No Cabecilla Asada for me, thank you

On my virtual trek of the Camino de Santiago I’ve almost made it to Burgos. So I’ve started digging through menus there. In order to find anything useful I need restaurants that have websites with text menus. There are 379 possible (according to Trip Adviser) and I’ve dug through 28 of them so far.

I encountered an item, Cabecilla Asada, that mystified me. Now that I’m writing the post I actually can’t find that item again but I recorded in my notes that cabecilla (asada is easy, i.e. roasted or grilled) translate, via Google Translate, to nipples, knives, nuggets and heads, depending on the context.

So here are a few of the translations: says “cloth padding on one’s head”, Oxford says (with Google Translate of its definition):

Persona que está al frente de un grupo o movimiento, especialmente si es de protesta u oposición contra algo. leader: Person who is in front of a group or movement, especially if it is a protest or opposition against something.

and DLE has various definitions that match. But this isn’t much help. Somehow in doing searches I encountered cabecillas de lechal al horno which finally got me on the right track. lechal (various forms) I’ve encountered before – this is a unweaned young animal usually referring to a pig or lamb. But the search results also turned up a different variant: Cabezas de Cordero Asadas al Horno .

And cabezas is the key here. This is more simply ‘head’. But ‘head of suckling lamb”, you’re kidding, right?

But no once I’d worked the problem this far I found two recetas and photos: here and here. Yep, it’s a lamb’s head split in half and grilled (don’t believe me, follow the links to photos).

I suppose this is some kind of delicacy and maybe I’d eat it if seeing it (the brains in the skull) weren’t obvious what it was, but frankly I think I’ll pass on this. It may be wonderful but I’m just not that fond of unusual animal parts.

And the point of this is that it does help to know even fairly obscure terms used on menus. Without the ability for full conversation, who knows, I might order this. And then be unpleasantly shocked. Others may love this but I’m glad I’ll now have cabecilla in my corpus to warn me away.

Added later:

When I was composing this post I couldn’t find the online menu where I’d gotten a mention of Cabecilla Asada, but now I found it again (here).  This item actually appears twice, in the trailer of several of the pages of this restaurant and on the Especialidades linked page. In one case (for exact same Spanish) Google Translate said (for cabecilla) ‘heads’ and in the trailer mention it says ‘nipples’. And I found the other page (here) where a very similar item, cabecillas de lechal asadas al horno, is mentioned and it translates as ‘knives’. Also interesting in the original Spanish (and translation) is the redundancy of asadas and al horno (either would do).



Challenging menu to decode

While I’m continuing to work on the GallinaBlanca diccionario (almost done) I’m getting close to the next town on the Camino so I decided to try to work on another menu from a Logroño restaurant. It’s an interesting website as there are actually three different restaurants, with some common connection:  KABANOVA, PASIÓN POR TI, and LETRAS DE LAUREL. In addition to menus (unfortunately in PDF’s so Google Translate doesn’t work) there are numerous photos of their Especialidades (Specialties), some of which are fairly mystifying exactly what the item is.

I’ve decoded most of the three menus from Kabanova – MENÚ GASTRONÓMICO (Gourmet Menu, an 11 dish tasting menu), MENÚ PASIÓN (???, Pasión is literally passion, but really the name of the common grupo that runs these), and NUESTRO MENÚ DEL MEDIODÍA (Our midday Menu). It’s this midday menu that I’ll discuss in this post. I’ve mentioned menu del Dia before; it’s an economical way to order several courses from a limited menu. While it most often is referred to as  it is often most likely to only be offered at lunchtime (really around 14:30) and on weekdays only, so calling it mediodía actually makes a lot of sense.

Menú para 1 persona DE LUNES A VIERNES Menu for 1 person from Monday to Friday

The menu basically has these five parts:

APERITIVO de la casa. Aperitif of the House
POSTRES incluye un postre casero DESSERTS include a homemade desert
Incluye 1/3 botella Tinto Reciente DOC Rioja, agua mineral y ración de pan Includes 1/3 fresh bottle of wine DOC Rioja, mineral water and bread ration

Many restaurants will have Entrantes (instead of the Apertivo) on their menu del Dia, but judging from the pictures and other information this establishment is putting its bar forward rather than some small plate.

