Entered León Province

I’m finally out of Palencia province and now in León province in autonomous community of Castile and León. “in”, of course, is to be taken figuratively, not literally, as I just finished enough miles on treadmill in the basement to reach Sahagún, the first town along the Camino on east side of León province. 259.98 miles from the start. That’s not many miles for ten months but I’ll also hit another milestone of 6000 miles on stationary bicycle which isn’t too shabby, in fact, more than I used to do for real when I lived in California and real biking outside was feasible.

Now my “progress” on the virtual trek is boring content so I’d hoped to bring you some new tidbits of information about menus, but, alas I couldn’t find any. Between Trip Advisor and Google I had nearly 20 candidate establishments who have food but none have any online menus. Thus I have no source material to examine. And while the pictures (from the few web sites) or geo-located on Google show plenty of food there are no words. This is disappointing since all the small towns all through Palencia haven’t had menus to translate. I didn’t even see a photo of the blackboards outside restaurants that frequently are menus. And the only photo I found of a menu was the English menu and thus not interesting.

So rather than leave you with nothing about translations I also found the 15 most interesting things to do in Sahagún (effectively all related to religion) and so extracted a few words. Silly me for not knowing Iglesia since it is rather common.

Arte Sacro Sacred Art
Castillo Castle
Iglesia Church
Carcel Jail
Monasterio Monastery
Museo Museum
Oficina Office
Palacio Palace
Puente Bridge
Ruta Route
Santuario Sanctuary
Semana Santa Holy Week
Turismo Tourism

So the trek across Castile is still rather boring so I’m actually glad I’m only doing the virtual version.


Virtual trek landscape observations

This isn’t a Spain food post but is my observations, via remote means, about my virtual trek along the Camino. I’ve mentioned that, as an incentive to exercise, I convert miles I do on the treadmill in the basement to position along the GPS track I have of the Camino de Santiago. I then use Google’s Streetview and satellite images to try to “see” what the trek actually looks at where I’m “at”.

What triggered this post was my searching for restaurants along the trek that have online menus. I’ve reached Ledigos in Palencia province of Castilla y León  autonomous community. I’ve been trekking across Palencia for over a month now (an actual trek would be a few weeks). Ledigos has a few places to eat but nothing online I can analyze.  That’s been true of all the various towns along this stretch of the Camino.

In my previous post I talked about extracting Spanish food terms from various online lists. This is useful for expanding the corpus I’m building to then have code extract an extensive vocabulary that would be useful in interpreting menus in Spain and deciding what to (or not to) order. Lists are helpful but not very interesting to process. The Spanish terms with English definitions/translations are just mindless mechanical work (automating processing these lists is very difficult). I don’t mind tedium of this kind of processing but I don’t learn much. The dictionaries or glossaries that are entirely in Spanish are a bit more interesting since I use machine translation of the Spanish to English and often these translations require additional investigation to find out what the terms really mean. That’s a bit more interesting and helps me learn a bit (not just mindlessly accumulate raw data).

But restaurant menus are far more interesting. They often use terms that defy machine translation and thus require a lot of investigation. Thus I learn a lot from these. So being a bit bored with processing lists and not finding any online menus along this stretch of the Camino I used Google maps to find larger towns that are more likely to have menus to see. In the province of Palencia there are not many of these towns; in fact, only the city of Palencia is large enough to provide some online material. And that’s what I’m working on in my food terms part of my adventure and will have some posts on those menus.

So searching the map of Palencia revealed even more of the landscape than I’ve “seen” along my virtual trek. And, frankly, what I see is hot, dry, dusty and boring countryside with sleepy little nondescript towns. A real trek on this stretch would not be very interesting.

Here in Nebraska I have access to three trekking trails that are rural and would require more than a day to walk. First is the nearby MoPac, a rails-to-trails conversion that starts about 20 miles west of Lincoln and goes into the city. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this concept the right-of-way that was granted to build railroads often reverts back to state when the railroad is abandoned. While the railroad was operating the route was transformed to level with gentle curves, either filling in depressions or cutting grades through hills. Here there are numerous small streams so the railroad required bridges and those can be refurbished to provide the walking path. So the MoPac (and others) make for easy and sometimes pleasant walking. Since many of these railroad routes were built when train engines still burned coal (or even wood) there is usually additional area along the side of the tracks so embers didn’t ignite crops or houses. So today the MoPac is overgrown with “wild” brush and trees, often 50m or so on both sides of the trail. As a result hiking is often in the shade, something definitely not the case in Palencia. But there are non-shady stretches along the MoPac that can be seriously hot in summer with intense sun.

A second trail is the Wabash, another rails-to-trails in Iowa. It starts on the south edge of Council Bluffs and continues all the way to Missouri, nearly 70 miles, so more than a day hike. This trails is even more overgrown and shaded than the MoPac. So despite being surrounded by farms, usually within 50m of the trail, it feels more like wilderness. The Wabash goes through a number of towns and a few of those now have refreshment (but not overnight lodging) for trekkers. Doing the entire length of Wabash would take multiple days (possibly doable in one day on a bike, although biking speed on the unpaved trail is much lower than paved road biking, so doing the entire Wabash is harder than doing a Century ride). Thus a trekker would need vehicle support at the end of each day to find lodging. This contrasts with the Camino which has lodging, water and food at convenient daily hiking intervals, undoubtedly one of the main appeals of the Camino, all the infrastructure to support peregrinos.

In segments (and recording with my GPSr) I’ve done the full length of both of these trails and very much appreciate that the states chose to use the abandoned right-of-way for recreation. But in some ways I view these trails as practice (or an appetizer) for a real long-distance trek.

So now I’ll tie this together with Palencia. A third long-distance trail is the Cowboy Trail. Nominally (except it’s unfinished) it could be the longest trekking trail in the US. It’s a bit longer drive for me to reach it (I can get to MoPac or Wabash in an hour) so I don’t normally consider hiking any of it. But the Cowboy Trail is right next to a highway I driven multiple times. So it turns out the Cowboy Trail is very similar to the Camino, at least the long stretch in Castilla y León and especially Palencia province. It has little shade and so also is hot and dry and flat and passes through either monotonous fields of corn or soybeans and further west (even drier) through pasture land. It looks a LOT like the Palencia stretch of the Camino.

In my other hobby I do an online recreation called Geodashing.  This involves trying to reach completely random “dashpoints”, just a latitude and longitude. Geodashing requires getting within 100m of the coordinates without trespassing on private land so I take each month’s new set of dashpoint (about 30,000 each month, worldwide) and analyze if I can reach them (i.e. drive close, often on very remote and sometimes poor roads). As a consequence, having done this for over 10 years, I’m pretty good at analyzing countryside by satellite photos and sometimes Google Streetviews. Looking down from space on features on the ground takes some practice to imagine what there is at ground level. So I’ve had lots of practice with this and thus far doing the same for the Camino route I think I have a good idea of what is around the Camino route. For the Camino there are actually far more Streetview paths (the Google cars seem to have gone on all the little roads in Spain, more so than here in the Great Plains). I’m sure it would be difference to experience it for real but I think I have a good idea about the landscape.

