all this because I had extra time and I had just doing nothing as all my life I’ve worked hard on projects. It was fun, now, I’m not so sure.

First Mexican Menu (Tepoztlán)

After repurposing this blog to also look at Mexico (previously I’d limited my study to Spain) I immediately began studying recetas and found number wonderful sites. But my Spanish teacher (from Cuernavaca, via Zoom) decided to ad lib our weekly lesson and use going to restaurants as the context. ¡Perfecto! Even better she mentioned a nearby town that was fun to visit, Tepoztlán. This town is about two hours from Mexico City and thus popular with city folk looking for some pleasant time in the country. In addition to several resort hotels and numerous spas there were some interesting restaurants to look at.

Now in general I’ve found fewer websites and/or menus for restaurants that appear on Google Maps or in a couple of online ratings site (tripadvisor has been the easiest source for me to use for study, no idea how good it is at rating). So I was very lucky to find this restaurant, with a good website and online menu:

Mesa de Origen and its menu

Since I can now stumble through written Spanish with only a few dictionary lookups (or cheats with Google Translate) I found some descriptive material, and I’ll give you a couple of extracts, Spanish and side-by-side Google Translate:

El equipo formado por nuestro chef Lacho Ruiz realizó un profundo trabajo de investigación, comiendo y probando de todo en Tepoztlán y los alrededores, para elegir a los mejores productores y asegurar que la estrella de Mesa de Origen, sean siempre los ingredientes y las recetas de las abuelas locales. The team formed by our chef Lacho Ruiz carried out a deep research work, eating and tasting everything in Tepoztlán and the surrounding areas, to choose the best producers and ensure that the star of Mesa de Origen, are always the ingredients and recipes of the local grandmothers.
Conocemos perfectamente el origen de cada cosa que toca el paladar de nuestros invitados: los chiles, la cecina, las verduras.

Nada proviene más allá de Morelos y todo se consume de productores pequeños y locales, favoreciendo el comercio justo.

We know perfectly the origin of everything that touches the palates of our guests: chilies, beef jerky, vegetables.

Nothing comes beyond Morelos and everything is consumed by small and local producers, favoring fair trade.

Morelos is the state where Tepoztlán and Cuernavaca are located. While Morelos is the second smallest state I eventually discovered it has quite a few local producers. So while “local” is a huge fad and often more marketing gimmick than real, it really looks like this restaurant goes all out to use local products and traditional dishes. That, of course, means it is quite a bit different than your usual Mexican restaurant (esp. of the USA border areas) and very different from restaurants in Spain; IOW, an excellent place to use for my first menu analysis.

Now you don’t need to know much to realize, while they share most of Spanish, Mexico and Spain are very different, in many ways and especially  la gastronomía. But really the first thing I noticed came from looking at maps, which I love to do. Few of the place names in Spain are very hard to “read” (recall mentally) even for a total non-Spanish speaker, but Mexico, wow, it is tough. It’s bad enough ingredients include things like huitlacoche or cacahuazintle or chilacayote or chapulines  (yum, look that one up for yourself, something you’ll never see in Spain) but then there are places like Huitzilac, Tlainepantla, Tlayacapan or Tlatetelco. It’s somewhat like the confusing words you’ll see in Basque Country, because, it’s not really Spanish (there it’s Euskara, the Basque language; in Mexico it’s Náhuatl the pre-Hispanic native language).

So after a couple of years (virtual) wandering around Spain it’s quite a transition to try (virtual) wandering around Mexico. And so while I often encountered rather specialized terminology on menus in Spain (not really Spanish) this is even a more daunting challenge in Mexico. My original project to create a translation app specialized on menus would be even more difficult for restaurants in Mexico.

So continuamos. Let’s just look at a bit more of what this restaurant describes as its culinary focus, La Cocina Tepozteca: (Note: cocina means a lot of things, it’s derived from cocinar (to cook), cocina is the conjugation for he/she/it/formal-you cooks, but it’s also the noun for the kitchen, and then further it often is used for ‘cuisine’. It’s not clear to me when to use cocina or gastronomía, so one sees both)

Una cocina tradicional está hecha de tierra y de campo, de semilla y de fruto generoso.