The first item under PRIMEROS had some fun translation to do:

Menestra fresca de verduritas de Calahorra con su velouté, crispy de alcachofa y polvo de jamón Fresh stew of Calahorra vegetables with its velouté, crispy artichoke and ham powder

I’ve mentioned that literal translation won’t work to decode many items on menus in Spain so we see a few examples of that here: 1) Calahorra doesn’t have an English translation because it’s actually the name of the second largest city in La Rioja which has as its major activity the growing and distribution of prized vegetables so using this term is emphasizing the quality and freshness of the verduritas (vegetables) used; note that  is a diminutive one of the three standard dictionary term verdura; 2) velouté doesn’t translate to English because it’s actually a French cooking term (one of the five “mother” sauces); 3) crispy is interesting since it’s already an English word and not Spanish, I guess they thought this sounded appealing, and, 4) polvo de jamón (ham powder) actually does seem to be what its literal translation implies. I found a number of receta on the Net for this and it’s just ground-up ham after drying in an oven that is used like a seasoning from a shaker. Menestra fresca itself has numerous recipes but basically it’s a stew of multiple vegetables (you can find lots of images of it on the Net).

Another item is interesting:

Ensalada de la Ribera con rulo de queso cabra. Riverside salad with goat cheese curler

Yes, de la Ribera translates to riverside which doesn’t tell you anything.  However, this link gives you a good picture and explanation of this common salad in Basque areas. The lettuce, which looks like romaine, is not and actually is a specialty in this part of Spain, often called COGOLLOS DE TUDELA (buds (really cores) of Tudela (which is a municipality of Navarre). It has is connected to de la Ribera because it is grown surroundings of the Ebro river banks.

This is a curious item:

Nuestro plato de cuchara del día Our dish of spoon of the day

A dish of spoon, sounds odd. Actually I’ve encountered this labeling before and it basically means a dish that would be eaten with a spoon, like a soup but possibly something else than sopa (soup) and so therefore labeled more generally than sopa. IOW, you have no idea, from the menu, what this will be. Since this would be one of the three choices under PRIMEROS you’d really have to discuss this item with your server or just opt for one of the other two choices or take your chances.

So, IOW, to understand and decide which of the three PRIMEROS you’d order requires knowing a lot more about food in Spain than your literal translation dictionary is going to tell you. And again, for me, the challenge is how any app for a smartphone could explain all this (or how the search would work because the exact wording would vary from menu to menu even for the same items).

I’ll wrap up with just a couple more interesting items (and this menu is this restaurant’s shortest one so lots to decode here, as you might not want just the limited choices of menu del Dia.

Bacalao confitado en aceite Arbequina sobre cama de pisto. Cod confit in Arbequina oil on ratatouille bed

Arbequina is another word that has no translation to English. That’s because it is a particular cultivar of olive, that is, you just have to know what it is.

Carrillera de ibérico 36H con manzana, zurracapote y su crujiente. Iberian cheek 36H with apple, mulled and crispy

mulled is an interesting translation of zurracapote which is actually a wine drink (similar to the more familiar Sangria). And, no clue what the 36H means?

Secreto ibérico a la brasa con salsa Teriyaki y piña caramelizada Grilled Iberian secret with Teriyaki sauce and caramelized pineapple

‘secret’ is the literal translation of secreto but what is it – sounds close to what might be called “mystery meat” here. But in fact it is a very expensive ($51/lb) cut (usually from pig and while different at different butchers usually is from the shoulder) that is similar to skirt steak. And I’ve already mentioned you would know that ibérico (Iberian) is the very prized “black” pig. Most likely, given everything else about this restaurant it probably is the de bellota type (essentially free-range and the most expensive pork) but  ibérico alone doesn’t imply that, so again you might want to ask.

