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.

Verdolagas y habas

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

Camote y huauzontle
Sweet potato and huauzontle


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).

Maíz cacahuazintle y huitlacoche
Peanut corn

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?

Haba verde, requesón y agua de chile ancho y galanga

Green bean, cottage cheese and ancho chili water and galangal


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

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

Fun, eh!



Studying recetas

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

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

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

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

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

Mexico en mi cocina

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUT, and a big but.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 diente de ajo grande finamente picado

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

1 large garlic clove, finely minced

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Repurposing this blog

I started this blog in 2017Dec with a narrow purpose of documenting my development of a sufficient corpus of menu terms, focused on Spain, in order to develop a translation aid. This is still my interest but due three years of work AND recent circumstances I’ve broadened my interest.

I started with the assumption I could achieve my goal without actually learning Spanish. While I still believe that is possible I nonetheless decided to try to learn Spanish, which despite being a fairly easy language to learn, my several previous attempts completely failed. I’ve reported some progress on this goal (i.e. going reasonably well) already so I won’t repeat. However my study methods have steadily progressed now including a two-hour weekly class, moved to Zoom which means I now have the access for all types of study, including interaction conversation.

So all that, plus the COVID outbreak, has induced me to reconsider my goals and thus the purpose of this blog.

I had assumed, nearly three years ago, that by now I would have actually made a real trip to Spain to put my effort to test. Since I wouldn’t be doing travel alone I’d also had to compromise my travel plan (small villages in the vicinity of the Camino de Santiago to really get immersed, avoid the tourist spots (mostly) where Spanish would be irrelevant) to a more typical tourist plan (big cities, especially Barcelona where Catalan would be more useful), in fact, so watered down it wasn’t very appealing any more.

The prospect of a less interesting (to me) trip to Spain triggered a brief interest in going to Ecuador as neither of us have ever been in the southern hemisphere and thus it became a jointly interesting alternative. For me, while Ecuador has plenty of tourism, it looked like being able to communicate in Spanish would be more important in Spain, especially since that trip’s agenda had become the places where English would be widely spoken.

But, alas, we’re happy we didn’t book our trip, tentatively for April 2020, back in the fall of 2019. Who could have predicted travel would be almost completely shutdown! And Ecuador, in addition to previously unexpected economic problems (and thus social disruption) had a fairly severe outbreak. Being old enough to be in the more vulnerable age group and uncertain how our adequate (at home) health insurance would have worked in Ecuador I’m happy we didn’t stranded there, and, sad we didn’t get to have that experience.

So on rethinking possible travel plans I began to reconsider Mexico, specifically Oaxaca. Mi esposa has already been there and loved it. In turn I learned that driving around there was reasonably doable, which is important to me as I like to explore the countryside, not just hang where all the other tourists are. So if I can take a long walk, at least I can get out and given my main GPS can be adapted to Mexico we could even do some geodashing. At the time of this new trip planning: a) it looked like Mexico was actually doing better with COVID than the USA and literally Oaxaca could be safer than Iowa (where our favorite and very authentic Mexican restaurant is and was closed, and, b) that most countries would get COVID under control so that travel would be possible again in 2020.

But that isn’t to be either. Mexico now has high growth rate in cases and, of course, the USA, due to its extremely unwise policy of re-opening too soon is spiking again, quite possibly even worse than the first wave, possibly leading the other countries banning us from entering their countries as disease carriers which would very likely include Spain and perhaps even Mexico. I can’t exactly go on a three week vacation (probably the longest we can muster) and spend two weeks on it in quarantine!

So what does this have to do with my project and this blog?

Well, it means: a) since USA is being totally stupid about COVID, there is no timeframe where I can now reasonably predict that foreign travel might be possible, certainly not in 2020, and I believe even unlikely for 2021, at least until the fall, and, b) actually learning Spanish is something I can do while stuck at home and eating in Spain is not. Even if a vaccine that actually works (instead of the fantasy vaccines the great scientist Jared Kushner is pushing) is available in early 2021, it will probably be at least a year before enough people have received it to have reasonable herd immunity developed.

While I was working on Spanish menus I did learn a lot, which I may summarize in a future post, including that, well, food in Spain while sometimes intriguing BUT it is not as interesting, or flavorful as Mexican food, which is wildly more diverse by visiting Mexico than one can find in the USA, despite Mexican food now being the most popular “ethnic” cuisine in the US. And it happens that I like to cook (me quiero cocinar) and I’m reasonably good at it, ingredients for Mexican food are readily available here (and btw, shopping in nearby predominantly Hispanic stores is a change to practice a little of my Spanish anyway) I’ve decided to shift my project focus to …

reading cookbooks and recipes in Spanish (and accumulate food terms) …

… instead of menus from Spain.

