Beef by any name is ???

One of the fun things about trying to study menus in Spain is figuring out the correct terms for ‘beef’. Here is the USA, and especially in Nebraska, the second largest beef producing state in the USA (surprise, Texas is first, obviously, but what about Montana or Colorado?), it’s just beef (and if beef, as in a steak, is not explicitly stated it can be safely assumed).

Now the cuts of beef (or any meat) is yet another subject, most menus include ‘beef’, but what do they call it. It’s almost always “grilled” (various names for that) either on a hot iron cooking surface or over coals on a grate. IOW, it’s some kind of steak and as best I can tell, from looking at photos and reading descriptions, it’s more or less the generic “steak” (almost certainly beef in the USA). It’s hard to tell from the menu whether you’d get an old tough piece of cow (most likely) or something a little better. Of course in beef crazy parts of the USA there are lots of terms as well.

But is beef just beef and it doesn’t much matter, i.e. red meat cooked fairly rare. Now Spain certainly has an ample supply of lamb (lots of names for that) or pork (uncured, fairly simple, i.e. cerdo and cured, well, lots of names for that).  If you’re not avoiding red meat you’re fairly safe getting almost anything that is “grilled” (mistakenly often called barbecued in the USA, which is rarely the case, since real BBQ is something entirely different, both the meat itself and the method of cooking).

The most common term (from my non statistically significant analysis) is ternera , which most dictionaries would call ‘veal’. But this is not really veal as we’d think of it, especially relevant to Italian style veal preparations. In Spain this seems to just be, mostly, a young cow, not the anemic milk-fed very young calf you might think of as veal.

Now as an outsider (and not as a butcher or rancher) I believe ternera is just a young cow, not much different from feedlot beef in the USA. Any USA producer of beef faces the issue that at some point you’re spending more money to keep a cow alive than that cow is gaining in commercial meat, so most feedlot beef is actually fast growing young cows. It is more gourmet (and much more expensive) to have more mature, larger cows, especially “free range” (I’ve sometimes seen terms that imply this in Spain) or even more expensive “grass fed”. So my guess is that ternera is most restaurants is not much different than generic “beef” one would find in the USA.

Now terms for beef in Spanish are also complicated because some of the countries in Western Hemisphere, esp. Argentina, are big beef producing (and consuming) countries and so you may encounter terms for beef, in dictionaries or web searches, that would rarely apply in Spain. But here are a few I’ve managed to collect:

carne vacuna: beef
Ternera de leche: veal
Añojo or ternera: 1-2 years old
Novillo: 2-4 years old
Buey: castrated male over 4 years old
Vaca: female over 4 years old
Toro: uncastrated male over 4 years old

Now vaca is somewhat common (in my sample of menus in Spain) and is, by dictionary lookup, just ‘cow’, i.e. again beef.  buey is less common, but as per the definitions above that’s because it’s from an older animal and thus probably even more expensive, even though it’s also probably tougher (to a degree tender and tasty are conflicting terms when it comes to beef).

The other term one finds, not in the list above, is de res which seems difficult to define and also is less commonly used in Spain.

But one amusing difference in Spain than the USA is that rather old cows seem to be an especial treat (when done properly). Apparently Spain imports older cattle and fattens them up. When you see photos of the raw cut of meat the fat is thick and very yellow compared to the usual whiter fat. I suppose I could be sold on this as an interesting meal, but it doesn’t sound likely. So while chuleton is common (for the older cows) you also encounter what may be very specialized term of txuleton (the Basque equivalent and likely even less common except in northern Spain).

Now as to eating toro I’ll leave that to others. I suppose Spain has to do something with all those bulls killed in the ring but I can’t imagine this would be a top-notch culinary experience.

So back to ternera – why is that so common? I’ve seen two explanations: 1) younger cows are butchered to reduce the chance of having mad cow disease, plausible but the term itself is older than the concern over mad cow disease, and, 2) that raising cattle to older age isn’t very compatible with the agriculture in Spain, either as “free range” and/or “grass fed” which is an expensive (and land intensive) way to get good beef, so really the economics and process of raising cattle in Spain, somewhat like feedlots in USA, encourages early “harvest” of the animal to human food.

While a simple grilled steak may be a “safe” choice at a Spanish restaurant I wouldn’t expect that to be a very desirable selection. The roast lamb almost certainly seems more delectable.

Probably by any name (and cooking technique) the various terms for beef will put on your plate something you can eat as a good protein source (assuming you even can stand red meat, avoid any of these terms if you don’t like meat) and maybe sometimes it will be a tasty choice. Coming from a part of the USA (originally Texas, now #2 in beef Nebraska, famous for its steakhouses) I imagine I’d always find this edible (and some “beef” I had in Germany was dubious as edible) so probably it’s hard to tell from just the menu alone the quality of the beef you’ll be eating.






Last 100km + some menu translations

It’s been a while since I’ve made any posts related to the primary purpose of this blog, which is analyzing menus in Spain in order to construct a translation application.  So now I’ll do a quick return to that kind of post.

In order to explore restaurants in Spain (and as an incentive to keep churning out miles on my treadmill in the basement) I’m converting exercise miles into locations along the Camino de Santiago and today I’ve reached the very last place you can start a trek and still qualify (need at least 100km) for a Compostela which looks to me to imply starting the Portomarín, at least along the route of Camino Frances and that’s where I just arrived after my 436.1 miles of virtual trek. Actually I think this remaining distance is probably some of the better real trek even if it is only a few days.