There is a lot more to the menu for this restaurant and even more for other two associated restaurants so I recommend this site (scroll down enough to see the images) as one to consider.  Maybe you can figure out what Vieira gallega con sus rabas de bogavante is or GinTonic riojano is or especially oído cocina is (all have pictures in the  Especialidades. And I’m still trying to decide what I think is a lingote de cordero (either ingot or slug of lamb) – is this a cut of the lamb or a quantity indication or a preparation? I couldn’t find that and the photo doesn’t make it clear either.

BTW: This website also has a blog and this post really boosts Logroño as a foodie stop, especially (as I’ve seen mentioned elsewhere) “both in the mythical Laurel Street”. And, interestingly, while backtracking to include this in my post I discovered another blog post which tries to explain oído cocina.

Brief detour into lomo

I’ve been steadily accumulating information and attempting to determine how cuts of meat are named in Spain so those of us meat-eaters from midwest U.S.A. would know what to expect based on a menu. For instance, bistec is often mentioned as ‘steak’, but what kind of steak? How good a steak? Most sources I’ve found indicate bistec is probably a leg cut from an old diary cow – yum! Right! Decades ago when I bicycled in Germany most of the ‘steak’ was from this same source and thus, at best, forgettable, and at worst tough stringy nearly inedible meat.

So cuts matter. What cow it comes from matters. How the cow is fed and finished matters. Especially in looking also at the menu prices whether it is reasonable for what you’re getting. I’ll come back, in a future post, in the weird trend (now spread outside Spain) of eating beef from very old cattle, certainly not something you’d find in U.S.

But then there is lomo.  I saw frequent notice of this, especially in simple menus under the bocadillo section (sandwiches made with roll or French bread, i.e. something roughly like a sub). lomo literally translates to loin which could mean about anything. However one menu had a picture and it was easy to recognize a frequent item here in pig country, a breaded and fried slice of pork loin. So, answer found.

But not quite. I kept seeing other references to lomo that made it sound like a specific type of meat prepared in a specific way (i.e. cured). And sure enough that is probably the more common meaning when just the single word lomo appears on a menu. (lomo de cerdo is, OTOH, definitely the piece of meat we’d just call pork loin, then prepared in a variety of cooking methods).

The more specific item is lomo embuchado, even if mentioned just as lomo or, rarely, as embuchado (as the GallinaBlanca dictionary does). This is, apparently, the pork loin, trimmed of most fat, marinated in a variety of herbs and spices, then stuff into “skin” (presumably sausage casing), smoked and then dry-aged for about four months. Then it is sliced thin and used for tapas or sandwich-type preparations. It can be dry so often it’s drizzled in olive oil.

Another variant ups the bar (and price) a lot: lomo embuchado iberico de bellota. This is the same variant as more often seen with pricey jamón (ham) that is famous in Spain and actually now available (at insane prices, e.g. $1000 for a single ham) in the U.S. The iberico refers to a particular breed of pig and the de bellota refers to that pig eating acorns. Now from various sources it appears the pig is not so much literally fed acorns; instead it is a free-range pig eating, as pigs do, almost everything it can find which includes a lot of acorns in the pastures who it roams. So this lomo variant is unlikely to be in your bocadillo and more likely as an entrante at a fancy restaurant.

So chances are, if you just see just lomo, especially in a context where a bit of sliced cured meat would make sense it will be lomo embuchado. And if you see lomo with other terms it’s probably a preparation of the fresh loin and if it has de X loin of animal X.

It’s that tx- thing again

Yesterday while in a waiting room I was reading a UK article (found in search about names of cuts of meat in Spain) about “old” beef. I thought I recalled the term they used and, yes, I’d attempted to figure out what TXULETÓN DE BUEY was on a menu. My only hit on searches led me to the idea this might be a brand name from a famous meat supplier TXULETA.  I’d previously tracked down Alcachofas de Tudela  (Tudela artichokes) and learned Tudela is just the second largest town in Navarra and near growing areas of artichokes and other vegetables. For instance, a common dish is Cogollos de Tudela which is that same sense of Tudela (as a place) but cogollos was a bit curious given literal definition as shoots or sprouts or buds. But then I noticed in the sense of a leafy vegetable it means ‘heart’. If you Google search for Cogollos de Tudela and look at images it is easy to see what this means – the inner leaves of a head lettuce that looks a lot like romaine (apparently it’s different but well-known in Spain and merely referred to as Tudela). Note: As a menu item it is often served with anchovies and dressed with olive oil.

