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; 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, Part 2D (Ponferrada)

As a break from tedious discussion of Spanish, I found something else to talk about for this restaurant (MESÓN LA TABERNA in case you didn’t read the previous parts) One interesting photo that appears on Google Maps in the photos section for a restaurant is a copy of the check (cuenta). I guess people think they are doing a favorite to readers to see what a meal might cost in the place, which could be handy, since there are already tons of pictures of the food.

Normally I don’t copy photos from public sites as even though people take these pictures and contribute them free to the site (thus relinquishing their IP rights) most websites consider their content to have IP rights. There is a doctrine of “fair use” I won’t bore you with it (simple case, quoting a few lines from a book in your paper giving credit and source), but I figure all parties involved like publicity. I’ve given Google seven photos that Google keeps telling me that one has 95K views and all of them together have 240K views. So the small number of views of this photo I clipped from Google is a tiny fraction of what I’ve given them. So sue me, Google. BUT I do advise readers not to follow this example.

I chose this particular check because it’s a hefty total, but also because it has a lot of line items to talk about. The fun part of this is that the receipt is fairly narrow and thus the entire name of the food item can´t fit, so for those what was the item? We’ll get a few of those to talk about.

But first, the text at the top of the check is fairly straight forward, but there are a couple of abbreviations as the labels of the columns, which require the full vocabulary to understand. Also, for my USA readers, remember , is used in Spain (and most of Europe) where we’d use . AND € is Euros, now the only currency as the peseta was abolished in 2002; for your info today the € is about $1.17, so IOW about the same as the item would be in USA with the tip which, usually, is included in the bill in Spain, as is the IVA tax, so you can just think of the price as essentially the same.

Cant la cantidad the number of this particular item ordered
Descripcion la descripción description and it appear their printer can’t handle accents
Precio el precio simple enough, the price of an individual item
Total el total cant x precio

We deduce there were four people for this ticket from four big dishes, 8 (two per person) orders of bread, but five desserts and only three drinks. So $42 each isn’t cheap, but certainly not a luxury restaurant.

Moving to the items ordered by this group I’ll repeat the all uppercase descripción from the cuenta and then complete the item with the remaining letters/words in lowercase in red. Our first item is MENU FIN DE SEMana, which doesn’t mean anything specific, but whatever the weekend menu is (remember, in Spain, el menú is a set combination of (usually three) items and carta is the list of individual items).

The next one took some work, BOTILLO CON CAChelos which is not an obvious answer. It took careful scanning of multiple online photos of the restaurant’s menu (no online text) to find botillo con cachelos, verdura, garbanzos, y chorizo 15,00 . This was my best guess as it means “chunks of potato” which this dish usuallycontains, but it might also refer to cachetes (cheeks) as we’ll find when we look at preparing this “classic” dish of Ponferrada. At least one preparation of this dish contains cachucha de cerdo, which is a vulgar body part in Latin American but in Spain it’s instead an awful looking dried head of a pig (ears, snout, skin and all).

We’re going to have a whole post on what this dish is, since it is “famous” in Porferrada in the next post.

So let’s try a few more, which are the starters, completing the truncated descripción from the carta posted outside the place: a) CROQUETAS DE BOletus, on the Tapas Tradicionales section of the carta, where boletus is actually a Latin term (and a genus of mushrooms), so, IOW, wild mushroom croquettes, b) HUEVOS ROTOS COn patatas (four different possibilities), while rotos literally means broken, this is closest to a scramble, from the Toque el Huevo section of the outdoor carta, c) SALTEADO DE VERduras de temporado, sauteed seasonal vegetables, from the De La Huerta (Of the garden) section of the carta, d) CACHAPO DE TERNera con queso de cabra and cecina (no translation for cachapo, just an Asturian dish, typically of two pieces of veal (ternera) and cheese and ham (or cecina, sorta jerky), in this dish, breaded and fried from the Las Carnes section of the carta, e) ESCALOPINES DE ternera al cabrales, veal scallops (thin pounded cuts of veal) with the famous Spanish blue cheese, also from the Las Carnes section, f) CALAMARES A LA andaluz, squid in Andalusian style, from Tapas del Mar section of the carta.

Wow, these people ate a lot, two appetizers each and a full main course. I get llenísimo just thinking about it! A few of these items I can match up with the photos at Google maps or TripAdvisor and they are a substantial serving size. For fun you might to see if you can find these dishes in the photos.

But they’re not done. Either someone had two desserts or I’m wrong and there are five guests, because they finished with these postres: a) ARROZ CON LECHE, basically rice pudding, b) TARTA DE CASTADcastañas, not sure why the D is in the truncated version as castañas is the only thing on the carta that matches, basically the chestnut tart, and, c) TARTA DE LA ABUela, pretty certain it would be abuela, not abuelo, as this is a common thing in Spain, basically Grandmother’s Tart. Now TARTA can be confusing since it can be pie, cake or tart, but since cake has its own word, pastel, tart is probably the best guess.