Needless to say there is a huge amount of material available online and in print. I already have about 10 cookbooks, although all in English, for Mexican food so it’s a fairly simple transition.

During my searches on websites in Spain I did discover that either descriptions of food (on menus) or recetas I often found actually were better material to use as study materials for learning Spanish. In fact, that’s part of why I have (still unfinished) massive list of cooking verbs, which I’ll now expand to all sorts of cooking terms.

So now a focus of someday visiting Mexico, which would have been great anyway, for the food, and all manner of Spanish text related to cooking, will be the material I’ll be using for future posts.

Decades ago I had actually tried to accumulate a glossary of food terms in Spanish. At that time I didn’t realize the huge diversity of terms, while all in “Spanish”, that were very regional. And, in particular, I found all sorts of terms from Mexico (also Puerto Rico) that would be almost unknown in Spain, especially as many of those terms are really Spanish-ified indigent language, for instance, the most obvious chocolate  (English or Spanish) which is from xocolātl. So, if one just compiles a glossary from other glossaries and dictionaries one finds on the Net quickly the compilation becomes a mashup of terms that are only known in a few places, IOW, not the canonical “Spanish”. Already in my class, where our teacher is in Cuernavaca, I learned some interesting differences, e.g. Duolingo teaches tomato as tomate (as do most dictionaries) when in Mexico my teacher explained it’s jitomate (for a fully ripe tomato and tomate as an unripe tomato, or the reference to the plant, not its fruit). So on my second try that’s why I only used terms I found on actual menus in Spains (sometimes, amusingly, still including terms from Mexico since in a few big cities in Spain there were Mexican restaurants)

So, as long as I’m careful I can explore Spanish cooking materials from Mexico and add new terms to my corpus, but being careful to learn if the terms are more localized to Mexico and/or would be known by anyone in Spain. IOW, I’ll still achieve my original goal but with even more material.

So, my re-purposing is really not so big a shift and I hope to find some interesting food terms to discuss in the future as well as continue to plod along developing my app.

Does learning Spanish help to read menus?

I suppose the short answer is obviously yes, but a more complex answer is “not very much”. It is also tied to how one “learns Spanish”. Most any form of Spanish instruction is oriented to a broad brush of the language, mostly focused on conversational forms and vocabulary. That could be handy in dining conversation but not so much for reading menus.

I used a variety of learning methods: 1) mostly Duolingo, which seems roughly equivalent to most online courses, 2) more recently actual teacher course that quickly became virtual due to COVID, but is interactive and responsive to individual student needs, 3) reading, although mostly the typical books for beginners and students, so little emphasis on food or dining, and, 4) listening, a variety of sources, Netflix Spanish language movies, Spanish language TV and Spanish language podcasts – this is a helpful adjunct to the other methods, but I have yet to find a Spanish language cooking show.

So in all these methods only a small fraction of the learning time is focused on food. Sometimes the lessons on shopping contain as many food nouns and the lessons on dining.

So as the only real quantitative data I can provide from 89 lessons (about 60%) of Duolingo in 502 days I have 202 terms (nouns, verbs, adjectives) directly or at least related to dining. Of those, and just masculine singular version of nouns, I have 124 (only 87 of which I’ve seen on menus) which I’ll list here:

aceite, agua, alcohol, almuerzo, arroz, azúcar, banana, bar, bebida, boca, bosque, botella, brazo, cabeza, café, cafetería, camarero, campo, carne, carta, casa, cebolla, cena, cerdo, cereal, cerveza, champán, champiñón, chef, chocolate, chorizo, cliente, cocina, comida, conejo, copa, corazón, cuchara, cuchillo, cuello, cuenta, cuerpo, dedo, desayuno, dulce, ensalada, espalda, estómago, frijol, fruta, fuego, galleta, granja, grupo, hamburguesa, hielo, huevo, jamón, jugo, leche, limón, limonada, mango, mano, mantequilla, manzana, mar, menú, mermelada, mesa, miel, naranja, nariz, océano, ojo, oreja, oveja, pan, papa, paquete, parrilla, pasta, pastel, pato, patata, pera, pescado, pez, pie, pierna, pimiento, pizza, planta, plátano, plato, pollo, postre, precio, primavera, primero, queso, refresco, reserva, restaurante, sal, salsa, sándwich, silla, sopa, taza, tazón, té, tenedor, tinto, tomate, tostada, vaca, vaso, vegetal, vegetariano, verdura, vino, yogur

If you compare this list to my glossary you’ll see this is only a small fraction of what I’ve compiled just from the menus I’ve looked at.

So, IOW, you’re not going to learn very much of the vocabulary you’ll find on menus in a generic Spanish class. And it will be worse if you just do some quickie conversation class before going on a trip.