So the point of all this is one challenge deciphering menus in Spain will be using terms that aren’t going to be in any dictionary (or smartphone app) and aren’t going to have any obvious meaning even if you learn Tudela is a city in Spain and therefore in some sense a Spanish word (proper noun) but unlikely to have any translation. These are just names or perhaps brand names (GallinaBlanca doesn’t mean white hen in a menu item but some product from that company)  that would be known in Spain, and, possibly something you can find with a search for the whole phrase, but basically a bit tricky to figure out. Again, given you had conversational skill in Spanish you could just ask your server but if you don’t have Spanish fluency you need a quick answer (which eventually my app will supply).

So back to TXULETÓN DE BUEY.  buey literally translates as ox but really it has the same basic definition as steer in the U.S., in other word ‘beef’ even though ‘de vaca‘ is less ambiguous term for ‘beef’.  BTW: ‘de res‘ is also found in dictionaries as ‘beef’ but that almost certainly for Mexico not Spain. So far so good. I should have noticed, in other menus, seeing CHULETÓN, including with DE BUEY qualifier. Notice the pattern?

So, duh. This is Navarra, i.e. heavily Basque influenced and euskara which often uses tx- at beginning of words AND, as I more recently learned, is pronounced ch! IOW, TXULETÓN is exactly the same as CHULETÓN, which I’ll get to in my cuts of meat part 2 post, but from this post it’s just a large steak (roughly equivalent to T-bone) often for two people.

So that answers that question but what about the clue I thought I saw that this was just a brand name from TXULETA meat company? In working on my part 2 post I was trying to figure out the difference between chuletón and chuleta (literally chop, cutlet) and bam, the light went on, the Spanish meat company is merely Chop meat company.

So, at least in the northern parts of Spain where multiple non-Spanish languages may be in common use and thus on menus deciphering the menu may be a challenging task. And then, as well, the same Spanish word in Spain doesn’t mean the same as it might in Mexico or Argentina so good luck with that part as well.

To get a really good vocabulary (to power a translation app) for Spain is going to have to deal with all this complexity. Thus far I’ve never seen any source that does that, although some cookbooks at least explain some of this. If you’re walking the Camino you’ll have time to absorb all this but if you’re blasting around in a car, crossing Spain in a couple of days, say from Barcelona to Santiago, you’d have some real fun stopping at restaurants where the terminology (or meaning of terms) changes in short distances.

Animals (or meat/carne) and their parts/cuts – part 1

I’ve been wanting to do this post for some time. As I plowed through menus I encountered many names really to meat and the parts or cuts of meat and, well, it was confusing. Big surprise. This is confusing in English as well. I do a lot of grilling and still New York Strip vs strip steak vs sirloin is not clear; T-bone and porterhouse are a fairly subtle difference (though not in price); ribs – sure anyone who is really clear on St. Louis ribs vs spareribs, step forward.

I don’t (yet) have enough data, or enough online sources (since they contradict each other) nor any direct experience in Spain to really nail this down, so simply, I’m doing some guessing. AND, that is a lot to explain, so I’ll start this first part just with some simpler parts, the various names of meats (fortunately carne almost always means “meat” (but not fish or poultry)). pescado (fish) and then mariscos (seafood (or shellfish)) have a ton of issues as well but “cuts” does matter for reading menu items for these as well.