And there, in this relatively small town I also found a good restaurant, in Portomarín to consider for understanding menus and then relating a couple of points to you, Dear Reader. So I have to honor copyright and not put other people’s pictures in my posts I strongly suggest you go to and use this search “O Mirador, Portomarín, Spain”. Not to be plugging this restaurant but there are over a thousand photos accessible through the Google Maps site and lots of pictures of zamburiñas which Google Translate doesn’t understand, despite these being very common and popular in Galicia as well as an icon of the entire Camino pilgrimage.

Now the main way I study menus is to extract them into some working documents I created and then get the Google Translation. Generally GT does fairly well but it also misses or botches some terms. That then sends me into my research, using various dictionaries and food sites and just plain old searches to get clues to figure out a better (as needed) translation of the menu items. So for instance, zamburiñas which Google Translate doesn’t know Google search can easily find and even reference a Wikipedia article for ‘variegated scallop’. First in my search results is an article in Spanish, Diferencias entre vieiras y zamburiñas, which is quite helpful.

When I started this project over a year ago I actually knew no Spanish. I ignored advice to actually learn Spanish since I was convinced I could succeed without doing that. But as I admitted in earlier posts I realized the advice was right and so I’ve actually been plowing through learning the language, so in fact, I could mostly translation this key sentence (from the article above): Las zamburiñas son de unas dimensiones más reducidas comparado con las vieiras. Which of course doesn’t mean much unless you know (in addition to the other words) that vieira is the conventional term of ‘scallop’, that is the typical standard size (and the source of the shells on all the peregrino’s packs or on the trail signs).  So in case you can’t read the sentence (even though it’s got a lot of cognates to English) it just means that zamburiñas are much smaller vieiras. What that doesn’t tell is that these are quite popular (and widely available) in Galician and the ones shown in the photos connected with O Mirador make it clear (and persuasively looking delicious as well).

Now let’s consider the restaurant’s name. One of the menu items, Parrillada O Mirador, which Google translates as ‘Grill O Lookout’ is the typical highly literal translation GT does, without paying any contextual attention to the discourse, i.e. O Mirador is the name of the restaurant and parrillada is a diminutive term you more frequently see, which is parrilla, which is one of several terms that gets loosely translated as ‘grilled’ (usually with a la preceding it). In contrast with a la plancha which is also usually translated as ‘grilled’, plancha is usually an iron flat (i.e. the flattop grill in many restaurants) and parrilla is an actually grate over a wood or charcoal fire and thus what most of us home cooks would consider “grilled”.

Fine, but what about mirador being translated as ‘lookout’. This is why I want you to do the Google search and see the photos. translates mirador as either ‘enclosed balcony’ or ‘lookout’ which it turns out, from photos, both equally apply. This restaurant is at the top of a hill overlooking the river and adjacent valley, but it also has a wraparound enclosed balcony for dinners. Looks like a fun place.

I had planned on covering some more interesting bits from the menu but I’m out of time (other duties call) and so I close with the promise that I’ll get back to writing about menus (yeah, sure).

A few words from Astorga

As I mentioned in my previous post I lost a long and heavily researched post about something unusual I found in the area around Astorga, or more properly La Maragatería (link is to Spanish language site) is a Spanish region located in the central area of the province of León. It seems there is a local meal (multiple courses) that many restaurants promote, the cocina maragato (link is to Spanish language site). While I won’t try to reconstruct my entire post about this I will recover a few things.

cocina maragato is a meal of multiple courses: meat, vegetables/legumes and soup but it has the unusual feature of being eaten in reverse of the normal order. This idea is summed up in this explanation from one of the restaurants serving this meal (original Spanish from website on the left, Google Translation on right, items of interest in bold).

El cocido maragato tiene la peculiaridad de comerse al revés.  

Primero las carnes, luego los garbanzos y verduras y por último, la sopa.

Estos tres servicios se denominan, en la zona, “vuelcos”. 

The cooked maragato has the peculiarity of eating upside down.

First the meats, then the chickpeas and vegetables and finally, the soup.

These three services are called “rollovers” in the area.

First, al revés can be translated as ‘upside down’ but it has multiple translations according to its Wiktionary entry:  as an adjective, ‘inverted (with respect to something)’ and as an adverb, ‘1) in the opposite direction or order, 2) back first, 3) inside out, 4) the other way around, and, 5) upside down’. revés alone has various definitions:  back, wrong side, other side, inside. Now given the numerous explanations of cocina maragato it’s clear the most useful translation, in this context is the ‘in the opposite direction or order’ since that is the key feature of this meal.

Second, my first encounter with cocina maragato was seeing vuelcos on multiple menus, such as: Primer vuelcoSegundo vuelco and Tercer vuelco. These are headings in the menu where one would normally see platos (in typical menu context, ‘courses’). So the translation as ‘rollover’ was definitely mysterious until one understands the cocina maragato context.

Still none of the online dictionaries have caught up to this meaning of vuelcos as they go with the simpler and more literal translations: ‘upset’, ‘spill’ or ‘complete change’. Interestingly Google’s choice of ‘rollover’ doesn’t appear but it is found in a reverse lookup of the English ‘rollover’ in So it’s hard to think of a single word translation that would imply the correct meaning in this context, but ‘inversion’ (or clumsy, ‘reversed course’) would probably be closer than ‘rollover’.

And since I can’t recreate the entire post I’ll just cover one other word that I’ve often seen on menus in the context that this restaurant uses:

El Cocido Coscolo no es sino un agradecido heredero del cocido tradicional maragato.

Sobre esa base, hemos introducido algunos cambios que hacen de nuestra propuesta algo diferente.

