An interesting interesting restaurant find in Mexico – part 1

Most of my posts in this blog have been about restaurants in Spain, mostly because of my interest in the Camino de Santiago and in doing a “virtual pilgrimage” along it (the idea of doing things virtually has become not so strange any more but I was doing it before it became commonplace). Seeing (on Google maps) every town and thus restaurants along that route (via a GPS trace) was the source of menus I studied and discussed.

But more recently, since actually taking a “live” (Zoom) Spanish class with a flesh-and-blood teacher in Cuernavaca Mexico I’ve switched some of my focus to looking at restaurants in Mexico, to extract food vocabulary to add to my corpus that will train my automated translator I’m slowly creating. But unlike Spain I don’t have any geographical focus in Mexico, i.e. a path I can plod along virtually and see what I find. OTOH, I actually like Mexican food a lot more than Spain (one thing I learned with previous years of posts is that food in Spain is pretty unexciting). And now with travel so curtailed it’s entirely possible that a trip to Mexico is more likely than Spain (I’ve just barely been in Mexico, a touristy area just south of San Diego, where I’ve only seen Spain while still in Portugal). So without a plan for study I just stumble onto interesting restaurants which then become my post.

Anyway, as I’ll expand below circumstance led me to another interesting restaurant and so most of the day I spent doing research. My first Mexican restaurant post came as a direct result of my Spanish teacher telling me about a fun town (Tepoztlán) where many locals go for R&R and thus I found an interesting restaurant. While Mexican restaurants can have very interesting food, thus far, at least in smaller towns, they are less likely to have websites and especially online menus where I can easily extract text of the menu and then do my analysis. So it’s a lot more work, but fun work.

So in this first part let me explain how I found this place. I’m a fairly big fan of tequila and recently I exhausted my supply of bulk (but good) Hornitos reposado from Costco. So despite trying to avoid shopping I had other stuff to buy so I also shopped the liquor section of my local grocery store. Right next to the Hornitos was an intriguing bottle of Correlejo Reposado. I haven’t had a chance to make my own photo of the bottle but it’s easy to find online. The tequila was pleasant and I ended up sharing it with my esposa and we found it a bit too good so that it too is gone now (without the ill effects that sometimes, especially silver tequila, can cause). So after already buying it I started doing a little research online.

It’s a bit tricky to read the label to figure out who actually makes this (is Correlejo a brand (yes) or a distillery (yes) or a location?) but I eventually found it geographical origin to be Pénjamo Guantajuato. Being almost completely ignorant of Mexican geography and place naming, fortunately Google Maps easily found this where Pénjamo is a small village in the state of Guantajuato (Estado Libre y Soberano de Guanajuato). When looking at the Google Map result a point of interest, Ex hacienda corralejo, showed up a few miles away. Looking at what information Google had plus all the user contributed photos, this is at least the place where the tours related to Correlojo Tequila happen. It’s cool, take a look yourself.

But now that I had Pénjamo up on the map I started looking at both hotels (shocked at seeing prices < $30) and also restaurants. Google Maps has a useful feature that if you just click a POI on the map for either restaurant or hotel Google also shows up a few similar place with their ratings. So I’ve learned (did this is Spain along the Camino) this is a good way to find the “best” (i.e. most expensive) restaurant or hotel in the same vicinity.

So that process led me to the hotel, Hotel Real De Piedra, that has a 4.6 star rating and a whopping price of $36. The photos, however, show a charming place where I’d happily stay. It would be nearly impossible to find a decent place for that price along the Camino, much less something this nice. However, a few of the photos of food were confusing, hardly the usual B&B type items. A bit more searching and a bit of coincidence then led me to Remedios Restaurante, which is just across the street from the hotel, but requires almost maximum zoom in in Google for it to appear, which is strange, given it has a 4.8 rating and looks to me to be the best restaurant in Pénjamo.

So take a quick virtual paseo there by just searching for ‘Remedios Restaurante Pénjamo’ in Google Maps. The pictures are fun and scrolling down a ways you finally encounter photos of several different menus, which I could then study, finding such interesting words as xoconostle which doesn’t look very Spanish (and isn’t).

And menu study and vocabulary will be the subject of the next post, but I’ll provide a teaser now.

It is generally my policy not to put material from other people’s web pages in my posts, but in this case: a) I doubt the restaurant will disapprove of the limited publicity I’m giving them, and, b) sorta like quotes in a term paper I’ll just do snippets of images with this attribution to both Google and Remedios, and thus fall into “fair use” instead of copyright infringement.

 

The title of this snippet of menu is BEBER EN REMEDIOS, which should be fairly obvious Spanish. COCTELERIA also is no mystery, right in dictionaries, cocktail bar, from cóctel (cocktail) and most any type of store in Mexico is a xxx-ría. The few items above that  line are from the CERVEZAS portion of this menu.