So let’s just start with the typical animals.

buey vs ternera vs de vaca ox vs veal vs cow
cerdo pork (pig as well)
cordero lamb (< 1yr)
cordero lechal or de leche unweaned lamb, 20-30 days old, 5-6.5kg
cochinillo suckling pig

The worst confusion (on menus) is the multiple terms for beef:  de vaca (of cow) is unambiguous and is almost certainly ‘beef’.  ternera is more frequently used that just implying ‘veal’ so exactly what is it – probably best just to say a young cow, not necessarily as young as the animal conventionally known as veal but close. buey which is commonly used literally translates as ox. Now I’ve never eaten anything I’d call ox, but if you define ‘ox’ as a castrated bull, otherwise known as a steer, then that’s a close match for buey, although it may just imply an older cow. I’ll get back to you on txuletón which is fairly unique to Navarra but as best I can figure out a rather interesting animal, a very old cow.

Now cordero is already lamb but apparently many menus go a step further and go for a very young (unweaned) lamb which is also rather small and thus not very economical to produce much of this meat – this is the lechal or de leche qualifier. If you know only a little Spain food terminology you’ll recognize leche from cafe de leche, that is ‘milk’. IOW, these very young lambs (20-30 days old, 5-6.5 kg) are still consuming milk from their mother.  I have yet to see carne de ‘sheep’ (oveja) or mutton (carne ovina) on any menus so it seems, much like U.S. the only meat from this animal comes from poor little defenseless (but, unfortunately, delicious) lambs.

cerdo seems to refer to both pig and pork; puerco is used outside Spain (according to sources, but perhaps it might appear on menus yet to be uncovered).  In part 2 we’ll cover the mystery of lomo which usually is from the pig. And cochinillo (the porcine equvalent of lechal, i.e. suckling pig) has appeared on some menus I’ve found.

Now I’d hoped to do a complete post attempting to explain different cuts (primarily of beef), such as chuleta, chuletón, filete, solomillo, lomo and entrecot (or entrecotte, I’ve seen both) but I still don’t have this clear so I’ll catch that in part 2. But I’ll wrap this up with an easy one and an interesting one:

hamburguesa hamburger

You could probably figure out that item (or category) on a menu yourself, but this one was a bit more fun to track down:

manitas trotters, lit: handyman

Given the literal translation of manitas (handyman) I was left clueless what this might mean on a menu. Then I got a whiff, a hint, a vague reference (don’t even remember the source) of this as ‘trotters’. Now, as I’ve already mentioned I’m no Andrew Zimmern (sorry for misspelling his name before) so ‘trotters’ didn’t help much until I found this reference:

A Pig’s trotter, also known as a pettitoe, is a culinary term used to refer to the feet of pigs.

Oh yeah, seen this on cooking shows, no thanks, never tried one even if they’re delicious. I’ve got a bunch more terms like this, difficult to translate literally and, at least for me, require some guessing. But this is my point. If you like trotters, fine, but you probably don’t want to order them if you don’t. In menus from a relatively small number of restaurants (and all in Navarra) I’ve already encountered some terms that are difficult to translate. So your little paper tour guide or your wonderful voice activated search on your smartphone are probably not going to to cut it for stuff like this.

For that, you’ll need my guide, when I finally get it done.

Stay tuned for part 2 when I try to sort out more animal parts.


Homework for you, Dear Reader: cogote. Yes, it will be on the quiz.




Bogging down

I was chugging alone making good progress on mining corpus data from restaurant menus and then I began to run off in a diversion. As I work and find confusing issues in translations I make notes to myself to return and investigate these and attempt to come up with definitive answer.  But what is going to be “definitive” for me when I don’t actually know the language, especially as used in Spain?

Well, I do searches, read comments or analysis or claims other people make, weigh these against each other, determine if the source seems reliable (easier to do in politics where sources are so biased, on a neutral topic like this they may just be wrong without malice). So, probably a couple of examples are needed to make sense of what I’m saying.