Now, OTOH, I have two phrasebooks (one acquired over 30 years ago) and since dining is a big part of what is covered in those guides the vocabulary from those (which I can only report anecdotally as I don’t have detailed analysis) is actually quite a bit larger than I’ve learned in 500+ days of various Spanish learning methods. So a phrasebook can be handy BUT, frankly, those also cover only a fraction of what one finds on menus.

A menu is not prose so all the grammar and verb conjugations and such are almost entirely useless for reading menus. The vocabulary used is quite extensive compared to standard classes. And, especially in Spain, many of the words on a menu aren’t even in any dictionary, so rather unlikely to have been encountered in any Spanish courses. And beyond nouns, other words in the menu entries are closely tied to unique vocabulary of cooking. And some of those words not in dictionaries are just the names of dishes or ingredients.

So, you want to learn how to read menus, here’s what I would suggest (and I’ve never seen any class or book oriented to this curriculum).

  1. read cookbooks, in Spanish, doing whatever you have to do (Google Translate, dictionary lookups, web searches for terms not in dictionaries) to “read” the material and then make your own set of flashcards of every word you think you’ll need to know.
  2. read online recetas (recipes) websites which are easier to analyze and translate and create a set of flashcards from that.
  3. search for any websites oriented to cooking, in Spanish of course, and extract what you can from those.
  4. And, guess what, do what I’ve been doing, i.e. finding menus online and analyzing them.

Now when it comes to food you definitely have to be careful to concentrate your study on the country you expect to visit and be reading menus. There is a huge diversity of food/cuisine terminology in the Western Hemisphere Spanish-speaking countries where terms have different meanings in different countries (or often are unique to just a few countries, even regions within the larger countries) and are quite different (even contradictory) to Spain.

So you’re in for a major bit of work to spend weeks in Spain, dining with only Spanish source material (menus or verbal). So the difficulty of finding what one needs means there is a big hole to fill, which can be the revised purpose of my effort here. A couple more years of studying Spanish and then doing a ton of my four steps above, and then converting all that learning into a form that can be more easily accessed for someone who is merely going to visit.



A beautiful song

Every now and then I do a digression from my main blog topic of translating menus in Spain to something else, in this case some music from Spain. In my attempt to actually learn Spanish many sources suggest using a variety of techniques, not just a single method of learning. And one, of course, is listening to videos, in Spanish.

Fortunately here on our cable, plus with Netflix and Amazon Prime there are a many programs, some originally in English, that are in Spanish, sometimes with closed captions (more literal than subtitles). But perhaps the most challenging listening assignments is trying to hear the vocals of Spanish language songs. Now actually I often can’t hear the lyrics in English language songs so this is especially challenging for me. While words are not so clear in songs, however, one advantage is that the speed is much slower than listening to spoken Spanish, especially news programs.

The first time I tried to listen to a song was a consequence of stumbling on a Spanish audio version of the movie Desperado with Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek on cable. While almost all the actors have Spanish has their first language the movie was actually made in English. Despite its heavy dose of violence I’ve watched the English version several times. Watching the version on a Spanish channel  was amusing seeing it dubbed into Spanish and with closed captions, given it takes place in Mexico with Spanish speaking actors.

But the part that really got my attention was the opening scene with Banderas singing (if it was him). A bit of searching led to discovering the song he’s singing is Cancion del Mariachi and there is a video on YouTube of this opening scene. Doing a variety of searches I found the lyrics, in Spanish, and various English translations (some pretty bad, a few amusingly not very literal). I merged these lyrics, plus the Google Translate (embedded at end of this post) and then re-watched the video. The first time, with the visual guide, I heard almost every word and after a few more tries I could completely follow the song. Unfortunately, take away my visual cues and I don’t hear so much, which is an interesting lesson in itself.

So that was fun but just background for this post. Later I found another “advice on learning” source that suggested listening to music on radio or YouTube. And they gave several links and that’s how I discovered this song which I really like. At first I was confused thinking Ella Baila Sola was part of the song title but I later learned this was a very popular female duet from Spain. The song itself was titled: Cuando los sapos bailen flamenco. I could translate all but sapos and didn’t believe it when almost the only choice (in multiple dictionaries) was ‘toads’, so When the Toads Dance Flamenco. I then figured this was some kind of expression like “chickens have come home to roost” in English or Hablando del rey de Roma (speak of the devil). But, alas, I can’t find any meaning for the title, so it just must be words the writer chose.

So if you try to play the YouTube (it’s short and very nice song, IMHO) here are some lyrcis to go along with it and you can try to follow the words. And, for me, after nearly 500 days of trying to learn Spanish I do most of the words but can’t follow the song without my visual guide, so my audible skills are way inferior to my reading skills, but other than recordings I do zero conversation in Spanish which is pretty critical to ever developing verbal skills.