So there we have it. This receipt alone, due to the limited space for the descripción doesn’t completely tell us what these people had to eat. Without the menu some items might be difficult to guess. So while a posted photo of this cuenta tells us something, we might need to do more research to guide our choices. And I think this is more food that most people would get, perhaps it’s a special occasion for them and they’ve starved for a day to have a grand meal. So the $42 each is probably a bit high. BUT, unlike the bills for most people in many restaurants in the US, booze is only a small amount. In fact, they only had a jarra (pitcher, and in Spain that’s less than pitchers in the USA) of beer, and the rest was just two bottles of water, one even free. So 8,50 € just barely would buy the grande margarita in my favorite place.

SO, if you’re looking at one of this checks someone posts you may need to do more research to figure out what it really means. But it can be a helpful guide, if you can’t find prices before you enter (prices are on the conveniently posted outdoor menu, I love those, fun to look at even you’re not stopping).

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, 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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


Back to Menus in Spain, Part 2A (Ponferrada)

To restart my search for menus in Spanish and studying them I started in Ponferrada just coincidentally. In all my previous work on this project the larger cities, often also the ones popular with tourists, have the most raw material, but several towns along the Camino are more interesting, i.e. Logroño and now Ponferrada.

I recently happened to see another story about the Camino and also about Ponferrada and that rekindled my interest. I did some quick searching and it seemed like Ponferrada would have interesting material. Many of the people who do the Camino for the tourism value, not the original religious pilgrimage, start in Ponferrada, often in escorted tours, and just do the last 206kms. Frankly, from my virtual tour this makes sense to me because: a) it’s really the prettiest part (much of Camino would be like walking the Cowboy Trail in western Nebraska, dry, hot, boring, treeless and brown), and, b) it’s much greener and then mostly into Galicia which has the best food since Navara (and even there the Camino Frances doesn’t hit the Basque Country culinary hotspots).

So I did the usual thing, an initial Google search which either yields direct results or a link to Trip Advisor which has been a reliable guide (even if I don’t buy their ratings) to all/most of the restaurants in a given area. I could use this as starting point to then find websites for some of the listed restaurants, or as I’ll do in this series of posts, just some photos (either on Trip Advisor or back on Google Maps) to get raw material.

Now, the “top” (as rated per Trip Advisor) restaurants in Ponferrada are not particular Spanish and I’ve found this to be in other cities in Spain. Usually European, even “Italian” oriented restaurants get the highest ratings, also often with the highest prices, which probably just indicates a bias from tourist reviews instead of locals. And frankly, the highly touted tourist places don’t interest me (either for this project or to actually visit) since I can find equally good restaurants closer to home. If I’m in Spain, I want a Spain culinary experience. Perhaps I’m a bit more confident about that as I could struggle through ordering and eating with my newly learned Spanish, but really it’s just closer to the original point of this project.

So, after my usual excessively long preface, I looked at Trip Advisor’s top 30 restaurants and, disappointingly, found few online menus, in fact, only one as a document (a few others as photos). But one restaurant did have an appealing website even without a menu AND it triggered an idea.


After doing some of what I intended in this post it was getting long (big surprise) I’ve decided to split discussion of the first restaurant I’m looking at in Ponferrada into three sub-parts. In the second sub-part I’ll discuss a couple of words from one restaurant that Google didn’t know and do have any real translation. Then I’ll cover the rest of the language about that restaurant in the third part, and who knows I may have to split that because there are two restaurants at the same website.


Also I know I wander a lot in these posts but that’s actually what I find interesting. Little did I know when I started this I’d end up looking at la gastronomía berciana and Botillo del Bierzo (check out part 2B).


Normally I have a rule not to use someone else’s picture from the web, but a free picture from a guest on a free website that support the restaurant I’ll be talking about in the next part, here goes:


First Mexican Menu (Tepoztlán)

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

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

Mesa de Origen and its menu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verdolagas y habas

Purslane and beans

310 ($13.66)

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

So how about

Camote y huauzontle
Sweet potato and huauzontle


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

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

Maíz cacahuazintle y huitlacoche
Peanut corn

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

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

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

Haba verde, requesón y agua de chile ancho y galanga

Green bean, cottage cheese and ancho chili water and galangal


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

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

Unplanned post of menu translation

Instead of my planned post I’ve digressed into analyzing the menu of restaurant in San Sebastián Spain, recommended by a loyal reader, Gandarias.