I first learned of the Camino de Santiago from the movie The Way. Later I learned there are actually many branches of the Camino and so more correctly the part of the Camino I’m following is The French Way, aka, Camino Francés. While this is a very ancient pilgrimage route it was closed during the Moorish occupation of Spain but now is the most popular route. The movie makes the Camino far more visually appealing since it mostly shows scenes in Navarra and Galacia; both of these are wetter (thus greener and often wooded, more like wilderness backpacking trails) and have significant topography (i.e. the Pyrenees). But the bulk of the French Way is actually in flat and boring farm country. While the crops in Spain are different than the Cowboy Trail in Nebraska farmland is farmland and not the appealing scenery of other parts of the Camino.

But wrapping this long post up I want to comment on another interesting feature. That is the relative lack of human habitation outside the small towns.

Several decades ago I did an organized bicycle trip through southern Germany and Austria. Many people on that ride were from the midwest US so we discussed differences between rural areas in Germany vs the US. A very pronounced and obvious difference was the lack of farmhouses out among the fields. It seemed, since on a bike we notice hills, that all the farmers lived in small towns on hills and only crops are present in the bottomlands. At first we speculated this was a historical defensive choice as farming is many centuries older than in the US and Europe had a whole flock of wars. But we later learned the more obvious answer was that hills are drained and dry and so not very good for crops so houses were built there leaving the better-watered areas just for crops.

So that is another very noticeable difference between the three tails I described here in Nebraska and the Camino. When you can see beyond tree cover there are farmhouses everywhere on the Nebraska trails. And from the satellite and Streetview images there are almost none in Spain, just like Germany. The other really noticeable difference (which is correlated with lack of farmhouses) is that fields here are much larger and usually quite regular. This is a consequence of the land policies in the US where the government acquired vast tracts of “empty” land (as the sarcasm goes, “stolen fair and square” from the original peoples) and made these easily available to homesteaders. Thus, at least west of Ohio, most of the farm country in midwest US has a grid of roads (many now abandoned but still visible in satviews) on one mile spacing, aka, “section lines”. A section in the US is 640 acres or one square mile. In fact, an completely different geographical reference system is used, known a township/range and section than longitude or latitude.

The homestead act allow people to acquire a quarter section (160 acres) often free or at least very cheaply. So often each square mile had four farm houses, now with many abandoned. Unlike the irregular patchwork quilt of fields I see in Palencia fields here are almost entirely regular (not true in the older parts of the US, i.e. the eastern states).

In the US those original homesteads have mostly been consolidated into larger blocks of land. With automation it’s entirely feasible (and economically necessary) to farm at least an entire section if not several sections. At the time when this land was originally opened (19th century) such large farms were not feasible.

I happen to know all this as I am in the process of obtaining title to a “small” farm in Oklahoma where my mother’s family lived. That farm is a mere 80 acres, 1/2 of the original tract of the typical quarter section of land grants. Before WWII it was feasible for a family to live on such a small farm, raising some crops for income and others for personal consumption. The titles to the land I will inherit are a mess, stretching back to the early 20th century. But one feature of land ownership, now reversed with “corporate” farming, was original tracts get divided through inheritance. So my little 80 acre farm will have three owners (once all the legal process is completed). My father’s family farm was divided among 14 owners. So in the US there are these two competing trends, dividing larger tracts into smaller ones and then (usually through sale by heirs who don’t want the farm or small farmers who can’t economically farm such a small tract) into much larger tracts.

Now looking at the aerial view of Palencia it’s clear the process of subdividing land has been going on a very long time and thus creates the patchwork quilt of small tracts. When I toured Portugal two decades ago, especially in the area south of Lisbon the “modern” trend typical here in the US was occurring. Small farms were not economically viable once Portugal joined the EU so small tracts were being consolidated into larger ones. Much of the farm country south of Lisbon looks a lot like the midwest US. In fact, I was surprised to see the center pivot irrigation systems sprouting up with equipment that was produced in Nebraska (the origin of the invention of center pivot irrigation, now home to most of the producers of that system). Palencia seems to have escaped this consolidation process but I suspect some of the competitive economic pressures of the EU will lead to more consolidation in Spain as well.

So the lack of farmhouses actually out on the land is, I speculate, primarily economic (not defense). Land is simply too valuable to waste by building even just farmhouses on it. So the farmers live in the small villages in a more urban land use pattern. Since the farms are still small in Palencia there are many villages, as there were in Germany as I found one my bike ride there.

Having so many villages, often just a few kilometers apart, was very handy for our ride in Germany. Most of the towns had at least a gasthaus and often a market and/or a bakery. This made obtaining food and water easy. If a town didn’t have what we needed the next town was 20 minutes away. But that’s on a bike. Walking the towns are a couple of hours apart and of course that’s what I’m seeing on the Camino. Most of the small towns on that route have one or more albergues. It wouldn’t surprise me that on peak days peregrinos out number the local citizens. When I was looking off the Camino in Palencia the amount of lodging and restaurants, in the villages, declined, for the obvious reason they wouldn’t have many customers.

Now this is where I can make another comparison observation. Through geodashing I’ve been through a large number of small villages, mostly here in the Great Plains. And these villages are wasting away. If they were big enough to have some shops the now nearby Walmart (outside the taxing authority of the town) has driven those out of business (now Amazon is helping finish the job as seeing delivery trucks in the middle of nowhere is now much more common than when I first started geodashing). So these towns are dying. As a result they have few resources, either food or lodging for travelers. So along the three trails I described here long-distance self-supported trekking is basically impossible.

So what does all this mean? For me it has reduced my interest in doing the Camino. Too much of the route is this boring and hot/dry countryside with boring little towns (from Streetview also with many abandoned buildings like towns here in the midwest). Simply not very interesting.

Now the Camino was really not for recreational tourism. Its origin was the religious notion of pilgrimage. Where the route was interesting or the towns were interesting is mostly irrelevant from the classical pilgrimage POV. But all those little towns with resources for trekkers has meant most modern pilgrims are largely doing recreational tourism. And that would have been my focus. In my younger days I did quite a bit of backpacking on the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail. Well my days of sleeping on the ground and eating freeze-dried food are over, my old bones want a bed and hot food. So a long hike on wilderness trails in the US was not on my agenda. So seeing the movie, The Way, I thought the Camino looked like a great alternative. Also with lodging and food the backpack can be a lot lighter than my wilderness backpacking. So it looked attractive.

But now, after my virtual trek, it looks less interesting. Spain is still appealing but I suspect I’d do my conventional tourism (with a car and mostly cities) if I get the chance to go. So I might see bits of the Camino (as I have the Cowboy Trail here) but I doubt I’ll walk it. This is disappointing to me to see the reality of the Camino as rather different than the romanticized view of the movie. The Camino can still be great, certainly as religious or spiritual pilgrimage or as a way to meet a lot of people with the many hours of trekking as an opportunity for conversation. But I was looking at it more like doing the Appalachian Trail but with beds and restaurants. And I think that’s what I’ve learned – too much of the trail would be just hot and dusty and tiring. Many people find the Appalachian Trail fairly boring, often called the “green tunnel”. While there is some spectacular scenery much of the AT is just walking through dense trees with no sights visible. The Pacific Crest Trail, OTOH, is much higher and much of it (at least the California stretch where I’ve backpacked) is dry and so there are some grand vistas.