Su principal valor es la elaboración propia de los ingredientes.

The Cocido Coscolo is nothing but a grateful heir to the traditional cocido maragato.

On that basis, we have introduced some changes that make our proposal somewhat different.

Its main value is the preparation of the ingredients.

This restaurant, Restaurante Coscolo, is explaining how its eponymously named Cocido Coscolo is its version of cocido maragato. The word I’m focusing on is propuesta which I’ve seen on numerous menus and Google has always translated it as ‘proposal’.  In other encounters with this word ‘proposal’ made some sense in the context it is used but never seemed quite right, to me, as the translation. Dictionaries go further with these literal translations: ‘offer’ or ‘design’, or ‘nomination’ (in the sense of proposal of a candidate).  While the ‘nomination’, according to the dictionary would clearly apply to a person for a job/office, not a particular preparation, it nonetheless fits. Along with the idea of ‘offer’ or ‘design’. I’d use the translation, ‘take’, as in the phrase “our take on the traditional xxx is yyy”.

But this would be clumsy to have to explain this rather than just use ‘take’ as translation (which certainly wouldn’t fit other contexts). And this will be a challenge for the app I intend to build and suggests that one feature of the app has to be the ability to put a single word in the translation but touching that word would bring up a popup dialogue with a longer explanation to provide the context that is too verbose to include directly in the translation. So analyzing this menu and word provides insight to a UI feature I should include.

I had more about this whole area and other restaurants and this meal but this is all I can reconstruct in a reasonable time. You’ll just have to do your own research if you want more.




Multilingual menus in Spain

I took a detour from studyingg restaurant menus in León to San Sebastian. San Sebastian is 189 air travel miles east of León, along the Atlantic coast and near the border of France. This puts it squarely in Basque Country and its restaurant menus reflect that.

San Sebastian is also a very popular tourist resort with extensive beaches, recreational activities, luxury accommodations and dining, 728 restaurants listed with Trip Advisor. Since it is a popular tourist destination I discovered multiple restaurants there have multilingual menus. Interestingly sometimes they are just bilingual in Castellano (aka Castilian, the most common version of Spanish) and Euskara (the name of the Basque language in Basque) – not surprising due to the cultural influences.

The restaurant I’ll be discussing was interesting in that instead of alternate menus in different languages (which sometimes don’t match very well) it has all its menu items in four language, including French and English. While I’ll show some “translations” within the menu are not literally accurate at least in this kind of menu I get what a person believes is the item in different languages instead of machine translation. So this is from BODEGA DONOSTIARRA located in Donostia which is the Basque name for San Sebastian. A typical example is:

Ensalada de morros con guindilla y cebolleta

Google Translate:

Morros salad with chilli pepper and chive

from the menu

Muturren entsalada, pipermina eta tipulinarekin

Salade de museau de porc avec le piment d oquer et l ́oignon

Pork snouts salad with spring onions and local green peppers

Now sometimes having the French helps clarify the item but my project is to create a corpus of corresponding terms in English and [Castilian] Spanish so the remainder of this post will focus on interesting issues in this menu. For the item above, however, I’ll note several issues:

  1. Google has usually missed morro (in context) but does literally translate the single word (not in context) to ‘nose’. My dictionary prefers ‘snout’ (in sense of an animal part) and lists ‘nose’ only in the sense of an airplane part and lists ‘lip’ and ‘mouth’ as colloquial terms for body parts. I wonder what is in the Google corpus used to train their AI that decides morro is just morro in English which generally means ‘A round hill or point of land’ from various dictionaries so certainly its “context” is not culinary.
  2. The translation of guindilla to ‘chilli pepper’ is interesting. First the ‘chilli’ version of the word is the British not the USA spelling (chili). Second usually chile (and chili is a dish, well known to me as I was born in Texas, no beans, of course) is used in combination with pepper, so chilli is kinda doubly wrong for me. And while guindilla can be used as the generic ‘chile pepper’ it is actually a quite specific variety of pepper popular in the Basque areas also known as piparras.
  3. And thirdly cebolleta (the diminutive of cebolla (onion)) has various translations (according to as ‘scallion’ or ‘green onion’ (in USA) and ‘spring onion’ (in UK). Another bit of evidence that Google Translation AI is trained on a UK derived corpus. And, while unlikely in this menu item, cebolleta can also be ‘chive’ which any gardener knows is not the same as a scallion (which presumably is the same as spring onion).

So this is a good menu to look for some issues in translation by comparing the human and machine translations (as well as my “guessing” using various searches and lookups). So here’s how I’m analyzing the items on this menu.

Spanish (from menu) Human translation (from menu) Google translation
Ensalada Donostiarra (pulpo, boquerón, antxoas, sardinillas, bonito, guindilla) Donostiarra salad: octopus, anchovies, baby sardines, tuna and local green peppers Donostiarra salad (octopus, anchovy, antxoas, sardines, bonito, chili pepper)

There are a couple of interesting issues here:

  1. Google didn’t translate antxoas because, of course, this is the Basque spelling whereas anchoa is the more common Spanish. But there is something else going on in that boquerón also translates to anchovy, which Google got. A search for the difference between anchoa and boquerón gets a lot of opinions, none I can label as definitive but generally (and especially in this area) boquerón is probably also cured with vinegar.

    antxoas may not be the same as the generic anchoa since I did find this, “The Cantabrian anchovy or Bay of Biscay anchovy (scientific name, Engraulis encrarischolus) is one of the specialties of Basque cuisine” which could be very relevant in the context of this menu. But the human translation omits any translation of antxoas (or instead, possibly omits boquerón). So you pays your money, you take your chances.