Good Spanish transcript Google Translate Good Human translation
Me alegra tanto oir tu voz aunque dormido I’m so glad to hear your voice even though asleep It’s so good to hear your voice although you’re asleep
por fin viajabas como en tus sueños you were finally traveling like in your dreams You were finally travelling like in your dreams,
buscando un sitio para volver looking for a place to come back looking for a place to go back to
y sin poder olvidar lo que dejas lo que has aprendido and without being able to forget what you leave what you have learned And without being able to forget what you’ve left, what you’ve learnt
van a cambiar las caras los sueños, los días y yo the faces will change the dreams, the days and I Faces, dreams, days are going to change and
lentamente te pierdo I slowly lose you I slowly lose you
Repeat: Como un regalo que al ensuciarse tiró quien limpiaba Repeat: Like a gift that when dirty was thrown by the one who cleaned Like a gift that when gets dirty and is thrown away by the one who is cleaning
como un vaso después de beber el trago más dulce like a glass after drinking the sweetest drink Like a glass after drinking the sweetest gulp
con un adiós, con un te quiero y con mis labios en tus dedos with a goodbye, with a love you and with my lips on your fingers With a goodbye, with an I love you and with my lips in your fingers
para no pronunciar las palabras que dan tanto miedo, so as not to pronounce the words that are so scary, To not say the words that are so frightening,
te vas y te pierdo you go and I lose you you go and I lose you
Me alegra tanto escuchar tus promesas mientras te alejas I’m so glad to hear your promises as you walk away It’s so good to hear your promises while you go away
saber que piensas volver algún día cuando los sapos bailen flamenco knowing that you plan to return someday when the toads dance flamenco Knowing that you plan to come back when toads dance flamenco
y yo te espero ya ves, aunque no entiendo bien que los sapos and I wait for you you see, although I do not understand well that the toads And I wait for you, you see, although I don’t quite understand that toads
puedan dejar de saltar y bailar lejos de su charco they can stop jumping and dancing away from their puddle can stop jumping and dancing far from their pool
Porque mis ojos brillan con tu cara y ahora que no te veo se apagan Because my eyes shine with your face and now that I don’t see you they go out Because my eyes shine with your face and now that I don’t see you they turn off
porque prefiero que estés a mi lado aunque no tengas nada because I prefer you to be by my side even if you have nothing Because I prefer you being beside me although you haven’t got anything,
te vas y te pierdo you go and I lose you you go and I lose you
(back to repeat) (does repeat)  


So here’s a similar kind of transcript for Cancion del Mariachi

Spanish (very close match to song) merge of several human xlates Google Translate
Soy un hombre muy honrado I am a man of honour I am a very honest man
Que me gusta lo mejor And I fancy what is best That I like the best
Por mujeres no me falta I don’t miss women For women I do not lack
Ni el dinero ni el amor Neither money nor love. Neither the money nor the love
Jineteando en mi caballo Riding on my horse Hustling on my horse
Por la sierra yo me voy I am off to the mountain. By the mountains I go
Las estrellas y la luna And the stars and the moon The stars and the moon
Ellas me dicen donde voy Tell me where to go. They tell me where I’m going
Ay, ay, ay, ay Ay ay ay ay! Ay, ay, ay, ay
Ay, ay, amor Ay ay love Oh, oh, love
Ay mi morena Ay my dark lady Oh my brunette
De mi corazon Of my heart From my heart
Me gusta tocar guitarra I like to play guitar I like playing guitar
Me gusta cantar el “song” I like to sing the ‘song’ I like to sing the “song”
Mariachi me acompaña Mariachi accompanies me Mariachi is with me
Cuando canto mi cancion when I sing my song When I sing my song
Me gusta tomar mis copas I like to drink my drinks I like to take my drinks
Agua ardiente selo mejor moonshine is the best Burning water is better
Tambien el tequila blanco Also white tequila, Also white tequila
Con su saleda sabor with its salty taste With its salty flavor
Ay, ay, ay, ay Ay ay ay ay! Ay, ay, ay, ay
Ay, ay, amor Ay ay my love Oh, oh, love
Ay mi morena Ay my dark lady Oh my brunette
De mi corazon of my heart From my heart
(long guitar solo)    
Me gusta tocar guitarra I like to play guitar I like playing guitar
Me gusta cantar el “song” I like to sing the ‘song’ I like to sing the “song”
Mariachi me acompaña The mariachi accompanies me Mariachi is with me
Cuando canto mi cancion when I sing my song When I sing my song
Me gusta tomar mis copas I like to drink my drinks I like to take my drinks
Agua ardiente selo mejor moonshine is the best Burning water is better
Tambien el tequila blanco also white tequila, Also white tequila
Con su saleda sabor with its salty taste With its salty flavor
Ay, ay, ay, ay Ay ay ay ay! Ay, ay, ay, ay
Ay, ay, amor Ay ay my love Oh, oh, love
Ay mi morena Ay my dark lady Oh my brunette
De mi corazon of my heart From my heart
Ay, ay, ay, ay Ay ay ay ay! Ay, ay, ay, ay
Ay, ay, amor Ay ay love Oh, oh, love
Ay mi morena Ay my dark lady Oh my brunette
De mi corazon Of my heart From my heart

verbos for cocinarasustar

I first introduced the topic of compiling a comprehensive list of verbs, specific or re-purposed for cooking in a post about a month ago. This is a long and tedious process of searching for verbs, either with English or Spanish definitions, throughout the Net and then compiling them into a consistent list with enough research to create a reasonably short definition and then placing these in  a page at this blog for hopefully the most comprehensive list anywhere on the Net.