So it’s all a question of what goals one has for a walk. I liked the Pacific Crest Trail but am now too old to do that. And now it looks like the Camino is out too.

So where do I look now?

cata de vinos

I’ve been spending a lot (too much?) time trying to mine Spanish terms associated with wine. Discovering a large list of these is only somewhat useful for reading menus in Spain which is the primary purpose of my project. But sometimes you look where the light is, not where your keys are (this is a cliche in USA, perhaps not obvious to others).

Anyway cata de vinos is not quite what it says literally. The literal translation is simple – ‘wine tasting’, something rather obvious that any of us do when we drink wine, at a restaurant or at a party or wherever. BUT, there is a more formal meaning which is spelled out in this Spanish language Wikipedia article.  This is the kind of tasting “professionals” do to write all those articles (or a description of a particular wine on a menu) in all that wonderful (and frankly somewhat snobbish) wine jargon.

Any kind of tasting that involves comparative analysis requires training but also requires a vocabulary that can be fairly precisely defined and used by different tasters in the same way. We amateur wine “tasters” often don’t really know these terms.

I was surprised to find a number of fairly detailed sources, in Spanish (both the terms and definitions) covering “official” cata de vinos. While many of these terms would not have a precise (or sometimes any) meaning to us amateurs it’s still worthwhile to attempt to dig them out.

So this has been a long duration for me doing this since I found such rich and extensive, but difficult to process sources. By now I’d hoped to provide a more complete post on this subject but I’m still not done so this is just a fragment to demonstrate some of the issues of decoding vocabulary like this, especially for a non Spanish-speaker.

The source I’ll discuss here is Vocabulario del Vino that is reached by the Glosario tab at a site © 2011-2017 Enominer.  Try as I have I can’t actually figure out who/what Enomier is! (no translation I can find)    It is a web domain name as per https://www.enominer.com/ but it doesn’t have an About… to actually figure out what this is. I suspect it’s a publisher of magazines about wine but that’s just a guess. The page name containing the glossary is diccivino.html which, again I’m guessing, I think just a contraction of diccionario and vino. And in the many searches I’ve done trying to expand on the definitions here I seem to have encountered very similar lists at other URLs so despite the © at this site (no idea if it really is their copyrighted material or a copy from elsewhere) some/all of this glossary is published elsewhere on the web. Which, btw, doesn’t help me when I search to just find what I already have as text from this glossary. The sub-heading under the name at this site just says:

cultura del vino, desarrollo rural y ciencias de la tierra Wine culture, rural development and Earth sciences

As explanation of their glossary the webpage explains that it is presenting a formal terminology.

Toda ciencia o materia cuenta con un conjunto ordenado y sistemático de términos y de su correspondiente significado.

La viticultura y la enología no son una excepción.

Aún siendo comúnmente admitido que la cata de vinos es una acción de los sentidos que aprecian sensaciones de aromas y sabor con un contenido más subjetivo que objetivo,
no es menos cierto que hay un conjunto de normas y reglas no escritas que permiten traducir las apreciaciones sensoriales que influyen principalmente en la cata de un vino (vista, olfato y gusto) en valores que pueden comprobarse de una forma objetiva.

All science or matter has an ordered and systematic set of terms and their corresponding meaning.

Viticulture and winemaking are no exception.

Although it is commonly accepted that wine tasting is an action of the senses that appreciate sensations of aromas and flavor with a more subjective than objective content,
it is no less true that there is a set of rules and unwritten rules that allow the translation of sensory appreciations that influence mainly in the tasting of a wine (sight, smell and taste) in values ​​that can be checked in an objective way.

They divide their glossary in four sets:

Términos relativos al color Color-related terms
Términos relativos al aroma. Terms related to the aroma
Términos relativos al sabor. Terms related to taste
Otros términos. Other terms

So I’ve been churning through these using both Google and Microsoft to do the translations. So as a fragment of this work here are a few terms (from the sabor/taste set under R):


Vino oxidado, licoroso y seco. Es un defecto en los vinos de mesa, pero no en los vinos generosos.

stale Rancio

Rusty, dry and dried wine. It is a flaw in table wines, but not in generous wines.

Oxidized wine, liqueur and dry. It is a defect in table wines, but not in generous wines. 

Purple text is the Google Translation and black text is the Microsoft (inside MSWord translation). Note that Google doesn’t translate rancio to ANY English word. This has been common in analyzing the cata terms as many don’t seem to have a direct English equivalent and thus require a lot of research to make a guess. Microsoft picked ‘stale’. Looking at my usual two online dictionaries, spanishdict.com and Oxford I get a variety of English terms for rancio:  rancid (the obvious cognate), mellow (interesting this is the wine sense), ancient, long-established, stale (bread sense), antiquated, old-fashioned, sour and unpleasant. That’s a lot to choose from to decide what rancio means in the cata sense; IOW, how would a professional taster apply this term and if they were also fluent in English what English term would they use?

So we look at how it is defined. In the first phrase of the definition:

Vino oxidado, licoroso y seco.

Google and Microsoft have some significant difference. MSFT translates oxidado as ‘rusty’ (a valid dictionary literal translation) but Google uses the more appropriate ‘oxidized’. Even a somewhat amateur taster like me is familiar with ‘oxidized’ as a flaw in wine and ‘rusty’ is a chemical oxidation process but not likely to really apply in this case.  Likewise for licoroso  MSFT and Google disagree and in my research I think both are wrong (although Google’s liqueur  is closer.  licoroso is a concept that doesn’t really have a single English equivalent, only a definition which is ‘strong; of high alcoholic content’.

So we still haven’t quite got this figured out but the critical clue lies in the next sentence and the words vinos generosos. Both Google and Microsoft translate this literally (generous wines) BUT in this case this is a very specific word pair that really means a type of sherry as explained in this source which indicates generoso is a regulated term of Consejo Regulador.

Now actually this issue (sherry versus table wines) has occurred many times in studying the cata vocabulary.  I’ve learned that Spain is actually the leading wine producer (by volume) in the world, surpassing both France and Spain and also easily California (which as a former citizen, to me, is US, when it comes to wine). Simply put the fortified sherry wines are quite different from the lower alcohol table wines and thus tastes, aroma (bouquet) and color attributes can be quite different.

So in this case this source is telling us that an acceptable (possibly desirable) taste in sherry is not attractive in table wines BUT it is hardly the same as rancid (I doubt even in sherry this is good) or oxidized or any of the other translations of rancio. So if I were forced to pick an English equivalent I would go with ‘mellow’/’ancient’. And this shows the problem – these words don’t really describe this taste but none of the other translations do either.

In short, especially trying to understand the specialized vocabulary of cata de vinos you really have to have experience tasting, in Spain, in the context of all the wines available in Spain. It’s basically not possible to translate this over to English.

And since rancio looks a lot like rancid so a non-Spanish speaker who saw this as a term describing a wine it’s unlikely they’d try it, which, according to this, they shouldn’t if it is table wine but should if it’s sherry.