  2. sardinillas is not in my dictionary but the Spanish for ‘sardine’ is sardina. So here it looks like the human translation is helpful in that they’re interpreting the diminutive form of sardina as ‘little’ which is appropriate. Given sardines are already little (given those packed in tins) I wonder what this really means. No clue from either translation whether these might be fresh or cured sardines which is a major distinction in Italian cuisine.
  3. Google almost always doesn’t translate bonita but sometimes does  generate the literal ‘pretty’. Trusting Wikipedia as a reference source we see that bonita is a valid English translation as it refers to a specific tuna, “The skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis) is a medium-sized perciform fish in the tuna family, Scombridae. It is otherwise known as the aku, arctic bonito, mushmouth, oceanic bonito, striped tuna, or victor fish.”. The human translator choose to just call this ‘tuna’.
  4. And continuing the discussion of guindilla (from previous example) the human translation is interesting, ‘local green peppers’. Given the low heat level of the specific guindilla pepper I can see just calling it a ‘green pepper’ (not exactly what the USA reference is to a bell (or sweet) pepper) and labeling it as ‘local’ seems to distinguish it from the generic chile pepper translation. To me the padrón peppers look the most like “green peppers” but those are typically found in Galicia and so wouldn’t be “local”.

This single example does show a real challenge in “translating” menus – what really is this dish? Even the human translation would leave you guessing. And thus this shows a real limit to what any translation can do.

So let’s look at a couple more items.

Pulpo vinagreta “Salanort” Picled Octopus Octopus vinaigrette “Salanort”

Our human translator has a bit of a spelling problem with what almost certainly is supposed to be ‘pickled’ which is not really quite the same as one usually finds for vinagreta (usually a vinaigrette). But neither the human translator or Google explain what Salanort is. I’m relatively confident in what I found which is “a family business located in the fishing village of Getaria, 30 minutes from San Sebastian”. This qualifier appears several times for this restaurant and is typical of one of those terms that is a specific reference (aka brand) and has no translation BUT still may have some consequence to the customer.

Pintxo paleta ibérica Cured iberian ham pintxo Pintxo paleta ibérica

Google doesn’t translate paleta but it’s easily found in dictionaries as ‘shoulder [blade]’.  The human translation calls this ‘ham’ despite ‘ham’ having the clear Spanish jamón and usually ham comes from the rear leg of the pig, not the shoulder (however, in USA the so-called ‘picnic ham’ can come from the shoulder). And ‘cured’ is basically redundant with already saying ‘ham’. pintxo is interesting in that Google doesn’t translate this at all and pintxo is the Basque for what is called pincho in other parts of Spain (and in English as well and it is NOT tapas, the humorous scene in the movie The Way revealed). ibérica, which is literally Iberian, is not helpful, purely as a translation, but one could hardly go to Spain and not know what this means (and it’s not really a reference to Iberian Peninsula as dictionary says but instead to a particular type of pig).

And while there are numerous other smaller translation issues in this menu I’ll close with this one:

Pluma ibérica de Guijuelo  “Guijuelo” iberian pen Iberian feather  from Guijuelo

Guijuelo is most likely a reference to a municipality located in the province of Salamanca, Castile and León known for their pork. Here I believe the human had to use a dictionary for translation as pluma can be ‘pen’ but more likely ‘feather’ as Google decided. However neither of this is either correct or useful translation. It turns out this is more descriptive “The pluma is a cut from the end of the loin, and is juicier than the presa steak or the solomillo tenderloin. Pluma is fairly thin, but leaner than the ‘secreto’ skirt steak.” from online supplier La Tienda who will sell you one.


I’m continuing with other menus from San Sebastian that are multilingual including an interesting one for sushi where I might get some Spanish terms, if they exist, as translations from Japanese. The adventures continue.

a consultar about cecina

Even though I’ve now marched past León on my virtual trek I’m slowly plodding through the restaurant menus I found there. One menu, for the restaurant attached to Royal Collegiate of Saint Isidoro Hotel, has an English version as well as the Spanish. This is relatively rare and provides a unique opportunity to compare online machine translation of Spanish to the same material written in English. Of course, and as I found, the English text on a webpage may be different than the Spanish; after all it is aimed at a different audience and probably is not just a translation from the Spanish. Nonetheless a careful analysis may provide some interesting clues.

So I’ll start with a menu phrase, a consultar, which appears in three places (Spanish in first column, Google Translate in second, English from the website in third):

Pescado del Día (a consultar) Fish of the Day (to consult) Fish of the Day
Postre del día (a consultar) Dessert of the day (to consult) Dessert of the day
Domingo: Arroz / Fideuá (A consultar) Sunday: Rice / Fideuá (On request) Sunday: Rice / Fideuá (To consult)

Now consultar is a typical Spanish verb which has various meanings (the sense of the literal translation (in black) is marked in green:

  1. to consult (to seek advice from) (to refer for information to)
  2. to discuss with (to talk about)
  3. to look up (to look for)

or (Google translations of Spanish definition in green)

  1. Pedir información, opinión o consejo sobre una determinada materia (Ask for information, opinion or advice on a certain subject)
  2. Buscar información en una fuente de documentación (Search information in a documentation source)

Note that Google translated this differently as either ‘to consult’ or ‘on request’. Now to my sense the ‘on request’ makes less sense, either compared to dictionary definitions or that  por encargo is more common on menus for ‘on request’. Unfortunately the author of the English part on the website doesn’t provide an English equivalent in two cases and ‘to consult’ (the most literal translation) in the third.