I’ve been working (offline) on a series of posts comparing my experience of now nearly 500 days of learning Spanish language with my original approach of analyzing menus from Spain and deducing menu vocabulary. My purpose has been to first find source material and translate it, create a corpus of translated material, extract from that corpus “translations” (not word-by-word, but more meaningful translations) and then create a smartphone app to contain all the deduced vocabulary and food/cooking terminology for a person trying to read menus in Spain.

I had originally planned to find source material and create a corpus without learning Spanish. I felt I could accomplish my purpose without language fluency. But somehow I got convinced to learn Spanish (I’m not good at languages so this is quite a challenge for me) and so for the past year I’ve had few posts about menus and interesting items I was finding. Just having a Spanish dictionary is not very helpful for figuring out what items on a menu happen to be.

So before posting some more on this general topic I had planned to show some menu items to just present some examples of some of the issues. I’d picked a restaurant, more or less at random, in Leon and had some examples ready to go. Instead circumstances provided me a different opportunity. While reading a post of another travel blogger about San Sebastián I decided to take a hint. While I can’t actually go to the restaurant, as recommended, I did find it had a good website that also resulted in an unexpected adventure.

On most of my previous analysis of menus I have not had a human English translation, partly because I was looking at small restaurants along the Camino de Santiago. So for my initial analysis I’m dependent on Google Translate, which often botches menus as I’ve pointed out in previous posts, plus then other investigation to figure out items.

In a few of the larger cities restaurants sometimes do have English translation and this provides some extra calibration. When one is trying to build a corpus it is inevitable some errors creep in, but the quality of the final consensus view of translating menu items is enhanced by having as much raw material as possible, so human English translations really supplement the guesses, I and Google, are making in our translations.

So Restaurante Gandarias has both Spanish and English, as well as Euskara, the Basque language given this restaurant is in the heart of Basque Country. It is also a very popular resort and thus likely to attract many clients who will appreciate the English version. And even in the Spanish menu some items still use the Euskara terms.

Now a note about “menu”. In most restaurants that’s what a diner gets, but in Spain it is common that there are designed menú, that is several courses chosen by the restaurant and combined as a single order, also as prix fixe to use the French term. The “menu” I had originally planned to use for this post is in that category. OTOH, some restaurants (and their websites) also provide a carta, which Google translates as ‘letter’ which is nominally correct and totally correct in other circumstances (ahora escribo una carta, see I’ve learned something, did that from memory) and it can also mean card, as in cartas de juego (playing cards, as opposed to tarjeta de credito for credit card; also fun when there are so many meanings for words, both to and from Spanish). But for this restaurant carta has the meaning, from the French and sometimes found in USA, a la carte. Or basically individual items ordered separately at the diner’s choice.

For the Gandarias carta it’s divided into sections: Todas (all), Ensaladas (salads), Entrantes (starters), Pascados (fish), Carnes (meat) and Postre (desert) – and yes, I’ve had all but Entrantes in my Spanish lessons. So I selected Todas (in Spanish version) and got four webpages of pictures of food with captions as to the item. Fine, I scooped up all four pages, did some fiddling to reformat and created the first column of my typical table I use for analysis. Knowing there was English I wanted to get the Google Translate first so I did that and lined up items in a second column of those (all this will be at the end of the post).

Then in what I expected would be a routine mechanical process I switched to the English version of the website.  Since Ensalada de bogavante was the first item I didn’t even need the picture to realize that Roasted baby lamb was not the same thing. A bit more poking around and I realized while it appeared the English and Spanish menu had the same items they were in totally different orders.

AH. A challenge. Now I have to take the English description of the item and find the corresponding Spanish. Now for this item,  Lettuce and onion salad I was able to pick   Ensalada de lechuga y cebolla even without looking at the Google Translate with is exactly the same, easy-peasy.

But it wasn’t all so easy; for instance Scrambled eggs with cod matches with Revuelto de bacalao, not just because one easily remembers bacalao is cod (about as common a food term as there is in Spain, even obvious from bacalhau where I actually had it multiple times in Portugal).  But also because while  Revuelto has dictionary translations: messy, upside down, mixed up, disheveled,  untidy, nauseous, cloudy, turbulent (and more), but most usefully scrambled. I have dug through enough menus in Spain to known that scrambled (and implied to be of eggs) fits, hence scrambled eggs with cod (even though huevo is missing in the Spanish). Amusingly Google doesn’t get the implied eggs and therefore thinks it’s the cod that got scrambled so it says: Scrambled cod so if you were using your phone do you think you’d order this.