Tepoztlán ha estado habitado por milenios y la auténtica cocina local refleja esa historia.

Los platillos se crean de acuerdo a la época del año, la fiesta del calendario, los productos que en ese momento prodigan la tierra y los animales.

A traditional cuisine is made of earth and field, seed and generous fruit.

Tepoztlán has been inhabited for millennia and the authentic local cuisine reflects that history.

The dishes are created according to the time of year, the feast of the calendar, the products that at that time lavish the land and animals.

La cocina tepozteca está influenciada por deliciosos sabores prehispánicos, cuya base principal es el maíz procedente de los alrededores. Tepoztec cuisine is influenced by delicious pre-Hispanic flavors, whose main base is corn from the surrounding area.

While everyone probably knows that corn (maíz) is the base ingredient for cuisine in most of Mexico and you find some corn in Spain, it’s really important. In a previous post I mentioned that tortilla (a kind of omelet) in Spain is something entirely different (and ubiquitous) than in Mexico so then these two corn-related terms are interesting and often represented in Mexican cuisine: huitlacoche (sometimes known as corn smut, this is a disgusting looking fungus that grows on corn, but actually is a delicacy); I’ve actually seen this growing on corn plants on some of my geodashing where corn is everywhere, but huitlacoche is still rare; or cacahuazintle, old heirloom variety of white dent maize, that actually is what you should use for pozole (instead of white hominy) but it’s just a bit tough to find.

Here’s a couple of “local”ingredients (extracted from menus you might want to look up) but also examples how knowing Spanish, even deep food vocabulary doesn’t help since these are placenames (like I often found on menus in Spain):  queso de cabra de Huitzilac, jamón curado de 3 Marías, cecina y chorizo de Yecapixtla and queso Oaxaca (not that local).

So on to a few more items. The text at the website also mentions this:

Y de postre las famosas nieves de Tepoztlán y sus exóticos sabores deleitarán tu paladar. And for dessert the famous Tepoztlán snows and their exotic flavors will delight your palate.

This is not a funny Google Translation, nieves actually is snow and in the context of food and in this area it is a kind of icy, low-fat ice cream. If you virtually tour with Google Maps in many street views you may see this on signs. Without trying it I’d guess it’s something in between sherbet and gelato. So this area is famous for it.

One other thing that took a bit of getting used to, both in the rare menu that has prices (more common that menus in Spain list prices, nice for a virtual traveler) and on signs advertising food is $ in prices. Of course in Spain (for us americanos, and I can use this term: people outside the US resent us appropriating “american”, given the peoples of the entire western hemisphere are “american”, but none of us are part of EU) ∉ is a learning experience. So when a simple ice cream dessert can cost $110 it’s a little easier to realize this is pesos and not dollars, so $4.89 is not quite so bad.

So we’ll just look at a couple of items from Platos Fuertes. Now it took me a while to get used to Segundo as the usual term in Spain for “main course”, so “strong plates” (the literal translation) wasn’t obvious, but, it is simple, just the main course.

CHAMORRO EN SALSA DE TOMATE MANZANO
Verdolagas y habas
310
SAUCE IN APPLE TOMATO SAUCE

Purslane and beans

310 ($13.66)

Now figuring this one out took some work and the Google Translate is pretty crocked. If you line up the words you’ll realize GT just ignored Chamorro. And kinda for good reason as it’s hard to find, although it does occur in the authoritative DLE. Where the best definition, in Spanish, En las carnes de abasto, pantorrilla de un animal (In the meats of supply, calf of a animal.) Not very helpful, eh? Well, the best I could find is this a particular way of cutting the meat and so is either Beef Hind Shanks or Pork Shanks. But it was the manzano that took some more work. The best I could figure out is referenced in this source, this is just a type of pepper, not common outside Mexico. But is the tomate to be taken literally (tomato, although I learned from my Spanish teacher jitomate is used in Mexico for ripe/red tomatoes). If you look at the photo from the linked page, it looks a lot like a Habanero but apparently is not so hot. IOW is this a tomato sauce seasoned with Manzano peppers, or just a pepper sauce (tomate being a qualifier of manzano?) or even what another search shows a San Marzano tomato. Now we grow San Marzano’s in our garden, but my sister always claimed ours were no good compared to those from Italy, but this restaurant is all about ingredients from Morelos Mexico. SO, you make your best guess. I should set up a gofundme page so I can go to Tepoztlán and find out.