With this post today I’ll update my Cooking Verbs through all the verbs starting with A (a small fraction of my in-progress list). I decided to split that list in two sections: a) common verbs with general meaning that can be applied to cooking, and, b) verbs that are specialized and used primarily for cooking.

In the first post about verbs I mentioned that some verbs with common meanings get “re-purposed” into a more specialized meaning just for cooking. So as I crunch through my in-progress I sometimes find verbs that are so specialized and have interesting meanings, so I’ll discuss one, asustar, here. At the final part of this post (please keep reading or skip down) you’ll find the surprising definition, but I want to give the complete background of this cooking verb.

asustar is interesting because a standard dictionary definition is: to scare, to frighten. So how does this get applied to cooking. A somewhat longer definition, from Oxford, in Spanish (with Google Translations) is:

1 Causar un susto o impresión momentánea de miedo. 1 Cause a scare or momentary impression of fear.
2 Producir escándalo o asombro muy grandes. 2 Produce very big scandal or astonishment.
3 Añadir agua u otro líquido frío a un alimento que está en ebullición para que deje de cocer momentáneamente. 3 Add water or other cold liquid to a boiling food to stop cooking momentarily.

The third definition from this dictionary is the typical one used for cooking, which I’d treat as something roughly equivalent to “blanching”, although in most cases “to blanch” (usually vegetables) is to boil thing briefly and then remove and put into ice water to stop the cooking (not as this definition implies, adding cold liquid to rapidly cool down the cooking liquid). But the idea is the same and the consequence, especially for green vegetables, is to preserve the bright green color the initial boiling produces, rather than letting the cooking go on and dull the color.

In one of the really good online sources I found there is a very good definition (all in Spanish) which I’ll paraphrase here (original Spanish from the website and Google translations (a bit beyond the Spanish I’ve learned):

Cuando hablamos de “asustar” dentro del mundo gastronómico esta palabra adquiere una nueva significación. En ningún momento se refiere al verbo de dar un susto a alguien sino que se trata de una palabra que procede del latín y que procede de “suscitare”, algo que significa “suscitar” o “excitar”.

En Mami Recetas queremos ayudarte a que aprendas a cocinar y domines la cocina al máximo y, por eso, a continuación te daremos el significado de asustar en la cocina. De esta forma, conocerás cuál es su significado cuando usamos el término culinario en el mundo gastronómico.

When we talk about “scare” into the gastronomic world, this word acquires a new meaning. At no time does it refer to the verb of giving someone a scare but it is a word that comes from Latin and that comes from “suscitare”, something that means “to stir up” or “to excite”.

In Mami Recipes we want to help you learn to cook and master the kitchen to the fullest and, therefore, we will give you the meaning of scaring in the kitchen. In this way, you will know what its meaning is when we use the culinary term in the gastronomic world.

This is a good preface to then the elaboration of the explanation at this site:

Cuando decimos que vamos a “asustar” dentro del mundo gastronómico estamos haciendo referencia a que vamos a añadir un líquido frío a otro que ya esté hirviendo. El objetivo de esta técnica consiste en romper la ebullición de forma inmediata y, así, conseguir una textura sorprendente. When we say that we are going to “scare” into the gastronomic world we are referring to the fact that we are going to add a cold liquid to another that is already boiling. The objective of this technique is to break the boil immediately and thus achieve a surprising texture.
Por tanto, “asustamos” al líquido que está caliente e hirviendo añadiéndole otro a una temperatura más fría. … y conseguimos hacer que las salsas sean más espesas y tengan una textura diferente. Therefore, we “scare” the liquid that is hot and boiling by adding another at a cooler temperature. … and we managed to make the sauces thicker and have a different texture.
Básicamente usamos esta técnica en la cocina cuando estamos cocinando platos como las legumbres. … por ejemplo, de las alubias que cuando están hirviendo la piel puede volverse muy dura y provocar que terminen rompiéndose. En cambio, si añadimos agua fría a la cocción conseguimos que se “asusten”, es decir, que se evite la dilatación y no se rompa la piel. Basically we use this technique in the kitchen when we are cooking dishes such as legumes. … for example, of beans that when they are boiling the skin can become very hard and cause them to break. On the other hand, if we add cold water to the cooking we get them to “scare”, that is, to avoid dilation and not break the skin.