BTW, the prices are pesos, often shown in Mexico with $ which really used to scare me but I challenge you to find any place that would serve a Modelo Negra for a mere $1.42 or any beer in Spain for 1.17€.

Note that my tequila (made nearby and on this menu) that was the coincidence that led me to this restaurant shows up here but I’m not sure what it means to mix it with tonic (or just call a shot that) and then sell it for $4.30 (the entire 750ml bottle only cost $30 here in Omaha)

So the interesting items here (that I researched) are:

  • Micheladas (corono clara, obscura, light o pacifico)
  • Bugambilia Rosa (ginebra)

ginebra is a word I’ve frequently found and easily found in dictionaries as gin but bugambilia isn’t in dictionaries (rosa, easy, just pink or possibly rose). When I can’t find something in a dictionary my next step is off to Google search which reveals lots of items about Bougainvillea. I’m quite familiar with this pretty but nasty plant from my backyard in Los Altos California and then tons of it on the big island in Hawaii. But what does it have to do with a cocktail?

So this is where you have to get more creative with search to solve the mystery. Adding rosa to the search, no help. Adding cocktail to the search, no help. But finally ‘bugambilia rosa gin cocktail’ gets the job done and shows various recipes. Which coincidentally led me to figuring out a word in another part of the menu “aderezo de Jamaica” which Google thought was Jamaican dressing, but, da-ti-da, thinking in terms of flowers it’s much more likely to be hibiscus. I’ll come back to this.

So one mystery solved but then what is micheladas? Now an obvious (and wrong) guess is it has something to do with a brand of beer, possibly what Michelob is called in Mexico (the stuff inside the parenthesis kinda disputes that idea). Well, despite being a reasonable fan of cerveza, but less of a fan of mixing it with anything I learned this is a popular mix (even with a Wikipedia entry; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michelada) of beer, lime juice, Worchester, hot sauce and tomato juice (might try it, perhaps OK mix of beer).

Now maybe dedicated drinkers would know both these items but a casual reader of this menu might skip these.

btw: This leads to a small personal joke. Omaha has several good mercados for Latino products. Years ago we went looking for something someone told us apart TAYJEAN (phonetically). Eventually we found something called Tajín, which is a brand name and product that is a wonderful spice and salt mix, great for putting on cantaloupe or other melons. While trying to find this a kindly gentleman who didn’t seem to speak any English understand our conversation and came up and pointed – “muy bueno” which was enough. One recipe formicheladas shows using tajín on the rim of the glass instead of salt as used in margaritas.  Everybody in USA knows a tiny bit of Spanish from contact with Mexico, but this was fun because there was a billboard along 101, near Santa Rosa, California, advertising milk, with the cute slogan “moo-ey bueno”, my little inside joke, since at the time I didn’t know what it meant, but not exactly difficult Spanish.

So this is enough lead-in and digression that soon I can do the remaining part. But for now I’ll just give you some homework. Here is a sign in front of the door of this restaurant – what does it mean?

 

See you soon with part 2, with an answer and more fun food puzzles.

 

Back to Menus in Spain, Ponferrada (Interlude)

Before I continue with the other subparts of the Aroi Hotel’s two restaurants (see previous posts) I want to do an interlude of an amusing side story. I was trying to determine if the Mesón la Taberna that I found earlier was really the correct one since Google Maps calls it Meson Cerveceria La Taberna and that’s the photo I showed in a previous post. But why would the Hotel’s homepage refer to it by one and Google another if it’s really the same thing?

So, after reading the description from Hotel Aroi’s homepage I did some virtual roaming around the Hotel Aroi Bierzo Plaza (in Plaza Ayuntamiento). You can search for this in maps.google.com, possibly appending Ponferrada (my browser remembers this as qualifier). I recommend this because it is interesting. The hotel is located on a larger plaza, Plaza del Ayuntamiento and Google has 360° views and street views right in front of La Violeta (and/or the hotel itself). Note that Meson Cerveceria La Taberna (Google doesn’t do the accents right) behind La Violeta (my clipping doesn’t show the hotel but it’s just to the left of La Violeta

 

You can get to a Google Streetview directly in front of La Violeta. If you walk (virtual) a bit, to the right (or just look on the map view), you will see a restaurant El King Kong (not King Kebab, also in this plaza).

 

 

 

 

The reason this caught my attention is that here in Omaha we have a local fast food chain (been here since I was long ago in high school) and I wondered, really!, they have a franchise in Ponferrada Spain! So I had to take a look, via this link (or click on the Google map). The link I provided gets to the entire menu on one page with tabs along the top to just look at each section. Clicking on the menu icon on the Google map, brings up, in Google Maps, information about this restaurant and also photos.