So how about

CONEJO EN MOLE DE CENIZA
Camote y huauzontle
310
RABBIT IN ASH MOLE
Sweet potato and huauzontle

310

Now you’d find conejo on menus in Spain so I assume rabbits in Mexico are the same, but, whoa, lots to do here. Mole de Ceniza. Mole is one of the most complicated subjects you can find in Mexico. Even before looking at these menus I know quite a bit about mole. Now, I didn’t always know. Despite living in California and eating a lot of Mexican food, my sister (to whom I dedicate this blog) somehow learned about mole. We spent a whole day wandering around the very pleasant San Antonio Texas (river walk area) looking for mole, like it was something mystical, almost spiritual. Of course, for some, but not all the vast varieties of mole, chocolate is the magic ingredient (not a big surprise since chocolate is a new world invention). So, I could write many pages (assuming I really know more than my basic knowledge) about mole, so I’ll simply say this: 1) Ash mole is an amusing translation by GT, but Ceniza is a bit more helpful, and, 2) and one of my favorite Mexican cooking TV shows, Patti’s Mexican Kitchen, gave me a clear idea of “ash” as mole. So I’m guessing this is the more commonly called (and very famous) mole negra from Oaxaca, where the “ash” part of this comes from a preparation step where banana leaves (or sometimes corn husks) are set on fire and completely burned and then become part of the sauce.  Hey, we gotta guess this virus under control so I can go there and find out what this is.

So many items, so little time so I’ll close with one more (and maybe come back, because I have more items to discuss).

LENGUA DE RES EN GUAXMOLE
Maíz cacahuazintle y huitlacoche
310
BEEF LANGUAGE IN GUAXMOLE
Peanut corn
310

Now first I’ll point out the usual GT bad translation choice: yes, lengua is language (in fact, this is what Duolingo taught me) but it’s really ‘tongue’ (a synonym for language, but in this case, literally tongue). It’s also amusing GT turned Maíz cacahuazintle into Peanut corn, which is somehow GT deciding this is connected with cacahuate, but where did the -zintle get in there. Anyway, already I’d discovered this ingredient, that hierloom type of corn. I’ve made pozole many times, including a hybrid version merging another recipe. Mostly I use white hominy. But once in New Mexico, we went to a Latino mercado and found numerous ingredients, including some dried corn that might have been cacahuazintle or maybe just dried hominy (I had no awareness of any of less back then).

Now if you’re thinking guaxmole is the familiar guacamole, guess again. They’re not just spelling this different because they have an entrada, MOLCAJETE DE GUACAMOLE RÚSTICO. So go this source (in fact, the recipe site I’ve previously referenced) to see it’s something entirely different, so don’t think that what appears to be cognates (in this case of another Spanish word) actually are.

I could go on, but I’ve exhausted all my time to write this post and undoubtedly really exhausted your time to read it if you’re still with me. So I’ll just give you one more to wrap up and you can try to figure out what this is. What the heck is the difference between tomates and jitomates and what is galanga?

ENSALADA DE TOMATES Y JITOMATES
Haba verde, requesón y agua de chile ancho y galanga
165
TOMATOES AND TOMATOES SALAD

Green bean, cottage cheese and ancho chili water and galangal

165

I really wish I could head to this restaurant right this minute. Spain has some appeal to me due to the whole legend and mystique of the Camino de Santiago BUT, I’m sorry, Spain, this food looks a whole lot more interesting.