So that is a fairly good description of a basic cooking technique, but it’s the final bit that I found most interesting:

Otro de los momentos en los que se suele usar esta técnica es cuando estamos cocinando el pulpo. Con esto, se consigue que la piel se conserve y que por tanto el sabor del pulpo quede más suave y fino. Another of the moments in which this technique is usually used is when we are cooking the octopus. With this, it is achieved that the skin is preserved and therefore the taste of the octopus is softer and finer.

I had first encountered this term in my extractions from the Gallina Blanca dictionary, which unfortunately (for you, Dear Reader) doesn’t seem to be available any more; fortunately I extracted the material before this disappeared. So here is the definition I found over a year ago that I found so interesting (originally in Spanish, here with the Google Translation):

ASUSTAR (un pulpo) “asustar al pulpo” es ponerlo en abundante agua hirviendo  sumergiendolo en ella tres o cuatro veces, sujetando con unos palos su cabeza hasta que se “encoja”. Según expertos esto hace queden más finos y los tentáculos no pierdan los llamados botones. “Frighten (or scare) the octopus” is to put it in abundant boiling water sumergiendolo (submerging it) three or four times, holding with a few sticks its head until it “shrinks”. According to experts this makes them thinner and the tentacles do not lose the so-called buttons.

I couldn’t figure sumergiendolo when I first saw this and Google was unable to translate it, but as I’ve mentioned one benefit of actually learning Spanish is I can now understand some words Google can’t translate. So I now can recognize that the lo is object pronoun (it) stuck on the end of the present participle (aka gerund) of the verb sumergir (to submerge).

So this is certainly an interesting verb and totally unique to cooking technique. In fact, though I forget where, I saw a TV episode about the favorite/classic dish in Galacia, i.e. pulpo (octopus). I saw the cook do exactly this procedure, dunking the octopus in a large pot of boiling water and quickly withdrawing it and repeating this multiple times before putting the octopus all the way in the pot. I suspect this is a critical process to improving the texture of the octopus, which is then served, cut into pieces, on a wooden plank doused in olive oil and salt.

This dish is so common in Galacia there is even a name for a restaurant that features this dish: Pulperia, which otherwise might not be obvious. Although in other places this might just mean a grocery store,  Searching Google for “Pulperia in santiago” will yield various restaurants but also many photos of this famous dish.


A year with Duolingo learning Spanish

Hurrah for me! Yesterday I did my 365th day with Duolingo, learning Spanish and “playing” with other languages. As I’ve mentioned before I originally set out to develop an extensive glossary of Spanish terms for food and for restaurant menus WITHOUT attempting to learn the language itself. I was relatively sure I could accomplish this goal despite persuasion from others that I should learn the language.

My main resistance to trying to learn Spanish was failure in my previous attempts using conventional learning materials, initially audio tapes, then later with DVDs. These materials weren’t much help but also used a different learning technique (also more traditional) than Duolingo. So when I discovered Duolingo AND began to try to learn some Spanish with it I found it was much more helpful. And the early success I had encouraged me to keep going, ultimately leading to much of my available time devoted to learning Spanish rather than working on menus, as was my original intent.

Not only does Duolingo take full advantage of newer cloud-based technology it seems to have the attitude of making learning “fun” through various gamification tactics. Since it’s free and its revenue comes for ads it also encourages you to do more study than you might otherwise so. Over the year Duolingo has even increased these incentives with various “competitions” (just for bragging rights) but designed to give you more “rewards” than just learning the lessons. All this worked for me and I soon found myself nearly addicted to doing Duolingo every day.

I mostly used the PC version of Duo instead of the phone app version. Mostly I hate trying to type on phones (plus spell correct initially changed some Spanish words to English and thus I got the drills “wrong”), but also typing, especially after I learned how to setup typing on my PC to type Spanish (i.e. accents and ¿ and ¡ easier. Since Duo drills involve a lot of typing (transcribing audio, translating sentences) the PC version worked better for me.

As I used Duo more and more I decided to also explore other languages. While I’m doing the Spanish lessons thoroughly (each “skill” has five levels, in Spanish I complete all five levels before moving on (the next lesson is “unlocked” after finishing level 1, but I do all the levels) I also decided to have “fun” with other languages. I had two years of French in middle school with a very conversational approach and then two years of German in high school with a more conventional “academic” approach. Duo is a mixture of these two styles of learning language. So, despite German being my least well learned foreign language I actually rushed through the lessons and got my first “owl” (completing all lessons to at least one level) in German. I remembered French better (plus it’s an easier language) so I went through more levels in French but haven’t finish the entire “tree” (the complete set of “skills”).