Now a few stumped me a bit more than others, but like one of those games where you match up things in columns I only had a few left and thus got my clue:  Grilled magret was the human English translation. ¿Qué?  Magret stumped my usual translation sources and Google had missed it, but in a Spanish dictionary (with Spanish definitions of Spanish words, not translation) I did find:

Filete de pechuga de pato o de ganso muy utilizado en la cocina francesa.

which I can almost translate myself but here’s the GT

Duck breast or goose fillet widely used in French cuisine.

So, in other words, it isn’t a Spanish word, but the key hint (as well, a bit, the picture) is pato, so I was able to match up with Magret de pato (I never just did searches in my text, instead trying to translate myself).

So I wanted to do a couple of more to finish my point, about some challenges of translating menus (which, btw, are NOT solved by just learning to speak Spanish):

Almejas a la marinera Clams a la marinera Fisherman´s style clams

So it helps to know, a la marinera, which one would more typically associate with Italian food, is a particular style, really, just a typical tomato sauce, EXCEPT, typically in Spain and with clams it is NOT a tomato sauce – fooled yah. Yep, the human translation of Fisherman style is real helpful, might be useful in San Francisco.

Arroz con leche casero Rice with homemade Milk Rice pudding

Google is just too literal, arroz con leche is just rice pudding so the homemade (a valid translation of casero) just applies to the desert, not the milk,

Besugo a la plancha Grilled sea bream Grilled sea bream
Bogavante a la plancha Grilled lobster Fresh lobster grilled

Both of these provide a little fun as to exactly what a la plancha means. Yes, it does, more or less means, grilled, but then think about what a la parilla means (also grilled).  Usually a la plancha (literally on a plate, or in Italian, on the iron) means just cooked on a hot steel plate, cast iron pan or ‘flattop” in a diner.  a la parilla usually means a grate over some kind of open heat, either just gas or it can be wood (a la brasa). Now being fairly good with a grill myself these are quite different and I’d want to know which it really was. Which therefore brings up another point – reading a menu is not enough so being able to speak to your waiter (if knowledgeable) or even the chef may be required to really figure out if this is the dish you want. And therefore, that’s a different reason to actually learn to speak Spanish.

Chipirones a la plancha Grilled squid Grilled squids

chipirones can be interesting because it’s only one of the words for squid, but in this case it means baby (small) squid and frequently, in Spain, battered and fried squid, or as we’d order in USA as fried calamari. BUT, in this restaurant, given the picture, that’s not what this dish is.

Now: A brief side personal digression. For a couple of years I made multiple business trips to Japan. Learning Japanese was not going to happen but worst trying to learn the written is hard. My job required me to learn how Japanese is written (not the 1945 standard Kanji, just the algorithms of typography). At the time most Japanese restaurants had displays of plastic food (rarely picture menus) with little labels in Kanji. I quickly learned, while I had no clue what the Kanji meant, how to copy them into a little notebook and chose my item from the plastic food and then show the Kanji to the waiter. It worked fine and I always got what I expected. But I have no idea if the actual menu in this restaurant (unlike the website) would have the really dumbed-down version to show the pictures.

Now a few interesting ones that being fairly fluent in Spanish or knowing much about Spanish food won’t help so much, plus these stumped Google a bit.

Changurro al horno Baked Changurro Baked spider crab

You see Google didn’t know changurro. BUT, remember we’re in Basque country, so a bit more searching is that this word is really txangurro, where the tx, even just the x is a giveaway this is the Basque word and thus the Spanish spelling of it.

Kokotxas de bacalao al Pil-Pil con almejas Cod Kokotxas al Pil-Pil with clams Cod cheeks in pil-pil sauce with clams

The unusual spelling of kokotxas is another giveaway this is the Basque word, literally, cheeks, and really one needs to know this is a particular dish unique to Basque cooking to really have a clue what this means.


Pantxineta Pantxineta Pantxineta

I think you get this, obviously Basque, dessert where this is as good a description as any.

Rodaballo con su refrito ligado Turbot with its tied rehash Turbot with its thickened sauté

An amusing Google translation.

Tarta “Gandarias” elaborada por Rafa Gorrotxategi “Gandarias” cake made by Rafa Gorrotxategi Pastry chef Rafa Gorrotxategi´s “Gandarias” cheesecake

Totally meaningless terms, in any language. Even the generic Spanish tarta is ambivalent exactly what this might be.

Solomillo de vaca vieja con foie al Oporto Old beef sirloin with foie gras in Porto Old cow sirloin with foie in Oporto style

So here are a couple of interesting terms that just don’t translate (at least from Spanish): foie (the French word for liver, most foodies would just know this as language independent) and Oporto (second biggest city in Spain so probably most travelers would recognize it, but is it Port or OPorto (clue, in some language O is the)). And what style is that? If I was telling you about BBQ and said “Texas” style would you know that’s brisket withOUT sauce?