I had planned to discuss several other R taste terms but this post is already too long so I’ll merely mention one more:


Es el aroma de menor intensidad que el olfato que se percibe por vía interna desde el paladar cuando respiramos por la boca con una pequeña cantidad de vino en la cavidad bucal.

Aftertaste Retronasal

It is the aroma of less intensity than the smell that is perceived by internal way from the palate when we breathe through the mouth with a small amount of wine in the oral cavity.

It is the aroma of less intensity than the smell that is perceived internally from the palate when we breathe through the mouth with a small amount of wine in the oral cavity.

Again the stuff in purple is Google’s Translation. Interestingly Microsoft actually picked a translated English word (aftertaste) for retronasal. But to my eye retronasal doesn’t even look Spanish at all and thus might be a loanword from English. In fact it is. But what does it mean? Actually finding a description of this in English wine tasting sources shows approximately the same thing as the translation (almost identical between Google and Microsoft) of the definition.

The funny thing is I didn’t know what retronasal meant BUT I’ve actually done exactly what it’s definition describes (if I was told this term I’ve forgotten but I don’t believe I ever knew it). Not long after moving to California and just as California was becoming a major player in wine (hard to believe it once was poorly regarded, decades ago) I took a course on California wines and how to do tasting at a community college in the Bay Area. We were actually taught how to do this – take a sip, hold the wine in your mouth, open your mouth slightly and breathe in. The sensation one gets is entirely different than just tasting (mouth closed) or the aftertaste (breathing in after swallowing). And if you’ve ever watched a professional tasting you see the tasters doing this (and of course, also spitting out the possibly very expensive wines they’re tasting).

Anyway this diversion in my project has taken a lot of time and hasn’t provided a great deal of material to put in my corpus for my menu translation app but it has certainly provided a lot of opportunity to see challenges in translation.

So I’ll leave you, Dear Reader, with a couple of quiz questions.


Vino con contenido carbónico perceptible al paladar y visiblemente observado al descorchar la botella. El gas carbónico procede de su propia fermentación y da sensación picante y agradable


Wine with carbonic content perceptible to the palate and visibly observed when uncork the bottle. Carbon dioxide comes from its own fermentation and gives a pungent and pleasant feeling


Vino alterado por las quiebras, que afectan al color.


It was altered by bankruptcies which affect the color.

What English equivalent would you use for aguja and quebrado?

And there are about 50 more of these just in this source!


Left Burgos …

… the province, not the city which I left a long time ago.

Like most Americans I have limited sense of geopolitical subdivisions of Spain. Several years ago I learned about the autonomous community divisions and probably know most of them. But these are in turn (sometimes) divided into provinces which don’t really correspond (most of the time) to states in USA or provinces in Canada.

Thus I didn’t really expect to be crossing into a new province, Palencia in Castilla y León autonomous community (the largest in Spain). I discovered this from converting my basement treadmill “hiking” miles along a GPS track of the Camino de Santiago. The best I can do for now is then look at satellite or streetviews on Google Maps to get a clue of what it might be like to be at that spot along the Camino.

So I noticed the Puente Fitero which looks like a relatively new (and attractive) bridge over the rio Pisuerga. That’s approximately the boundary of Burgos and Palencia provinces and my accumulated treadmill “hiking” of 213.8 miles puts me just past Itero de la Vega.  After Palencia it looks like León province comes next before finally crossing into Galicia.

Since my previous look at the route of the Camino was from the movie The Way I was unaware of how much of the Camino passes through Castilla y León, which, frankly looks pretty boring.  The movie had far more scenes from Navarra or Galicia, both of which are a lot more interesting (and green and/or hilly). In fact a lot of views I get in Castilla y León look closer to the Central Valley of California or in some cases even the Cowboy Trail here in Nebraska. I’d certainly not be very interesting in hiking those, especially in summer trail, so this part of my “virtual” trek has dampened my enthusiasm for doing the Camino. Maybe only the short western segment (minimum to qualify) would be better.

But I’ll keep doing my basement miles and converting them to my virtual trek as it remains a good incentive for the boredom of exercise.

A few random bits

Rather than a focused post I’ll just catch up on a few disparate items.

First I’m recording another milestone along my virtual trek which is arriving in Burgos. Burgos was one of the main locations in the movie The Way (where Tom’s pack was stolen) and its main feature is the cathedral. A virtual trek, (i.e. actually exercising on a treadmill in the basement and transferred the accumulated miles onto a GPS trace of the Camino de Santiago) may seem silly but it serves two purposes for me: 1) walking on a treadmill is really boring so I need to have some goal and sense of accomplishment, since I need the treadmill exercise (esp. during the winter here) so I’m in shape to do some real outside walking, and, 2) the slow pace gives me a chance to fairly thoroughly investigate the route (using satellite views, Google StreetView (often available on the Camino and I see lots of peregrinos) and Points of Interest (so I look at photos of albergues and restaurants, plus sometimes find menus). It’s certainly not the same as the real thing but better than nothing.

Before reaching Burgos I’d not found any online menus in other small towns on my virtual trek since Logroño so I had begun to extract terms from a couple of glossaries I’d previously found. I’d already spent a long time (previously reported) on the GallinaBlanca online dictionary so I was also interested in seeing whether the two other lengthy lists I’d found would just be redundant. So that led me back to a bit of coding (haven’t done that for a while) in order to automate the comparison (each extract I’d done was in an incompatible format so first my code had to generate a canonical extract to compare). During that process one of my lists just disappeared (I was only about 1/4 done with it). That’s disappointing since it was a good list and had many terms I hadn’t previously found. Crunching through dictionaries or glossaries is very tedious and nowhere nearly as interesting as looking at menus (which is the purpose of my project here). But it’s a different way to get a sufficiently large corpus to feed into the menu translator I’m building.

So with Burgos on the horizon I began, once again, to focus on restaurant menus. In the small towns I find the restaurants directly as Google Maps POI’s which are clickable to get some info (esp. user contributed photos) and perhaps then linked to a website. Those with websites (fairly uncommon on the small places in small towns) might have a textual menu (many just have photos) and that allows me to generate side-by-side Spanish and English (usually translated by Google Translate, sometimes other ways) terms that I’ll feed into my corpus. Without all the fancy deep learning AI Google uses to train their translator I’ll be using a more algorithmic process to train mine, but mostly to spot Spanish terms that have multiple translations and try to determine the best (more on that below).

So for Burgos the area is quite large (you have to zoom in a lot on Google Maps for the POIs to appear) so I used a different approach. There are numerous rating services for restaurants (I only partly trust them here in USA, so no clue whether they work well in Spain) so just because it has a convenient format I used the Trip Advisor list, which has a total of 376 restaurants. I’ve only looked through the first 40 or so. Less than half of these have websites and probably only about half of those have text I can scrap off the website (often the menu is a photo or some other type of document where the browser can’t select any text that I can then paste in my working document). So with this vast amount of material I’ve been quite busy with menus, having now crunched through six already (with some stories to tell). And I’ve got enough more to finish to keep me busy as in fact my virtual trek has already left Burgos.