For fun I also did some Portuguese, Italian and Catalan. I’ve visited Portugal, without knowing any of the language (again I got tapes and a book and learned nothing). I’d had some exposure to Italian because my first attempt, decades ago, at developing a glossary for food/restaurant terms was for Italian, after once visiting a restaurant in California where the menu was entirely in Italian and I was lost ordering. So since I, someday, want to do Italian and Portuguese more thoroughly I only did a few of those lessons. Interestingly learning Catalan is not available from an English base; instead you learn Catalan from Spanish and since I didn’t know Spanish I couldn’t get far with those lessons.

And, then, after reading a lot of the comments the Duo community generates I also decided to start the learn English from Spanish tree after I’d done about 20 skills in Spanish. The vocabulary used in the English lessons generally matches the vocabulary in the Spanish learning so by the time I started “learning” English I knew most of the Spanish words used to create the drill questions.

So the consequence of all this is I’ve: a) learned quite a bit, and, b) piled up a lot of the various scores Duo uses for incentives to keep learning. So, as a summary I’ve accumulated 118,559 XPs. Usually 10 XPs are granted for completing a drill (usually about 20 questions) with some bonus points, in any language. Also I soon discovered “stories” (for Spanish, English, French, German and Portuguese) which are a dialog (rather than isolated drill sentences) and generally completing one of the stories generates about 24 XPs. So this translates to having done about 8000 individual sets of drills or stories, or about 20/day, which translates to about an hour a day, well over the “minimum” (15 minutes) that Duo recommends. That means I’ve done about 400 hours in Duo and they claim 35 hours is equivalent to a semester. Now for Spanish I’ve acquired 71,691 XPs which means about 60% of my time in Duo is for Spanish or approximately 160 hours. So, have I done five semesters. NO WAY! Using a different system of rating language fluency, the CERF system, I’ve done online tests and have just barely achieved the A1 level (and maybe 1/2 of A2). One could expect to achieve this level of fluency in less than a year of classic classes (either high school or college level). I’ve spent more hours than classes would require but I’ve learned less. BUT, I’ve learned way more than I could have expected based on previous (failed) attempts.

I’ve also now done 78 of the Spanish “skills” so I’m only about half way through what Duo has to offer. So projecting it’s going to take me another full year to finish the Duo Spanish course. I would expect after completing my next year to be somewhere past the A2 level which should be good enough for most “tourist” conversations in a Spanish speaking country. Duo makes the learning fun so I do believe I will finish all Duo has to offer for Spanish and then I’ll need to supplement my learning with other sources.

In addition I have received 1114 crowns, an award given for completing any level within a skill. For Spanish I have 388 crowns which is nearly half of the 797 maximum. I’ve also gotten 300 crowns in French and 288 in German. Duo says I’ve learned 2174 words in Spanish. Since I’m obsessed with this I wrote my own program for drills (smart flashcards) and so I accumulated all the vocabulary I’d encountered in Duo (along with both masculine and feminine forms (mostly for adjectives) and plurals, even though Duo doesn’t count all these variations). For verbs I also enter all the conjugations (the five persons used in all Spanish countries, Duo doesn’t do much with the plural “you” (vosotros)). By now at 78 lessons I’ve had three conjugations in indicative mood (present, preterite and imperfect) and one conjugation in imperative. Spanish verbs are fairly regular but nonetheless there are still two indicative tenses (future and conditional) I haven’t hit (yet) in Duo and all of the subjunctive. So still a lot to do with verbs. But according to my drill file (the XML that contains all the words from Duo, with all the variants) I have “learned” (at least encountered) 1453 “root” words (the masculine singular or verb infinitive) and 3129 total forms; IOW, assuming I actually know all these (and I usually remember about 98%) that’s learning around 9 “words” per day. And that is a tiny fraction of the vocabulary (even only considering fairly common words) of Spanish. For instance, in comparison, I’ve encountered 128 verbs and meanwhile, as part of my original project, I’ve found over 500 verbs related to cooking. I believe one needs to know around 300 verbs in order to at least stumble through simple conversations, so again all these metrics indicate I’m still about a year away from any conversation in Spain or Ecuador (I could probably stumble through ordering in a restaurant, in conjunction with the 2000+ words I’ve accumulated through menu study (only a few of these appear in Duo).

SO, IOW, I’ve made a lot of progress, more than I could have expected, and simultaneously I have a huge amount left to learn. Maybe I’ll keep doing this blog long enough that eventually I can claim “fluency” in restaurant and/or cooking conversation.

All of this is a pleasant achievement for me BUT there is a major flaw in my learning. Most of what I “know” is in written form, not audible. Duo provides some practice in listening but almost none in speaking. Thus “conversation” would still be nearly impossible for me.