Come on fortuity, be nice to me, and end the COVID disaster so I can actually do this newest item on my bucket list.

¿Como se dice tomatillo en español?

I have a mystery, a small one that should be simple, but it’s turning out to be harder than I thought.

I was looking through a recipe from an Mexican food blog (Mexico En Mi Cocina) that has both English and Spanish. In particular I was looking at the ingredients for the salsa for Tacos Tlaquepaque. The first item was:

500 gramos de tomate verde

So what’s the mystery? This is simple. Both Google Translate and I would say this is asking for green tomatoes.

BUT, that’s not right! The human English translation (the author of the recipe) asks for:

1 pound tomatillo

Now I’m not confused because, as a norteamericano I can’t deal with metric, or that 17.6 ounces is not a pound.

No, isn’t a tomatillo a tomatillo in Spanish? Apparently not. Now I’ve made lots of recipes with tomatillos. I’ve bought them at the grocery store. I’ve even grown them in the garden. So naturally I assume tomatillo was a Spanish word that’s been imported into English directly since it’s so common, at least among fans, or especially cooks, of Mexican food.

There are words, widely used in English speaking countries that just are what they are in Spanish, there is no translation: tortilla, enchilada, jalapeño (although usually without the ñ, but not a big deal); or from Spain: gazpacho or paella, what else could these be. OTOH, a rather common word, salsa actually does have a translation that I suspect many people don’t know, sauce, or even gravy for meat, or dressing for salad. Sheesh, I always thought it was just salsa. Fewer people might know salsa verde is ‘green sauce’ (maybe even less, salso rojo is ‘red sauce’); salsa is just salsa.

Now my live Spanish teacher (instead of my computer teacher) who lives in Mexico gave us a little tidbit that tomato is not tomate (as in most translations) but jitomate. She explained that jitomate is the red or ripe tomate and tomate is something else (I thought I heard it was the plant, in Spanish the plant and the fruit it bears are sometimes different). Fine, looking at some online photos for Mexican oriented grocery stores in Omaha, yep, that’s how nice red/ripe tomatoes get labeled.

So could it be that tomatillo is NOT tomatillo in Mexico, but maybe is tomatillo elsewhere? But Wikipedia says: “Tomatillos originated in Mexico and were cultivated in the pre-Columbian era“. So why would a Mexican native write in a recipe tomate verde but translate that as tomatillo?

So, a lot of searching and not much answer. But this is what I found.

Much to my surprise the Spanish dictionary I use for best answewrs doesn’t even have tomatillo at all. And even moreas surprising, the authoritative source, La Real Academia Española and its Diccionario de la lengua Española doesn’t have tomatillo. Is it possible this is actual an English word?

So I went to Wiktionary to get the etymology and it says ” From tomate +‎ -illo, from Classical Nahuatl tomatl. “, or the -illo diminutive of tomate, which usually just implies “little”. Not much help as I’ve encountered -illo frequently enough (as in tortilla, where it switches to -illa, but it’s the diminutive of torta which is feminine).

And Wikipedia claims this ” In Spanish, it is called tomate de cáscara, tomate de fresadilla, tomate milpero, tomate verde (green tomato), tomatillo (Mexico; this term means “little tomato” elsewhere), miltomate (Mexico, Guatemala), farolito, or simply tomate (in which case the tomato is called jitomate from Nahuatl xitomatl) “.  Huh, big help. The phrasing in Wikipedia is a bit unclear, to me, but seems to imply tomate verde is not used in Mexico (and instead tomatillo is), BUT I can’t get the answer.

So maybe the author of this recipe just likes tomate verde? Maybe because English has appropriate tomatillo now it gets called something else elsewhere?

For me,  miltomate  or tomate de cáscara  would be fine, but my southern roots and a famous dish, fried green tomatoes (even the name of a movie) makes me resist tomate verde.

So now the new question is, will this consistently be the name used in recipes written in Mexico? A future adventure.

 

 

 

 

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 (SpanishDict.com) 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, SpanishDictionary.com 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!