But as a random tidbit, tied to the notion of producing entries for my corpus, is the variable translation of the term ración. And I do mean translation (not definition) and usually by Google. The simplest (and most frequent) literal translation is ‘ration’ but even seeing exactly the same word (although sometimes modified with 1/2) on the same page Google translates it differently and also as ‘portion’ or ‘serving’. That’s a bit of a mystery to me why there is the inconsistency but of course Google claims (in its limited online explanations of how Google Translate works) that it is “context-sensitive” in doing translations (IOW, Google also had a large corpus, mostly of translated material in the United Nations, that their AI analyzed to decide both the translation and the “context”). But within a single website, all about food, one would think the context would always be the same. But it’s not the webpage that represents “context” (I realized) it’s the source corpus where “context” is being deduced. So the notion of using “context” to improve translation doesn’t mean quite what one would think.

Now instead of translation here’s what Oxford has as definitions:

1 Cantidad de alimento que se da en una comida a una persona o animal. Amount of food that is given in a meal to a person or animal.
2 Porción unitaria de algo que puede dividirse en varias partes iguales. Unitary portion of something that can be divided into several equal parts.
3 Cantidad determinada de alimento que se toma como aperitivo entre varias personas o comida informal; suele tomarse como acompañamiento de una bebida en un establecimiento público. Quantity of food that is taken as an aperitif among several people or informal food; It is usually taken as an accompaniment to a drink in a public establishment.
4 Cantidad suficiente de algo, generalmente la que se consume en un solo día o a intervalos regulares por una persona o animal. Sufficient quantity of something, usually that which is consumed in a single day or at regular intervals by a person or animal.

Since porción is literally portion it makes some sense to have that as a translation (along with ‘helping’ and ‘serving’) the part of the definition that seems to make the most sense in the context of a restaurant menu is #3 (also #2) more than the sense of the literal ‘ration’ (as in #1 or #4, more a military term). But it is also a quantity designation (more than pincho) even if it is only consumed by one person. Now deciding how much a 1/2 or 1/4 ración is yet another challenge but it appears most restaurants do price a 1/2 at more than 50% of the price of a whole, so if you want a whole order it as two 1/2’s will cost a lot more. IOW, you probably need to be able to discuss this with your server, once again evidence that a menu translator (vs fluency in Spanish) is not going to be sufficient.

Finally as yet another random tidbit one dessert item that didn’t translate (as I’ve described before, it just is what it is) was mantecado. It wasn’t heard to find this (I thought it might be a brand but it’s just the name of a cookie) with an interesting description (here) where it is described as being similar to polvorón which has its own Wikipedia page (here) that also that mentions mantecados and says they are not the same as polvorón (you could fool me looking at the pictures in that page).

From that same menu (here) for the item espárragos cojonudos Google Translate doesn’t have English for cojonudos (espárragos is asparagus in case you’re wondering). Tracking down cojonudos with search quickly led to the connection to cojones which is a term many Americans know as part of slang but it’s not clear how ‘ballsy’ would apply to asparagus . But this article assures us the slang meaning is not the relevant one and the more respectable is ‘awesome’ or ‘outstanding’. Furthermore a particular asparagus from Navarra chooses to label itself with cojonudos  so I guess the connection to cojones doesn’t bother them (or maybe they’re not aware of the etymology of cojonudos).


Left La Rioja

These “progress” reports of my virtual trek on the Camino are probably the least interesting posts I make here, but bear with me. But I want to record this progress as a kind of journal. I’ll attempt to spice up these posts with some personal story.

In this case today, with my increased mileage on my basement treadmill, I passed through the town of Redecilla del Camino. As I always do I used Google maps to “explore” any POI (points of interest) Google notes. These include both the restaurants I find to use as source material for my Spain food terms corpus, but also lodging, stores, etc. So when I was looking at an albergue in Redecilla del Camino I noticed the address indicated Burgos.

At first I was confused by this. I am familiar (from a distance) of the city of Burgos as an important place on the Camino but I’m still some distance from there. So digging around a bit I also learned, today, that Burgos is a province, part of the autonomous community of Castile and León. Looking back at the Google map I discovered the boundary between La Rioja and  Castile and León is between Redecilla del Camino and Grañón, the milestone of my last post, so I realized I had crossed this border. I wonder if there is even a sign had I been actually walking.

When I became fascinated with Spain several years ago I attempted to learn the geography and the political entities. Thus I learned a bit about the  autonomous communities as the major divisions of Spain. I tried to memorize what all these were and where they were. Later I learned some of these are then divided in provinces. La Rioja was both province and autonomous community (as well as a regional designation not exactly aligned on the political entities, somewhat like Nebraska is part of the “Great Plains” region of the USA). So it didn’t take very long to “walk” through La Rioja after leaving Navarra.

All this would be familiar to a resident or actual traveler but as someone who has never been to Spain it’s all new. As Sarah Palin once was ridiculed for saying she could see Russia from her home (she’d have to go way west in the Aleutian Islands for that to be true) I “saw” Spain while touring the Algarve in Portugal. I thought about driving a few more hours and at least crossing the border, so I could claim I had at least been in Spain, but that would have been a silly trip (somewhat like I can claim I’ve been in UK/England since I went through an airport there on the way to Portugal). Having merely crossed a border is not the same as an actual visit so I’ll have to wait until I really can visit Spain to claim I’ve been there.

Castile and León appears to be the largest autonomous community and since the Camino seems to cross most of it this will be a long trek. My impression is this area is far enough from the coast to be primarily the hot and dry part of Spain, less influenced by the cooler and wetter weather along the northern coast. My comments in the last post about the appearance of the countryside (not much different than western Nebraska or the Central Valley of California) suggest to me this is probably the least interesting part of the Camino. At least it appears fairly flat and so less strenuous walking but the lack of shade makes me wonder why so many people do the Camino in summer – do they know about this?

Without actually visiting a country it’s hard for an outsider to know much about geography. I’ve been in almost every province of Canada (and 49 of USA states) so I can relate to those from personal memory. But merely looking at maps is no substitute to try to really learn geography of a country by visiting. What I do know is that there is both a strong cultural difference and also gastronomical difference between the autonomous communities covered by the Camino, which, of course, is one of the appealing points, both to visit or just virtually visit as I’m doing.

So while this is not a “real” milestone it is a significant one for my journey. It feels about like going to Texas in the USA. I was born in Texas but left as a child and actually never expected to return. To my surprise I’ve returned a number of times. You can drive long days and still not be out of Texas so I suspect my virtual experience in  Castile and León (even just Burgos province) will be even longer.

So with this post out of the way I can return to my main topics. FOOD!

Menú degustación

Degustación literally means ‘tasting’.  Many of the restaurant menu’s I’m studying, especially the more “upscale” (AKA “expensive”) restaurants offer this kind of menu. Like the Menu del Dia this is a fixed price (prix fixe) but whereas the del Dia seems to be the more common items of the restaurants the degustación seems to be their showcase items.