When I first heard audible drills in Duo (beyond just a word or simple phrase) it was all just a jumble of sound. Spanish is spoken rapidly and pauses between words are almost non-existence. Thus “parsing” an utterance was nearly impossible for me, at first; now, it’s just hard. So I’ve tried to supplement Duo with an obvious resource: TV. My cable subscription has tons of Spanish language stations, some of which have closed captioning (not the same as sub-titles) and a few channels allow selecting either English or Spanish captions. Listening to those, without captions, I hear almost nothing, and with captions I hear a little more. So I have a huge hill to climb before I could understand what a waiter might say to me in a restaurant.

Speaking and listening are different problems. While I have no way to practice speaking, nonetheless I can probably stumble through that better than listening. While speaking I can take time, in my head, to think of what I want to say. And while I might pronounce the words badly I could probably (mostly) use the right words, at least for a simple request or query. But listening one has to do in “real time”, i.e. the sounds flies by and you get it or not, with no control over the speed.

So I have two major challenges, on top of learning to read/write Spanish and that is hearing (just have to get faster at parsing utterances) and speaking (pronunciation, plus details of sentence structure that sound correct, rather than sorta Spanglish). I do know that knowing more words (and at least having heard them in Duo exercises) makes hearing a sentence easier. Listening to Spanish TV I literally wouldn’t “hear” anything without the work I’ve done, but, still, unlike reading (where I can skip an unknown word and “read” the rest, then maybe guess the unknown word from context), I’ll just have to have a ton more practice before I can hear.

So on one hand I’m happy with my first year of Spanish and simultaneously totally unhappy about how little I really do know, especially for a conversation.

So, Dear Reader, catch up with me in a year and see whether I can claim at least simple conversational fluency. At least, both from Duo and my menu reading project, I should be able to read the menus and order in Spain.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner

Many places along the Camino (and in cities) there are outdoor signs letting you know what meals you can get inside. One of the most common, especially along the Camino is desayuno (el, breakfast). And sometimes you might see cena (la, dinner) and rarely almuerzo (el, lunch). The main reason, IMHO, one rarely sees almuerzo is that you’re more likely to see something like hamburguesas (which despite the similarity to English is not necessarily (can be) a “hamburger” as generally this refers to any kind patty (not even meat) on a bun) or bocadillos (most similar to a “sub” in US, i.e. some sandwich on a roll, rarely with a lot of “toppings” as is common in US sub shops) or just sándwiches (which does, usually, seem to be with sliced bread instead of bun or roll) and the ubiquitous pizza (no translation needed).  While sit-down almuerzo does exist, at least along walking routes a stand-up hand foot is more common. And what you won’t see, in Spain, is tocos or even tapas (at least outside, this is inside bar food).

But the interesting thing (to me) is the tendency in Spanish to have nouns and verbs directly connected. So in English the Brits might say “we breakfast” but you won’t hear that much in USA so it’s either “we are having breakfast” or “we’re eating breakfast”, but in Spanish there is a verb for this, which is (given the noun I gave you above) the obvious desayunar. And its conjugated, first person singular indicative present is desayuno (the yo before it is option) which just happens to be the noun. So if you hear (or read) desayuno you’ll have to use other context to decide if it is the noun, BUT, here’s the reason, just the word, is almost certainly the noun. It doesn’t make sense to see a sign that says “I eat breakfast” and if they were inviting you in to eat your breakfast they’d have to say desayunas (if they’re a bit too friendly and so use the informal form, desayuna for usted) but since they’d be inviting the world the even more logical word would be desayunan (the plural polite you), or even the command desayunen. I’ve never see any of these so we can safely assume the only form you’ll see  (at least on a sign, in a story, written or verbal, you’ll see these other forms) is desayuno.

Likewise almuerzo (lunch) is related to the verb almorzar. Now note this verb is irregular but in the general class known as stem changing verbs. The -mor- doesn’t conjugate so well so it gets replaced with -muer-. So once again almuerzo can be the noun for lunch or the conjugated first person singular form of the verb.

Likewise, for dinner there is the verb cenar (to have dinner) but it too is an exception since the noun cena is NOT 1st person conjugation but instead the 3rd person. And even though I can’t find an authoritative source on this the cena form is probably chosen because frequently nouns ending in -a are feminine (as is la cena) and so the first person of cenar, ceno, would tend to imply masculine.

Gender has always been a strange concept to me (at least for nouns) even when I first encountered it in French in middle school and later in German in high school. Why in the world is dinner feminine and lunch and breakfast are masculine? Undoubtedly there is some reason, possibly even lost in time. But it sure is a pain to have to now remember three different things in Spanish, the conjugated form of a verb (if there is one corresponding to a noun), the noun itself and then its gender. For a traveler walking the Camino none of this probably matters since quickly one gets used to the noun forms. But the interesting question is whether you can get desayuno a las siete en la tarde (as now you can from McDonald’s)