This photo immediately told me this is not the King Kong’s from Omaha. Looking at the pictures I saw it was a fairly “classic” Mexican restaurant. So, given Spanish people don’t much like spicy (hot) food, I wondered how this transplanted restaurant would match Mexican restaurants elsewhere.

Now while I’ve only been in a tiny bit of Mexico once (and didn’t eat). Mexican restaurants are the most popular “ethnic” restaurants in the USA. AND, in many cases, especially in California and Texas, they aren’t “fake” transplants (those do exist, e.g. Taco Bell) but the Latino population is large enough now in US there are totally real Mexican (although primarily northern Mexican) in the USA, especially in some place like San Antonio (not those for tourists on the River Walk or even the Mercado, but more hidden and treasured by locals).

The midwestern part of the USA also has a large Mexican origin population, including here in Omaha where there are some “real” restaurants targeted at Latinos (also a few great mercados where you can find ingredients you’d never find elsewhere). But again the connection to me is that our favorite restaurant, in fact the only one we’ll risk going to during COVID is Plaza Azteca in Atlantic Iowa (sure, you’d expect to find one there). We’ve eaten Mexican all over the US and Plaza Azteca is hands-down the best. BTW, “Mexican” food is complex because there are all sorts of regional influences, so most of what you find in the US is largely the Tex-Mex variety, plus the interesting offshoot of that in New Mexico. Recall that Texas (where I was born) was part of Mexico for a long time, so actually, other than a few more recent additions, Tex-Mex is not so derivative, it is the regional food of northern Mexico and southern US.

So after looking at the decorations and the photos of food to see how “authentic” I thought King Kong is, given my claim that USA has numerous “authentic” Mexican restaurants, well, at least it is a good imitation. Without actually tasting the food I can’t tell and in some photos it’s certainly not items I’ve ever seen (for instance, they make their quesadillas like a hamburger with two tortillas, instead of folded over as would be usually done here, the guac looks a little dicey too; and the margarita is way too tiny). And their decoration only favors the Day of the Dead which is not that common in restaurants here.

But then I took a look at the menu and a few things seemed strange. Under Entrantes they had SuperMachos? Come on, really, you can’t spell that right! But then I noticed other odd spelling and detected a pattern and then realized they were having fun with word play or puns.

Chimpanchile? Guacamono? And that’s the one that woke me up, in my Spanish lessons, well, mono is monkey. And then you see the theme – Chimpxxxx. In the burritos section of the menu they have Donkey Kong, which I assumed they picked because someone there was old enough to remember the video game. And they watch US movies to have a taco Puerco Kill Bill. And back to the primate theme Orangutacos. I’m missing the joke on Gilitaco de Gilipollo (Gila Monster?). There are a couple of others that I think are word play, but I don’t get them, maybe you can.

Now under quesadillas seeing nopales was unexpected (I have seen photos of cactus in Spain, but never seen it on any menu); and I’ve never seen jalpaños on any Spanish menu, but cuitlacoche (spelled in an H in Mexico) really blew me away; they call it hongo del maíz, which is technically correct, but it makes more sense as ‘corn smut’ (which I’ve actually seen in cornfields around here as it is fairly rare). And in their list of beers they do manage to get some Mexican ones in there. It’s funny they show items with jalapeños with the hot chili symbol as that is only beginning to be hot here, but at least their additional salsas make it up to four chilis since it’s using habernos.

It’s also amusing that their menu is almost entirely in Spanish, whereas the same menu in USA would be in English but with the Spanish words as needed, which is the one reason that without really knowing it many people in USA know more Spanish than they think they do. And so I learned totopos fritos which didn’t entirely look like real word, but sure enough it would just be ‘chips’ here (both fried and corn would be assumed).

So this was a fun digression to discover this, and, frankly, if I were walking around this plaza, comparing restaurants, I suspect I’d eat here instead of the bolitto cocido (now that I’ve learned what it is, another subpart I’ve added to this post series).

In general I had the view that Spain had little interest in Mexican food but the photos did look like locals rather than tourists. However, the band, sad – I guess they can’t find the costumes for Mariachis.

So now I’ll get back to my sequence on Hotel Aroi, finish Mesón La Taberna and then cover La Violeta, but, guess what, in exploring those I find yet another diversion, so just a teaser for the next posts.

First Mexican Menu (Tepoztlán)

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

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

Mesa de Origen and its menu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purslane and beans

310 ($13.66)

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

So how about

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

310

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Green bean, cottage cheese and ancho chili water and galangal

165

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

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

¿Como se dice tomatillo en español?

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

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

500 gramos de tomate verde

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

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

1 pound tomatillo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

A short example of finding cooking verbs in context

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Place in a slow cooker or large regular pot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are three verbs in this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fun, eh!

 

 

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.