So we’re really left without a good English equivalent. I would submit ‘ask your server’ as the common phrase you’d see in USA for these items. IOW, the X del día is a common phrase (less so in Spain) and ‘of the day’ in the USA. In most cases it means what the chef was interested in making today or what ingredients might have been available. So the customer can’t know, from the menu, what the item is and thus has to ask (btw, I don’t think this is the same as the “specials” often rattled off by servers so that wouldn’t be my preferred translation.).

So if I’m right (and I am getting the context right, if not the translation) this presents another interesting flaw in my project. There is NO way to read the menu and determine what this item is – you will have to speak to the server or the chef to find out and, of course, that requires some amount of fluency in both speaking and hearing Spanish (perhaps another type of aided communication app on a smartphone might work but unlikely the server would know how to use it; I tried this in China and totally confused a cab driver). My sister dismissed the idea of my project in lieu of just learning to speak and hear Spanish conversationally and maybe focus a bit more of restaurant and food vocabulary. I think this is a fine idea, but: a) it takes a lot of work I’d prefer software to do, and, b) I’ve actually tried and for some reason, despite modest fluency in a couple of other languages than English I just cannot hear Spanish (the sounds and the speed really confuse me, I watch movies with subtitles and rarely “hear” words I even know and know, from the subtitles, were in the audible portion). And like the jokes some more Spanish fluent people made about my sister my pronunciation would be awful and at minimum irritate a native Spanish speaker or very likely totally confuse them. So I have to try to continue on my path of using software (not brainware) to navigate menus. Perhaps I’ll just have to skip the del día items or perhaps see them on another table and point.

So on to cecina.

This is a common item on menus I’ve encountered before but it tends to be more feature on menus in Castilla y León. In fact this geographical interest is so strong there is also the specific Cecina de León, an IGP (Indicación Geográfica Protegida, EU equivalent protected geographical indication).  This specific item even has its own website ( explaining how it must be produced.

It’s not actually a mystery of what this is (although for a long time it was unavailable in the USA; oh, and now it appears actual cecina from Spain is still not available in USA so this is an imitation made in the style of León) but now you can buy it online where it is described:

Tender sliced cured beef with a deep red color and rich smoky flavor is León’s answer to jamón. This is cecina, a premium cut of beef cured with sea salt and smoked over oakwood with no preservatives. Cecina is Spain’s culinary secret, just as worthy of culinary acclaim as Spain’s famous hams. And like jamón, over thousands of years the people of Spain have transformed the curing of beef from a necessity to an art, creating a delicate, flavorful meat unlike any other in the world.

In another article I was saw it described as ‘chipped beef’ which would possibly be close but certainly an insult to this seriously expensive dried meat.

So, what should the translation be? Or is this one of those terms, say like chorizo or lomo, that you just have to know what it is?

But Google thinks it has the answer. Most of the time (and often it doesn’t translate cecina at all) Google thinks it is ‘jerky’. While the official description about its elaboración (method/recipe of production) has various similarities to most recipes for making jerky the best descriptions I can find is that jerky is not that equivalent.

So what does the English version of the menu at this restaurant say? Here are a couple of references, again with Spanish in first column, Google Translate in second and website English translation in third:

Ofrecemos servicios de corte de jamón/cecina, quesos artesanos al corte, cervezas artesanas… We offer ham / cecina cutting services, cut artisan cheeses, craft beers … We offer professional ham / beef jerky cutting services, sliced local artisan cheeses, craft beers and more.

Note that in this case Google didn’t translation cecina at all but the website does refer to it as ‘beef jerky’ and the human translation otherwise seems very close to the original Spanish.

And another reference:

Lunes: Salmorejo con Cecina IGP. Monday:  Salmorejo with Cecina IGP. Monday: Salmorejo with Smooked Beef  IGP.

Note that ‘smooked’ is in the menu itself as is another typo ‘Thuesday’ which certainly makes it look likely this is the work of a person.

And then our final reference:

El menú del cabildo es una
salmorejo de tomates de mansilla con cecina IGP, puerros de sahagun, escalibada de pimientos del Bierzo…
The menu of the cabildo is a
salmorejo de tomates de mansilla with cecina IGP, leeks of sahagun, escalivada of peppers of the Bierzo …
The Cabildo menu is a proposal ‘Salmorejo’ or cold-tomato soup made with local ‘Mansilla’ tomatoes and beef-jerky, ‘Sahagun’ leeks, ‘Escalivada’ or roasted vegetables on flat rustic bread and made with local ‘Bierzo’ peppers…

So here we see beef jerky again. So either the author believes calling it jerky will best describe it to an English speaking person or they had to use some dictionary lookup, which, btw, lists: ‘smoked’, ‘cured’ and ‘salted’ meat (each as a separate term when the elaboración explains ALL these steps are involved in creating cecina).

Now the imitation online stuff refers to cecina as “The “beef version” of jamón” and the picture shows a solid piece of meat whereas the elaboración  is quite clear the meat must be thinly sliced before any other processing so a solid ham-like chunk certainly doesn’t match the IGP definition.

And, finally, our sometimes reliable English version of Wikipedia adds this information in its description:

is made by curing beef, horse or (less frequently) goat, rabbit, or hare

Emphasis on ‘horse’! Since I’ve also found this item on a different León menu: Cecina de Burro. Now burro might be a brand or a geographical reference but it might also be, in fact its literal translation, ‘donkey’.  Pure beasts, work in the hot sun and when they’re worn out they end up on the table – no thanks.