Tabla de ibéricos de bellota «Joselito» Table of Iberico de bellota «Joselito» Mixed iberian “Joselito”

I’ve mentioned Iberico de bellota in many posts before and if you go to Spain you’d better know what this means as you’ll pay a seriously premium price to get some slices of ham.

Personal Note: Here in flyover Nebraska there is actually a farmer who grows very similar pigs and lets them roam, yes, among oak trees and eat some acorns. AND, there is a gourmet butcher in Fort Calhoun, CURE (just there yesterday) who makes very similar (air dried, no smoke or salt) hams from those pigs, and, yes for a really serious price. I may never had had Spanish Lomo but it’s delicious from CURE.

Callos calluses Tripes

I had to include this one because, well, one reason I want to know about menus in Spanish is there are things I choose not to eat and this is one of them. Given Google can’t translate it, I’m glad I’ve got this in my lexicon.

And just for fun

Coulant de chocolate Chocolate coulant Chocolate fondant

chocolate is the literal word in Spanish for the same word in English (and nearly the same in French) BUT it doesn’t belong to any of these languages since it’s really xocolātl, so even Spanish has plenty of loanwords. But what about coulant, which is really a French word, meaning flowing, but interesting fondant in Spanish but that’s just another French word. And there is no English word, so if you don’t know what this is, there is no point in trying to translate.

So after a long post, you’re probably ready for dessert, so how about

Crema de yogur con mango crujiente y sirope de fresa Yogurt cream with crispy mango and strawberry syrup Yoghurt cream with crispy mango and strawberry syrup

Looking at the words on menus only reveals a bit about dining. Knowing a bit more about cooking, in general and Spanish in general, helps a lot. But if a person only had one chance to go to this restaurant and wanted to get the most interesting items some discussion with, hopefully, knowledgeable, waiter is essential.

So one conclusion from all this is that the basic idea of my project, translating food, is fundamentally a failure. One can translate words, or even combinations or words, and still have little idea what a menu item is.

Translation, as it is said in math, is a necessary, but not sufficient condition.

Serious dining in San Sebastián

I’ve been moving to return to doing posts about translating restaurant menus after nearly 500 days of spending most of the my free time working on learning Spanish instead of studying menus. I’ll comment more about this in a future post I’m working on, but as luck would have it I bumped into a subject that requires this post now.

I’ve been fortunate in life to, very rarely, have some superb dining experiences but nothing like I’ll show you here. Interestingly my most fantastic (nearing the level of this San Sebastián restaurant) were in Tokyo or in Beijing, which was expense account business dining (ridiculous companies get the tax write-offs but that didn’t stop me from enjoying my luxury). And for a few very special occasions I’ve indulged in luxury, but again never at this level.

What do I mean? Well how about 240€ per person! And with no drinks! (and given the look of their wine cellar I’d guess that would double the tab). I can’t quite even imagine blowing $1000 for our next anniversary dinner (though it might be fun).

Anyway I’ll get on with this subject. I bumped in an article about one of my favorite people, Lidia Bastianich (I’ve managed to at least go to her restaurant in Kansas City, nothing like this place). In the article she’s talking about her five favorite dinners and she mentions:

Hotel Akelarre

in the hills west of San Sebastián. The hotel itself is really beautiful (and seriously expensive) but its restaurant is over the top. Now I’m sure Lidia can afford this, and as a famous chef she got the VIP treatment I can’t even imagine, but can only dream about. But it’s places like this that make me think about my life choice to pursue “interesting” work over a more lucrative option, but, no regrets, I’ll settle to just dream, especially also the beautiful site (search for this in Google Maps for some fantastic photos)

They have three set menus (9 courses, choice for “main” course, each 240€) that look fantastic. I’ve extracted the menu in Spanish and the English (from the website) and then appended the Google Translations. Of course there is a lot of “exotic” culinary vocabulary on top of the ordinary Spanish. So I’ll come back to some parts of this menu in a future post, but here it is now (a little easier than scanning the website).

First I’ll post the text and human (&Google) translations that explain the three menus I post after that.

La fórmula de menú degustación tiene tres propuestas variadas diseñadas a conciencia para que disfrutéis de la alta gastronomía desde todos los sentidos y puntos de vista.


Los clásicos de AKELARRE es una fórmula con la que conocerás nuestra cocina a través de platos que llevan muchos años en nuestra carta.


Los Menús Aranori y Bekarki son dos variantes que te ofrecemos para combinar diferentes opciones que incluyen nuestras últimas recetas.

We propose three choices of thoughtfully curated tasting menus, designed to offer you an unforgettable dining experience you will thoroughly enjoy.




The Akelarre Classics is a selection of the most representative dishes of our cuisine through the years,



whilst the Aranori and the Bekarki are two proposals that combine signature dishes and our latest creations.