In the USA ‘tasting menus’ have become more common over the decades I’ve been going to better restaurants. The first memorable one I recall was here in Omaha, at a restaurant specializing in fish with an excellent Peruvian chef (thus some of the Spanish influence). I recall my first time there – we received an invitation for a New Year’s Eve tasting menu (with wine pairing, of course, which is not as obvious that is part of the menus in Spain). The food was excellent and since I was just starting a weight loss program I was pleased, despite relatively high cost, that the portions were small and incredibly tasty. The most beautiful tasting menu I ever had was in a restaurant in Beijing, near the Grand Hyatt (I couldn’t find its name). Bizarrely that place was straight out of LA and possibly the fanciest restaurant in my experience, thankfully on expense account on business travel (although China has AMAZING value at its restaurants, the same place in LA would have been 500% more expensive). It was amazing and a lot of fun as well as tasty, to be surprised by incredible dishes.

The inspiration for this post is my continuing search for restaurants in other regions of Spain, than northern Spain which has been my primary focus. So I looked at Cartagena in Murcia, near the Mediterranean coast with the assumption I’d see either local items or more seafood influence. The menu that is the source of this post comes from Magoga (website) and its tasting menu.

As a small digression, triggered by the idea that one item from this menu seems to relate (after some translation research) to molecular gastronomy. In many ways Spain is the prime mover on this. For many years elBulli (now closed, but still has website) and Ferran Adrià was the top ranked restaurant in the world. More recently the world’s top restaurant has been French Laundry in Napa Valley California. I’ve never been able to afford (or at least justify the luxury) of dining there with the price of their tasting menu and wine pairings easily exceeding $500 per person.

OTOH, my first encounter with fine dining was also in Napa (when I still lived in the San Francisco Bay Area) at Domaine Chandon, which as I was searching for its link, now, sadly, seems to be closed. Domaine Chandon was my first luxury restaurant and over the years it began my personal indicator of inflation and what I could afford. It was always expensive but still reachable (with Silicon Valley high tech salary) for at least special occasions. After my initial visit I returned to treat my sister on her birthday. A better foodie than me she taught me that discussing the menu (even off menu items) with servers enriched the experience. Some of the servers I encountered were students at the nearby California Culinary Academy (undoubtedly working at Domaine Chandon for handsome tips plus experience at top notch restaurant). These people were very knowledgeable about the menu and thus discussing it with them added to the experience. I still can remember the fabulous house smoked trout appetizer that I would have never ordered without the pitch from the waiter. But as I’ve grown older and been lucky enough to eat at many fine restaurants I’ve become more disappointed. Domaine Chandon was a special occasion for me and an delightful experience. At one visit we were joined by some golfers at an adjacent table. Unlike us this was routine for them and they wolfed down their food like I would eat at a fast food restaurant. That made me realize I’m not one of the 1% and thus unlikely to ever enjoy the tasting menu at French Laundry (which I saw on a foodie show, but have never been able to afford in person) so elBulli was also a place I only “virtually” experienced through a TV special.

Be that as it is Magoga (and others I’ve seen) I might be able to experience if I could somehow get to Spain.

But on to some items from the menu itself.

Snacks Snacks

I guess the word for ‘snacks’ in Cartagena is snacks, no idea what this item might be. But this item is a bit more interesting:

Langostinos, coliflor, pomelo y crema de sus cabezas Prawns, cauliflower, grapefruit and cream of their heads

Yes, cabezas does literally mean ‘heads’ and I assume this applies to the langostinos, not the coliflor or pomelo.  I know enough cooking to use the shells from peeled shrimp to boil in water and reduce to use as a tasty base for a sauce, but with research it appears adding the actual heads of the shrimp enriches the shrimp stock even more. The only time I was invited to eat the head of a shrimp was a beautiful bento box in Japan (I declined, still not that adventuresome diner).

Ensalada de cebolla asada y salazones Salad of roasted and salted onions

salazones was a mystery, literally it simply means ‘salted’. But salted what, the onions? The photo at the website didn’t clarify this but it was an interesting presentation in a “submarine” ceramic plate.

Papada de chato, guisante del campo de Cartagena y trufa melanosporum Double chin, pea from the field of Cartagena and truffle melanosporum

This is a perfect item for research. papada does literally translate as ‘dewlap’ or ‘double chin’. chato was a bit harder to find but it appears to be a breed (the source says “brood”) of pig unique to Murcia. “local” is a big deal in contemporary cuisine. As far as I can tell chato is not DO but does seem to be something “local”. One of my other experiences with ‘tasting menus’ was another restaurant, here in Omaha, that, by invitation only, did special items, with the wine pairings, where the chef explained each item, down to the actual supplier of the ingredients and the sommelier then explained his wine choice to go with the item – a lot of food but a bit too pricey for our routine consumption. I can’t quite imagine eating the double chin of any pig but I’m told (not having direct experience) these odds bits of the animal are more tasty than the common cuts (please, recall my post on Iberian “secret”, something similar to skirt steak, that is available online for about $60/lb, sorry, I’ll skip that).

Colmenillas a la crema y alcachofas en dos texturas Morello with cream and artichokes in two textures

Google Translate got colmenilla correct in other parts of the menu from this restaurant so I have no idea why it picked ‘morello’ than simply ‘morel’ which, interestingly for me, led to my first attempt at a food dictionary. I once visited a restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea California where the menu was entirely in Italian. Fortunately everyone there spoke English so I was to inquire about one of the dishes and had this fabulous veal dish with morels (the more favorable Italian dried). Coming to Nebraska one of my in-laws harvested morels in the wild around here but they were nowhere near as good as I had in Carmal.

But it was really the en dos texturas that inspired this post. A search for just texturas revealed little, but en texturas did lead to this source:

Spherification is a spectacular cooking technique we introduced at elBulli in 2003 which enables us to prepare recipes that no-one had even imagined before. It consists of the controlled gelification of a liquid which, submerged in a bath, forms spheres.

I recognized the name Ferran Adriá from my virtual experience with elBulli (I watch a lot of foodie TV even if I’ve never visited these places). So this is my guess, that the restaurant in Cartagena was probably influenced by elBulli, so I think my guess as to the meaning of en texturas is at least plausible.

And then there is this item from the tasting menu:

Arroz de conejo y butifarra Rabbit and butifarra rice

A search for butifarra yielded this plausible result, but there it is called botifarra. That is the Catalan term for this sausage and the more general term in Spain is butifarra. Another item:

Pichón de Bresse con su jugo Pigeon of Bresse with its juice

yielded, via search:

The pigeon of Bresse is a pigeon brood coming from the village of Bresse, in France, where they are reared in small farms under strict legislative controls. They are birds with Denomination of Origin.

Again this shows one of the challenges of interpreting menus. I suppose some people have heard of Bresse, as a source of pigeons, but I had to do some research to figure this out.

And finally:

Milhojas de avellanas y cuatro especias Hazelnut and four spices millefeuille

I am guessing Google Translate is correct and mihojas is millefeuille.  But unless you’re more skilled than me as pastry converting a Spanish term to a French term doesn’t help much. At this the article on millefeuille seems to be an adequate description of what is otherwise, sometimes, called a Napolean.

So this was a fun menu to analyze (and probably a very tasty one to actually consume) but it does show some of the challenge of figuring out menus in Spain. The online source for the restaurant didn’t list the precio for this menu but I’d guess it is enough that I’d really want to understand what I was getting before I’d decide I could splurge on it.