So finally I might end up calling cecina “thin slice of mystery meat cured in salt, then dried (by heat or sun) and (usually, but not always) smoked”. So I think a consultar ties in nicely with cecina and strongly recommends spoken fluency to find out what you’re eating (or at least know the phrase ¿Qué animal es este de.

Blog note

After consolidating terms from numerous menus, plus the recent post about restaurant terms, I substantially updated the page under the tab RESTAURANT PHRASES. The main change was the addition of a list of phrases which I’ll include here for convenience. Enjoy!


In this list the notation {x|y} means this word occurs with either x or y in this position, usually this is gender in adjectives, so {a|o}. [x] means optional, most often [s].

a elegir to choose [from]
a tu elección at your choice
acompañad{a|o}[s] accompanied
al centro in the center (of table, i.e. for sharing)
al estilo X in the style of X
al gusto to taste (doneness), i.e. cooked to order
al peso by weight
bebida[s] drinks
carta the a la carte menu
casa literally house, from this restaurant
caser{a|o} homemade
combinados combinations
degustación tasting/taste (often a separate menu)
del día of the day
diario daily (available item or open)
elaboración preparation
eliges tú los ingredientes you choose the ingredients
en temporada in season
entrantes starters (aka appetizers)
especialidad specialties
horario hours (as in when it is open)
incluid{a|o}[s] included
ingredientes ingredients
mesa table (different from tabla)
para acabar to finish (after main part of meal)
para comer to eat (main part of menu)
para compartir to share
para picar to nibble on (aka snacks or appetizers)
por encargo on request
postres desserts
precio[s] price
primeros [platos] (primer) first course
segundos [platos] second course
selección/seleccionado selection/selected
servido [con] served [with]
surtido assortment
tabla board/plank or platter (usually an assortment, often of ham)
unidad unit (abbreviation uds)
vari{e|a}d{a|o}[s] assorted, varied, variety

Too many menus, too little time

I’m only about five miles away from León (on my virtual trek, previously mentioned) where I’m bound to find a lot of online restaurant menus so I’ve been rushing to finish my list from the city of Palenica. I can work on the menus in bits and pieces, extracting and formatting the material into my source files and then analyzing the entries, doing lookups and searches on terms that machine translations handled badly. This isn’t easy and beyond mere mechanical, sometimes, but I can pick it up and put it down, thus squeezing this work into crooks and crannies of my day.

But the real work, actually generating a corpus and then, even more, creating the software to collate all this and actually create a Spain food translator that is far better than the extant machine translations requires a really concentrated effort and so I’ve essentially done none of this. I have to remember what it was like to work hard all day long on this kind of task, day after day, as I did when I was in a real job of software architect. But I find I can never get around to this for a “fun” project.

In between is writing these posts. I can’t do that in bits and pieces either. While a post is a shorter task I still require some concentration and focus, plus usually even more research. But that’s the good part. My quick cursory analysis of menus is sufficient to find specific translation issues for posts and thus, wanting to get it right in the posts, the need for more careful research and conclusions. And even though this may only be a few hours it’s hard to get that hunk of uninterrupted time. So my posts have really been infrequent.

I write the posts as part of a discipline to do this work more carefully. Knowing someone might notice my mistakes and then (and I’d love it if they did) comment as to my mistakes forces me to be more careful. Plus, sometimes, I try to tell more story than just the translations and that even enriches my data collection more.

So posts are great to do (and hopefully of some interest to you, Dear Reader) but it’s hard to get them done.

I have material for at least six posts about the menus from Palencia that I’ve studied. I really hope I can apply myself and get these posts done before I start digging in León menus.

So here are some restaurants you might find interesting. There were 159 restaurants in my starting list but I only looked at the ones with real websites (the Facebook sites are useless to my purpose and frankly, IMHO, worthless to a potential customer). Many of the websites then have little information and especially lack menus. Then often the menus are in two formats I just barely can use: 1) just images (i.e. no text to extract from browser so have to manually transcribe, hard to do accurately) or, 2) PDF’s. While I can usually (not always) get text from the PDF’s it: a) takes a lot of manual post-processing to organize, and, b) then it’s not easy to get Google translations (I have to build my own temporary webpage from the extracted and processed PDF information to let Google chomp on it), and, c) using Microsoft’s translation within MSWord is both a bit clumsier and overall somewhat inferior to Google (although in some cases it is better as well).

So my criteria for looking at restaurants in the following list has little to do with any sense of their quality or interesting cuisine. BUT, that said, usually I’ve found what appear to be the better restaurants often also have the better websites. I encourage them (not that any of them will be listening) to put more work in it. Perhaps for local clientele websites are not very important but for tourists I believe they’re beginning to be critical. I have another post about how I was persuaded to recently visit, even going out of my way, a particular restaurant in Ohio solely on the grounds of its website, although later learning it was also “rated” as one of the best in Columbus. And while pretty pictures of the food and glowing descriptions are nice online menus are far more important, again IMHO, for “selling” your restaurant to new customers.

So here’s the list I’ve processed, hopefully with stories to come when I can find the time for posts.