The tasting menu formula has three varied proposals carefully designed so that you enjoy haute cuisine from all senses and points of view.




The AKELARRE classics is a formula with which you will get to know our cuisine through dishes that have been on our menu for many years.


The Aranori and Bekarki Menus are two variants that we offer you to combine different options that include our latest recipes.

and following the menus I’ll post a quick (edited, generic or non Spanish removed, but a few Basque left in) lexicon of the vocabulary from these menus – see how many of these words you know. OR, guess how many one might learn in 500 days of generic Spanish lessons (hint: not many)

Note: The first column is Spanish (from Website, minor editing), the restaurant’s English translation (definitely human) and the third column is the literal Google Translate with a few of the amusing and classic mistakes.


Huevo con Caviar sobre puré de Coliflor y Mantequilla de Cebollino. Egg with caviar over cauliflower purée and chive butter. Egg with Caviar on Cauliflower Puree and Chive Butter.
Ostra a la parrilla con salsa Ostra. Grilled oyster with oyster sauce. Grilled oyster with oyster sauce.
Xangurro en Ensalada de Hojas. Txangurro (crab) in leaf salad. Xangurro in Leaf Salad.
Finísimo y ligero Tartar de Buey, nueva Patata Soufflé y Pan de Hierbas Aromáticas. Very thin and light beef tartare, new potato soufflé and aromatic herbs bread. Fine and light Beef Tartar, new Potato Soufflé and Aromatic Herb Bread.
Merluza al Vapor de Algas. Plancton y Hoja de Ostra. Hake in seaweed steam with plankton and oyster leaves. Algae Steamed Hake. Plankton and Oyster Leaf.
Calamar como un Risotto, Flor de Mantequilla. Risotto-like squid, butter blossom. Squid like a Risotto, Butter Flower.
Pojarski de Cierva, Especiado. Spiced Deer, pojarski. Pojarski de Cierva, Spicy.
o or or
Lomo de Cordero y Rulo de Hierbas Frescas. Loin of lamb and fresh herbs roll. Lamb Loin and Fresh Herb Roll.
El Postre de la Leche de Oveja. Sheep’s milk dessert. Sheep’s Milk Dessert.
Refrescante de Cítricos Exóticos. Exotic citrus fruits refresher. Refreshing Exotic Citrus.
240€ (IVA incluido) – Bebidas aparte €240 (VAT inc.) – Drinks not included € 240 (VAT included) – Drinks apart



Gambas con Vainas al Fuego de Orujo y huevas del mar. Prawns and green beans on orujo fire and sea roe. Prawns with Pods in Orujo Fire and roe from the sea.


Las hojas y el Foie bajo la lluvia. Kokotxa, Emulsion de Pipas de Calabaza Pan de Ajo y Perejil. Leaves and foie gras in the rain.

Kokotxa, pumpkin seeds emulsion, garlic and parsley bread.

Leaves and Foie in the rain. Kokotxa, Emulsion of Pumpkin Pipes Garlic Bread and Parsley.
Infusión de Caldo Verde, Cigala y Rape Ahumado. Green broth, langoustines and smoked monkfish infusion. Infusion of Green Broth, Norway Lobster and Smoked Monkfish.
Pulpo mimético. Mimetic octopus. Mimic octopus.
Lubina “UMAMI”. Sea bass “Umami”. Sea bass “UMAMI”.


Presa de Ibérico a la Brasa, Risotto de semillas de Pimiento y Ajo en tres variantes. Grilled Iberian “presa”, three versions of pepper seeds and garlic risotto. Grilled Iberian pork, Pepper and Garlic Risotto in three variants.
o or or
Pato Azulón Glaseado y Etiqueta Especiada. Glazed blue duck and spiced label. Blue Glazed Duck and Spicy Label.
“Un Poco de Queso antes del Postre”. “A bit of cheese before desserts”. “A Little Cheese Before Dessert”.
La Otra Tarta de Manzana. The other apple tart. The Other Apple Pie.
240€ (IVA incluido) – Bebidas aparte €240 (VAT inc.) – Drinks not included € 240 (VAT included) – Drinks apart



Los clásicos de AKELARRE The AKELARRE classics The AKELARRE classics
Ensalada de Verduras del Huerto y Bogavante. Garden vegetables and lobster salad. Vegetable Salad from the Garden and Lobster.
Tubérculos en Infusión de Hierbas. Tubers in Herbal Infusion. Herb-Infused Tubers.