Speaking of that I also received this recommendation to try this place, Au Courant, for my next special occasion, my 20th wedding anniversary next week. It will be a splurge but $55 (before wine pairing) is probably cheaper than flying to Cartagena and trying the menú degustación at Magoga which I can at least dream of doing.











No translation – just have to know

I’ve been distracted for over a week and so have fallen behind in my research and virtual trek. The painful toe has held me to hardly any progress along the Camino but I am now a mile outside Santo Domingo de La Calzada and so it was time to look forward to any restaurants there with online menus. I’ve explored one, Los Caballeros, which revealed a few interesting translation challenges. As my regular readers already know I’m developing a corpus of matching pairs of English and (Iberian) Spanish food terms to eventually drive an app to aid travelers in decoding menus in Spain.

Most menus of restaurants in Spain don’t have their own English translation so I’m dependent on Google Translate [GT] (sometimes other tools) to show the English. Google does a credible job but makes interesting mistakes. And it is those mistakes, either failure to translate at all or a silly-looking translation where I start a bit deeper research.

For instance, GT didn’t translate membrilo which is understandable since this is actually a misspelling (or typo) in the online menu for the actual term membrillo which often appears on menus and translates to ‘quince tree’ (this appears to be another case where the plant is masculine and the fruit of that plant is feminine but I’ve rarely seen membrilla and several dictionaries didn’t recognize it (the authoritative one did). So mystery solved in trivial fashion, but let’s continue to see what we find.

Carpaccio de Solomillo de Ternera con Crujientes de Patata y Lascas de Queso Beef Fillet Carpaccio with Potato Crisps and Cheese Flakes

The interesting term to discuss is carpaccio which you can see GT didn’t translate. The main reason for this is this word is not Spanish, in fact it is a loanword from Italian and is the same word in English. So if you’re looking for a translation you’re not going to find it, the word just is itself. But what is it? This is where you also need to be a bit of a foodie to make sense of menus. I’ve only had carpaccio a few times and interestingly the description of it in online sources only partially matches. IOW, you have to know what this food item is to decide to order it (and I know people who aren’t keen on raw meat and I’d have some reservations tied to the care of food handling in the restaurant). And what about alioli, another loanword from Italian. Most foodies would know this one but I doubt my parents would have known when they were in Spain (or even Italy).  And what about this one:

Bacalao a la Plancha con Sofrito y Verduras al Wok Grilled Cod with Sofrito and Vegetables al Wok  (image)

Now soffritto (or its French cousin mirepoix) is probably familiar to most people who watch lots of cooking shows but I was surprised to see it actually on the menu since usually this is just a base for sauces. The sofrito in Spain is not only spelled a bit differently but appears to be a somewhat different item:

In Spanish cuisine, sofrito consists of garlic, onion, paprika, and tomatoes cooked in olive oil.

In case you’re not a foodie, mirepoix (AKA as holy trinity colloquially in USA) is onions, celery and carrots – not paprika or garlic, definitely not tomatoes.

So you get the idea. Some terms that seem to baffle Google Translate are just cooking terms (either direct loanwords or something close) that you’ll just have to know in order to understand what the item is. And then there is something like chorizo. Probably the majority of people in the USA would know something about what this is, but most likely they’re also familiar with the Mexican version of this sausage which is fairly different from the version in Spain, which in turn emphasizes different recipes for the sausage from different areas. GT doesn’t quite get morcilla right (‘black pudding’?). This too is a famous “blood” sausage in Spain and it is quite dark, hence ‘black’ isn’t too far off but ‘pudding’ doesn’t make much sense. And some people might be put off by such an item so it’s appropriate that a traveler actually know what morcilla is and not depend on any form of translation.

Morcilla con Compota de Manzana y Reducción de Vino Tinto Black pudding with Apple Compote and Red Wine Reduction

A few other terms from this menu are some sort of regional reference. The D.O. and D.O.P. is becoming more widespread as branding. It’s not really a big mystery (I’m still convinced the San Marzano tomatoes we grow here in midwest are equivalent to the D.O.C. ones from Italy). So here are a few from this menu: A) Jamón Ibérico de Bellota D.O. Guijuelo, they made this easy (on this menu, not always shown this way) to clue you that Guijuelo is just a geographical reference; (the province of Salamanca in the autonomous community of Castilla y León (which is next door to our current location) – knowing some geography of Spain can be handy to a traveler). And of course you already knew what the Ibérico de Bellota reference means, didn’t you, since it’s about the single most common you’ll encounter (and pay extra for) [in you don’t know, it’s your homework assignment to look it up]. BTW: D.O. Guijuelo is not that big a deal as it appears 60% of the Ibérico comes from there so this is about equivalent to saying “pork from Iowa”; B) Anchoas del Cantábrico is another geographical reference that Google did translate as ‘Cantabrian’ but so what? This online source selling a 4Oz jar of these for $9.99 claims “Cantabrian anchovies are renowned for their quality, …; nothing like the typical anchovies found in supermarkets.” and this had better be true for this price, hopefully less in Spain; C) Pera de Rincón which it turns out has a longer DOP designation, Denominación de Origen Protegida Rincón de Soto, and appears to be a big deal; and last D) Espárragos Extra de la Ribera (GT says: Asparagus Extra of the Bank) – I’ve seen de la Ribera before and already learned that while Ribera translating to ‘bank’ (or sometimes, more helpfully, river bank) is nominally correct this usually is a reference to the bank of the Ebro River whose “bottomland” (as we’d call ribera here) is premium area for a variety of vegetables, note that Espárragos is seen on menu (in northern Spain) also with the designation of de Navarra or de Tudela which almost always refers to the same thing as  de la Ribera, i.e. the famous thick stalks of white asparagus. Now all this may seem to be foodie trivia BUT you’re probably going to pay extra for items with these fancy qualifiers and you’re not going to get a helpful translation from your phone on these so you just need to know.

And here are a couple of other foodie terms from this menu (btw: I consider myself a capable foodie but sometimes miss these as well). Briefly: A) Ensalada de Pularda Confitada where pularda translates to the French term poularde which is then close to the English term pullet, IOW, a young chicken; B) Semifrío de Chocolate where semifrío translates to the Italian semifreddo which doesn’t have any direct English translation, again you just have to know what this is; and, C) the considerably more obscure, Pimientos Rellenos de Brandada de Bacalao where brandada translates to the French equivalent brandade which is ” an emulsion of salt cod and olive oil eaten in winter with bread or potatoes”.

I’m running out of time (and you, Dear Reader, out of patience or interest) so I’ll briefly mention a couple other items that have no translation and appear on this restaurant’s menu: A) Cameros, a particular type of cheese; B) Ajoblanco, a particular kind of soup, sometimes known as “white gazpacho”; C) Pochas, a unique type of bean that looks like ordinary beans, but is “fresh”, meaning it is removed from the green seed pod (like sweet peas) without drying and then cooked – this is very common in this part of Spain; and, D) Caparrón, which is a type of stew with multiple recipes based on a particular bean.