Bar Comedor El Garaje
Bar El Cobre
Casa Pepe’s
Dominos (just wanted to compare to both US menus and local restaurants but some new vocabulary did appear)
El Majuelo
El Rincon de Istambul (interesting since they focus on Turkish food and so had non-Spanish items I had to look up)
Gastrobar Donde Dani
Habana Cafeteria (interesting that a cafeteria has different selection which revealed some new terms)
La Barra de Villoldo
Ponte Vecchio (interesting since they focus on Italian food and so had non-Spanish items I had to look up)
Restaurante – Cerveceria Las Hurdes
Restaurante Asador Palencia La Encina
Restaurante El Brezo
Restaurante La Cantara
Restaurante La Traserilla
Restaurante-Bar Mano http://barmañ
Restaurante-Cervecería Moesia


para picar and other restaurant phrases

Despite my lack of posts I have been continuing to study menus from restaurants in Spain, at the moment from a large list of restaurants in the city of Palencia. In that work I’ve thought of probably half a dozen posts I’d like to write. But posts are harder than study. I need concentrated time without interruptions and real focus. Study is mostly mechanical and I can do bits and pieces at a time, easily stopping and restarting later. I don’t know about you but I have to finish what I start, in one sitting, when it comes to posts. Of course 😉 if I did shorter posts maybe I wouldn’t have this problem. But, alas, I accumulate so much material it’s hard to neglect it all.

But there is a potentially relatively brief topic about some phrases one finds on many menus. The phrases are simple, but the literal translation of various machine translations aren’t very helpful. So let’s start with this one.

A menu was basically divided into three sections with these phrases (with Google translations):

para picar algo to chop something
para comer to eat
para acabar to finish

I doubt I’ll be doing any chopping while dining in a restaurant. Just para picar is more common than including the algo part, so what does this mean? para is just a preposition meaning ‘for’ or somewhat more helpful in this context ‘in order to’. picar has a host of meanings: to chop, mince, grind, cut, crush {to divide into pieces}; to sting, bite {by an animal}; to peck at {birds}; to break up (big pieces), chip (small pieces) {mining}; to punch; to needle {colloquial) to antagonize}; to spur on {horse racing}; to goad, prod {bullfighting}; to play staccato {music}; to rot, corrode, rust; to key in {computing} to eat, nibble on {(colloquial) to snack on}

Now we’re not bullfighting or mining or horse racing, so probably the sense related to eating best applies. While ‘to nibble on’ is the obvious dictionary definition to use the sense for this ‘to snack on’ probably fits best.

That then makes the following section, para comer (to eat) make more sense. After nibbling some snacks we’re ready for some serious eating. And para acabar precedes desserts, coffees and after-dinner drinks so that has an easy fit.

So let’s look at a few others which do translate reasonably well via machine literal translation:

a elegir to choose
para compartir to share
por encargo on request
a tu elección at your choice
eliges tú los ingredientes you choose the ingredients

Despite both a elegir and a tu elección having ‘choose’ or ‘choice’ they seem to have quite different purposes in menus. a elegir usually precedes a list where one may choose one item whereas a tu elección seems to allow one to “customize” an item.

And here are a few more

al peso

al peso usually is in the pricing section, i.e. one can order an amount (by weight) of something and then the price will be determined by that weight. casero or casera (if preceding a feminine noun) is quite common and best translates as ‘homemade’ although often the mechanical translations just say ‘home’ or ‘house’ (for those translations that “claim” context sensitivity, not word-by-word literal) but of course that is the word that is the stem of this, casa. While ‘homemade’ clearly means made in this establishment it doesn’t necessarily mean ‘made from scratch’, or, IOW, it may just be assembled from purchased elements.

And, even though this is another post, some menus like to use brand names as the simple label of the item, especially at one establishment for desserts. So I learned MAGNUM MOMENTS is not some strange loanwords in Spanish, but just a European brand of ice cream in a particular portion and COPA BRASIL or DELISS LATTE are the names of packaged ice cream treats. Literal translation (or no translation at all as Google stumbled on these) isn’t going to help you much in picking one.

There are other phrases I’ve encountered but these where just in a few of the menus from a couple of restaurants. Someday I’ll have to complete a full list.

At home menu to translate

Sometimes one doesn’t have to leave home to encounter menus that need translation. In this case the menu is German, not Spanish and in Omaha Nebraska, not Hamburg Germany where the chef trained for several years. One of our favorite restaurants, Dolce, has an inspired chef Anothony Kueper. He loves his usual menu but also loves to do special menus which he emails to his loyal fans.

In this case it turns out it was his wife’s birthday. And she is from Germany and much of her family came for her birthday. And Chef Kueper worked several years in a one-star restaurant in Hamburg (that gained its second star while he was working there). So it became his task to create a special menu, with wine pairings, for his wife and her family and then share it with his loyal customers.

Now frankly, originally I was completely unenthusiastic about this when my wife wanted to do it. I’ve made both business and recreational trips to Germany, and, well, uh, frankly, I wasn’t impressed with the cuisine. In fact, in my last trip for a week in Köln we ate most often at an Italian restaurant run by Bulgarians instead of the German selections.

But I was blown away by Chef Kueper’s dishes. As one of a few tables trying the special menu the chef came out to explain each dish. Of course, local is a big deal and it turns out via my wife’s connection to the state agricultural organization had actually visited several of these local suppliers. Being able to converse with the chef wasn’t critical to the meal (since the menu was fixed and we had no choices to make so translation didn’t really matter) BUT it certainly made the meal more interesting.

But the point of this post was my attempt to actually figure out what the menu items were! I know just a tiny bit of German but had little success reading the menu (like I got rotkohl and obviously spätzle). AND, critically, despite having considerable time between courses using a smartphone and its available resources only helped a bit in decided what the menu items were. When they actually arrived and were explained by Chef Kueper there was only a limited comparison to what I found on my phone, not contradictions per se (mostly) but just inadequate descriptions online. Had we had to make choices, especially with limited time to study a multi-item menu it would have been tough.