Carpaccio de Pasta, Piquillo e Ibérico con Setas y Parmesano. Pasta, Piquillo peppers and Iberico carpaccio with mushrooms and Parmesan. Pasta, Piquillo and Iberian Carpaccio with Mushrooms and Parmesan.
Arroz con Caracoles y Karrakelas en film de Tomate y Albahaca. Snails and periwinkles rice in a tomato and basil film. Rice with Snails and Karrakelas in Tomato and Basil film.
Foie Fresco a la sartén con «Escamas de Sal y Pimienta en Grano». Pan-seared foie-gras with “salt flakes and pepper grains”. Pan-fried Fresh Foie with «Salt and Pepper Flakes in Grain».
Salmonete Integral con “Fusili” de Salsa. Integral red mullet with “fusilli” sauce. Wholemeal Mullet with “Fusili” Sauce.
Trinchado de Vacuno Mayor, Tendón y Piel lacada, “Patatas y Pimientos”. Carved beef, tendon and lacquered skin, “potatoes and peppers”. Carving of Greater Beef, Tendon and Lacquered Skin, “Potatoes and Peppers”.
o or or
Royal de Pichón con Morokil. Pigeon royale with “morokil” (polenta). Royal Pigeon with Morokil.
Gin-Tonic en Plato. Gin & Tonic on a plate. Gin-Tonic on Plate.
“Xaxu” con Helado Espumoso de Coco. “Xaxu” with foamy coconut ice cream. “Xaxu” with Sparkling Coconut Ice Cream.
240€ (IVA incluido) – Bebidas aparte €240 (VAT inc.) – Drinks not included € 240 (VAT included) – Drinks apart

Lexicon of these menus (non food words removed, non Spain words removed); words learned in first 88 lessons in Duolingo (equivalent to a one term generic Spanish class) marked in bold. Basque words in pink. So think about how much of these menus you could “read” with a year of high school Spanish!

ahumado ajo albahaca algas aromáticas arroz azulón bebidas bogavante brasa buey calabaza calamar caldo caracoles cebollino cierva cigala cítricos coco coliflor cordero ensalada escamas especiada especiado espumoso etiqueta exóticos finísimo flor frescas fresco fuego gambas glaseado grano helado hierbas hojas huerto huevas huevo Ibérico incluido infusión integral IVA karrakelas kokotxa lacada leche ligero lluvia lomo lubina mantequilla manzana mar mayor merluza mimético morokil orujo ostra oveja parmesano parrilla pasta patatas pato perejil pichón piel pimienta pimientos pipas piquillo plancton plato Pojarski postre presa pulpo puré queso rape refrescante risotto sal salmonete salsa sartén semillas setas tarta tartar tendón tomate trinchado tubérculos vacuno vainas vapor variantes verduras xangurro xaxu


Breakfast, lunch and dinner

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

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

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

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

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

Santiago’s Restaurant Menus – 2

Unfortunately I don’t have time today for a full explanation of another menu so I’ll just get started. In case a reader might wish to explore some of this material for themselves let me explain how I’m finding restaurants.

For small towns along the Camino it was easy. The Google Maps, either map view or sat photo view, did a good job of showing any food establishment (including bakeries or grocery stores or wineries and such). Clicking on those brings up, usually, lots of photos to examine and sometimes a website.

But for a thorough examination of a city as large as Santiago (with 571 restaurants in one rating system) something more efficient is needed. I found the TripAdvisor website to be quite useful. I’m not endorsing their reviews or ratings per se, but it’s an easy source to study. So, simply, I make my own list in three columns: ranking, restaurant name (scraped off the TripAdvisor page for that restaurant) and then my evaluation of whether there is more information, or in my main priority, either a website with menus or sometimes just the menu link. Let me say, as little as any of these establishments would care, forget silly Facebook pages and get a real website. Maybe you think the world gets all its information from Facebook but I believe a better website would bring you more business. Nothing wrong with a Facebook presence, just don’t make it the only way people find about you. AND, even if it’s just a sample put some menu on your site. Glossary photos and flowery prose doesn’t sell on choosing your establishment but a menu might.

All that said let’s just start on today’s restaurant, one that has dual language on the website, descriptive prose about the restaurant’s culinary philosophy and a helpful menu. I’m talking about Malak Bistro. The homepage seems to be in English but there is a clickable toggle to Spanish.

There is some prose on the page that makes for interesting reading. As usual here’s the three columns: Spanish, their human translation and Google Translate.

Comida Exótica Vegetariana y Vegana Exotic Vegetarian Vegan Food Vegetarian and Vegan Exotic Food
Saludable Flexitariano Healthy Flexitarian Healthy Flexitarian

Now both the description and menu are interesting, but actually this wouldn’t be one of my top choices. That said, my purpose is not merely to study food terms for what I like but to get a complete sample for what might be encountered in Spain so I’m glad to see something different. And I’d be happy to go here with people I know who might make this their first choice.