Quickly one finds a number of different terms for cuts of meat, primarily beef. Now this isn’t so obvious in English (U.S.) either, e.g. what’s the difference between a New York strip and a strip steak and a sirloin and prime rib? The words themselves are not entirely clear and even finding a butcher’s chart doesn’t totally help. Or what about St. Louis ribs vs baby-backs – I imagine a Spanish speaking person has fun trying to figure out what those are. So I’ve found, at least, between solomillo, entrecot[e], costillas, lomo, chuletón, filete, bistec on menus – what do these mean? lomo not only has the meaning, as cut of meat, of ‘loin’ but also probably more frequently refers to pork than beef, something easy to understand if you visit local cafes in Iowa. The biggest confusion I find (since both seem to come from same place in the animal) is entrecot vs chuletón, where the difference seems to be primarily thickness, but also potentially a quality issue. But my point here is that I haven’t been able to come to a definitive answer by finding sources, especially as I’m dependent on Google Translate to make Spanish language articles readable and so get amusing things like ‘what is the difference between squid and squid’ given I asked for the difference between two words that can each be translated to squid.

So that’s a distraction and a discouragement, not to be able to clearly work this out. A diner in the U.S. would certainly care whether the beef they were getting was sirloin or round or chuck so I would expect the same would apply to Spain. In the few menus that have prices I can fairly safely deduce the “steaks” they’re providing aren’t particularly good, either the cut or the quality. So how does one decide?

Meanwhile I got caught up in a digression about chile peppers. Guindilla pepper appears on many menus, especially as they are common in Basque influenced parts of Spain (where I’m virtually traveling at the moment). These are a specific (not very hot) type of pepper where guindilla also sometimes is a generic reference to peppers as a group (just as pimienta often is even though sometimes it’s a specific type of pepper).

And I found a “dictionary” (truly a dictionary, not a translation dictionary, for Spanish words then with definitions of the word itself entirely in Spanish) and I encountered adobo and abobar. adobar is a verb meaning (Google translation of the dictionary item) ‘To season with spices, juices, herbs, etc., the fish or the meat in crude to give them better flavor or to facilitate their conservation.’ which I suppose is a good definition given the translation of adobar is to pickle or to preserve or to marinate. So adobo (which can be a dish (in Philippines), a sauce, or a marinade) is (fairly clearly from multiple sources) derived word from the verb. But what does it really mean, especially relative to Spain. Here in U.S., where Mexican cuisine heavily influences broadly on cuisine, adobo is something chiptotle peppers are most often packed in but then also something one uses as an additive (more like an ingredient (like Worcester) than a sauce). But does this apply to Spain? Or, more broadly, is the dictionary I found a generic one for Spanish and not necessarily focused on Spain.

This is an issue I’ve encountered in earlier versions of this project and if you don’t think it’s a big issue find out what tortilla is in Spain (compared to what you know it to mean in U.S.) – seriously different.

So since one definition of adobo is that it must be created with chiptotle peppers do these even get used in Spanish cuisine. For those of you who don’t do much cooking peppers are huge mystery here since peppers can have multiple names (do you know ancho and pablano are really the same which pablano being the green/fresh version and ancho is dried version). Well chiptotle is not a type of pepper but instead a preparation, i.e. a smoked and dried jalapeno. So does any of this apply to Spain?

And my answer is, well, I don’t know, after doing multiple searches and reading multiple articles. I get confusing results. It’s not clear that this is a puzzle I can solve and it may require a native Spaniard with strong culinary experience (hey, José Andrés , are you available for a little consulting gig?).

So in trying to resolve these ambiguities I’ve just created more issues and am a bit discouraged whether I can ever solve things like this. But even then, does it matter: for those of us used to peppers used in cooking in U.S., would a clear description of piquillo, padron or guindilla, in words really help anyone trying to decide on something from the menu if you don’t actually know what these peppers taste like and how they complement the dish? Even if I could clearly and unambiguously (say with the Latin species names and good photos plus some culinary definition) “define” these it may not help much in you, Dear Reader, imagining what they taste like and whether you’d like to eat them.

So is this project hopeless (other than getting a rather simple translation glossary, probably knowing anchoas (even though these may be very different in Spain than on the pizza in U.S.) or callos will still be helpful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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