Since my blog is about food in Spain a bunch of German translations are irrelevant but just for fun I’ll list the items in the excellent meal we enjoyed:

Jakobsmuscheln · Zwiebeln
Saffran Soße · fritierter Spinat

Königsberger Klopse
Servietten Knödel · Kapern · Sahne

Tafelspitzsülze · Frisee
sauce vert · Ei

Spanferkel · Spätzle
Rotkohl · Apfelgelee

Schwarzwälder Kirschotorte

You can have fun trying to figure this out. The second item was amazing and the spanferkel (local, a supplier we’ve visited) was outstanding.


Pastelería o repostería o confitería

added: Interestingly pastelería appears in the context of wine tasting terminology which is yet another meaning than I explored in my original version of this post. See at the bottom.

As you can see by my lack of posts I’ve been away. I was in Ohio on “personal business”, the same type of “business” Tom had in The Way. As such it wasn’t any kind of vacation but it still prevented me from research on my project and posting. At one point we thought we might be able to go to Barcelona, no not the wonderful city in Spain, but an interesting restaurant in Columbus Ohio. Based on its online menus it seems very similar to menus I’ve been studying in Spain (names of items in Spanish, descriptions in English): it has a fixed price menú del día; a chef’s tasting menu (degustación); and the standard dinner menu. Most of the terms of the menu would be a mystery to me if I had just dropped in but now most I know from my work here. Whether it is authentic tastes of Spain I don’t know, but I hope to go back some day under better circumstances.

Meanwhile I’ve returned to start doing my stationary exercise, biking and walking. After two weeks off I can tell I’ve lost some tone so it’s a bit hard to get back to my previous speed. Nonetheless I made enough miles on the treadmill to map onto my GPS track of the Camino de Santiago and thus move my “virtual” trek to Villalcázar de Sirga. Palencia. This town is large enough to show four restaurants on the Google map but none had online menus (or even web sites). One had a simple menu but it was graphical rather than text so I couldn’t extract it.

But continuing my hunt I did find an online menu, of sorts, for Confitería La Perla Alcazareña, aka, La Pastelería with the URL Just a bit of looking at this site quickly revealed Spanish words that have multiple meanings (each word) and are almost synonyms, i.e. pastelería, repostería, confitería. Any of these can be found in at least one dictionary as bakery or pastry shop or confectionery. So which is it?

Digging a bit more alos reveal additional overlapping terms (in the general theme of bakeries): panaderíadulcería, bollería, bizcochería and  galletería.

Now this easiest for me to distinguish is panaderíaWhen I did a long bicycle ride in Germany decades ago we quickly learned to distinguish bäckerei and konditorei. We stopped at our first konditorei at Eberbach on our first day out of Heidelberg. There we sat in a small park with brass sculpture ebers (boars) literally pigging out on delightful confectioneries. Later we stopped at the bäckerei to get rolls to make our lunch sandwiches and there were no sweets to be seen. In the US, if you can find a bakery at all, it probably does both, breads and sweets. And there are so many different baked sweets it’s hard to put them in categories. bollería may be a specialized panadería dealing in bollas (rolls or buns) so we won’t consider it any more.

Just for fun in this area what does pasta mean? Well it can refer to its common meaning in the USA, i.e. pasta or it can be cakes, biscuits (cookies in the UK sense) or general pastries (more often pastel (which can be cake or pie)) or even paste. No wonder these other bakery terms are confusing.

Searching multiple dictionaries and sources I arrive at the idea there are three different things that, at least pastelería and repostería can mean:

  1. the pastry (or sweet or confection) itself
  2. the place where these are produced and/or sold
  3. the process of producing these products

Oh great, covers all the bases which means one could encounter these terms in any context. But here’s my best guess (at it is a guess).

pastelería  primarily deals with cakes (pastel, torta; possibly bizcocho (sponge cakes or lady fingers – bizcochería  specializes in these) and cookies (galleta – galletería specialize in these).  repostería  primarily deals with various sweet pastries and confitería  primarily deals with filled (jam or fillings) pastries. But all of these would cover what one might find in dulcería or konditorei  in Germany or Austria.

Got that. I think it’s safe to say there is a lot of overlap but all would be easy to eat, if not overwhelmed by a sugar (azúcar) rush.

Now just for fun here’s a few things, as exercise for you Dear Reader, to figure out from the menu (really a list of productos  since this appears to be a wholesale place) at Confitería La Perla Alcazareñaalmendrados, tarta de hojaldre, amarguillos, ciegas, mantecadas, rosquillas de palo, rosquillas de baño, brazo de gitano. Only a couple of these have direct English equivalents. And you get extra credit if you can figure out the difference between rosquillas de palo and rosquillas de bañorosquillas, in general are what we’d call doughnuts/donuts here in USA, but what the difference between ‘stick’ and ‘bath’ donuts is, in Spain, remains a mystery. And then, of course, there are churros but that’s a different story.

I’ve gained a few pounds just looking at images in my searching!

As a background task for several weeks now I’ve been researching the extensive terminology (jargon) associated with vino in Spanish.  So briefly after I finished this post I encountered this addition meaning of pastelería.

It is a sweet and toasty aroma with certain features of vanilla and caramelized sugar characteristic of the freshly baked pastry. It appears in the wines of long ageing in oak wood, generally sweet, fruit of its oxidative evolution and of the contribution of the Odoríficos compounds (vanillin) of the oak containers.

This certainly is an obvious extension under the wine terminology of GLOSARIO DE TÉRMINOS RELATIVOS AL AROMA in this source.