Now let me just start with their first paragraph of prose.

Situado en la capital de Galicia, el Malak Bistro es un punto de encuentro para los peregrinos que llegan a Santiago de Compostela buscando degustar los sabores de la comida Exotica Vegetariana Vegana & Saludable Flexitariano .

Con ingredientes de primera calidad de origen gallego, los comensales pueden disfrutar de platos típicos de la gastronomía nacional.

Located in the Galician capital, Malak Bistro is a meeting point for the pilgrims that come to Santiago de Compostela and want to taste the Exotic Vegetarian Vegan & Healthy Flexitarian flavours.

The clients can enjoy typical dishes of the International gastronomy, cooked with Premium quality ingredients from Galician origins.

Located in the capital of Galicia, the Malak Bistro is a meeting point for pilgrims arriving in Santiago de Compostela looking to taste the flavors of Vegan and Healthy Flexitarian Vegetarian Exotic food.

With top quality ingredients of Galician origin, diners can enjoy typical dishes of the national cuisine.

Part of what I decided to do as part of my attempt to actually learn Spanish was to supplement what Duolingo provides with my attempts are translation. It was particularly helpful (and interesting) to have human translation as well as the Google Translation. Translation involves choices that goes beyond just “paraphrasing” the original language material (rather than purely literal) but also I found deviating quite a bit from the Spanish (as best I could read it). This poses an additional challenge to anyone trying to use a corpus approach to “train” a translation app, but it presents an interesting teaching experience.

Looking at the words in the first sentence that I marked I spot something unexpected. The Google Translation is more “accurate” (not just crudely literal as it often is). Since I’ve had the verbs llegar (to arrive) and buscar (to look for) in my Duolingo learning I do believe GT is actually more accurate. Now while translation can often have nuance and verbs often have many translations depending on context, these two verbs are fairly clear. In the second sentence there is no way ‘international’ is an accurate translation of nacional BUT I’ll agree, given the cuisine of this restaurant it can be descriptive.

As further indication consider this paragraph again marked.

A través de los aromas de la canela, la pimienta negra, el perejil, la cúrcuma, el curry o el tomillo,

nuestros clientes descubrirán los sabores de la gastronomía de oriente medio. Platos con mucha tradición que se construyen sobre ingredientes como: Verduras, garbanzos, arroz, carne o cuscús.

In our kitchen we use spices like: cumin, cinnamon, black pepper, parsley, turmeric, curry or thyme.

We prepare middle eastern recipes, most of them cooked with vegetables, chickpea, rice, meat or couscous.

Through the aromas of cinnamon, black pepper, parsley, turmeric, curry or thyme,

our customers will discover the flavors of Middle Eastern cuisine. Dishes with a lot of tradition that are built on ingredients such as: Vegetables, chickpeas, rice, meat or couscous.

See ‘cumin’ in the human translation (middle column). That’s nowhere to be found in the Spanish AND there is a Spanish equivalent of ‘cumin’ which is comino. Now given cumin is a word of Middle Eastern origin you might think comino is just a corruption of the original word but after all the word also appears in Latin as cuminum and as Spanish originated with vulgar Latin comino makes sense. (btw: ‘vulgar’ in this context simply refers to language in common use versus more proper “academic” use)

So, combined with the fact the default language of the website appears to be English I would suspect: a) the original material was written in English and translated to Spanish, or, b) perhaps, both English and Spanish are written separately (possibly by different people) and not strictly translations. Another hypothesis that might be more likely is that the “original” menu is not in either English or Spanish and both are translations.

So keep something like this in mind when you try to use your phone to read menus.

Now just one item from the menu to further amplify my deduction. And, btw, it was a challenge to create my side-by-side worksheet since the menu items aren’t in the same order on the Spanish and English versions of the menu. No diner would care about this but it makes for an interesting challenge to do what I’m doing and ALSO means automatic corpus extraction would fail.

(Exotic Siria) Tomate, Lechuga mix, cebolla, pepino, rábano, limón, pan tostado, sumaque. (Vegano)
Exotic Siria – Tomato, cucumber, mix lettuce, onion, radish, lemon, toast Pita, sumaque. (Vegan)
FATOUSH SALAD(Exotic Syria) Tomato, lettuce mix, onion, cucumber, radish, lemon, toast, sumaque. (Vegan)

Looking at the ingredients in both human and Google translation you’ll note the items are not in the same order, though it is the same list. Now this would be a problem for me, if I were composing a corpus of matching pairs (using human translation) but interesting using the Google translation would lead to matching pairs, e.g. (cebollo=onion), (pepino=cucumber) and so forth.

I’ll finish extracting and analyzing this menu to see if there is anything else worth noting in another post.