There are even more examples of these, just on this single example of a menu, and these pose a particular challenge to a menu assistance tool (smartphone app). It’s not going to help to translate more accurately than Google Translate (which will certainly be the goal in other cases, such as GT missing apiopia which is the somewhat obscure celeriac. An explanation must be provided (possibly picture even better, getting public access to those is a challenge) and the explanation has to be short enough to help while quickly scanning an menu but sufficient for you to decide if you want to try the item.

For example,

Manitas de Cerdo a la Riojana Handy pig in the Riojana

you know a la Riojana is just in the style of La Rioja (whatever that happens to be, but again something you’d just have to know) but what the heck is a ‘handy pig’? manitas does literally translate to ‘handy’ or more often ‘handyman’ but that doesn’t tell us much. Perhaps this is a better reference and I’d definitely want to know these are pig’s trotter which still takes a bit of thinking to translate that to ‘feet’.  GT doesn’t help you much with callos, which in one case it doesn’t translate at all and in another it translates to calluses. I’ve mentioned this in a previous post so I don’t need to remind you this really, crudely, is ‘guts’. I suspect, unless you’re a totally adventurous eater, you’d want to know this one.

And then finally, this is the item that triggered my research for this post:

Pan de Cristal con Aceite de Oliva y Jamón Ibérico Glass bread with olive oil and Iberian ham
Pan de Cristal con Mozzarella de Búfala y Rúcula Crystal Bread with Mozzarella de Búfala and Rúcula

Google Translate can’t quite make up its mind whether this is ‘glass’ or ‘crystal’ bread. Since I’ve done quite a bit of baking I had to figure this one out. Basically it’s just a variation on ciabatta (a term that probably wouldn’t have been widely known in USA until a couple of decades ago when fast food places starting using it for a bun):

If you have visited Barcelona or the Catalonia region, maybe you have tasted Pan de Cristal, which is the local version of the ciabatta bread. I say it’s a version because there are many things that make this bread so special. The main difference is that the crust is thinner, crispier and more delicate than a ciabatta, and the crumb is lighter and more opened than a ciabatta.

While this description explains the terminology I had to dig a bit to find how the dough itself is altered. Basically sugar and a little olive oil are added. Breads without diary or fat or sweeteners are referred to as “lean breads” (ciabatta itself would fall in this category) and breads with these additions are referred to as “rich breads” (most notably brioche, the famous “cake” of Marie Antoinette’s saying). Like ciabatta it has to be a very wet dough. So this one I’m going to try since I really like crispy crusts.

And, in the second entry you have the interesting  de Búfala, which foodies know as the specific (and best) way to make Mozzarella, i.e. from buffalo milk. And GT missed translating Rúcula to ‘rocket’, which in case you don’t already know is another term for arugula, another term most people in USA wouldn’t have known a few decades ago. Food seems to be the great globalizer for all of us.

So just a single menu of a single restaurant exposes all these challenges, which are also somewhat regional. It gives me a lot to think about as to how I can build my menu assistant app. And it should challenge you, Dear Reader, that unless you’re fluent in Spanish so you can ask about menu items, learning some of this kind of food knowledge will make your menu selections more effective (both getting what you do want and avoiding what you don’t want and knowing if the price is justified).

And one final term from this menu that faked me out:

Tataki de Cerdo Ibérico con Escabeche de Apionabo Iberian Pork Tataki with Pickled Apiopia

Even though tataki doesn’t have a tx in it I leaped to the WRONG conclusion this might be a Basque term. A little research shows it isn’t Spanish but from way on the other side of the world, i.e. Japan. You might have to be chef level of foodie to know this one.


Eating seasonal small dog in Spain – a story of hongo y seta

Actually I didn’t really find ‘small dog’ on a menu even though Google decided to translate perrochicos as ‘doggy’. But one can never be sure what is eaten in other countries. After all I did see ‘dog’ (in English) on menus of street vendors on Wangfujing Street in Beijing (along with scorpions and starfish-on-a-stick).

So why am I off on this strange tack?

I was looking at another menu of a restaurant in Logroño, that goes by the somewhat unusual name of Asador El Tahiti (website), another of the famous dining district, Laurel Street. In this case asador is actually a type of restaurant specializing in grilled food or as Google translates a la brasa ‘to the Brazil’. Come on, Google, a la brasa is one of the various terms somewhat interchangeable with ‘grill’ but in this case it means the food is actually grilled in contact with wood or charcoal fire (unlike a la plancha which is grilling on hot iron). Even I, illiterate in Spanish, know this!

Anyway this restaurant has its menu online but in the unfortunate format, first, in a PDF (not subject to Google Translate) and, even worse, it’s just an image of their menu which means there is no text to select and paste in my analysis documents. This is too bad because the carta is available in both Spanish and English which is always handy for creating word/phrase pairs to feed into my corpus. So, unable to get anything from the menu I at least grabbed some text (from the HTML) on the page that contains the links to the PDF menus. And there I found this fun entry:

Platos de temporada: espárragos, setas, hongos, perrochicos Seasonal dishes: asparagus, mushrooms, mushrooms, doggy

Here note the pair where Google translates perrochicos to ‘doggy‘.  Amusing, so what is the correct translation since ‘doggy’ is unlikely. My standard go-to dictionary, Oxford Spanish, doesn’t have an entry for perrochico but instead suggested I look at perro chico.  All right. I recall in the movie The Way Jobst being called perro which he didn’t understand but was subtitled to ‘dog’ so I vaguely remembered that and anticipated something like that for perro chico. This produced this confusing entry with indication this is usage in Spain:

Perra chica (moneda) Bitch girl (currency)

so all Oxford did was convert perro chico to the feminine perra chica and add the confusing (moneda) which does literally translate to ‘currency’ (really meaning a unit of, like a dollar). Now why Google decided to call this ‘bitch girl’ is amusing but it’s literal and the use of ‘bitch’ is not derogatory but actually what female dogs are called (go check out a dog show and see this term used in that sense). And chica doesn’t have a listing (except a colloquial usage in Mexico) but chico has various meanings that would imply young person and in the -o ending as ‘boy’ so it makes sense Google would decided the -a ending means ‘girl’.

So this was a dead end and I was left with my only other strategy for determining what  perrochico might be. And that is search which didn’t reveal much except there seems to be a town of that name. So as I usually do I added another search term to supply context, i.e. temporada. As a spoiler adding seta would have been better. But I did manage to find this link, Perrechicos, la seta reina de mayo.

And this seems to be the answer that fits the context. Normally I don’t accept a single source but this just matches too well.

Perrechicos, la seta reina de mayo Perrechicos, the mushroom queen of May


El perrechico, protagonista del campo en mayo The perrechico, protagonist of the field in May


El perrechico, identificación de esta seta en el norte de España, es una variedad extraordinaria, de carne blanca y muy tierna lo que la convierte en una de las setas más reputadas de la gastronomía tradicional asturiana.

Esta seta también recibe el nombre de “mixernó” en Cataluña, “usón” en Aragón, o seta de San Jorge en el resto de España.

The perrechico, identification of this mushroom in the north of Spain, is an extraordinary variety of white meat and very tender which makes it one of the most reputable mushrooms of traditional Asturian cuisine.

This mushroom also receives the name of “mixernó” in Catalonia, “usón” in Aragón, or seta de San Jorge in the rest of Spain.


La seta comienza a estar presente en el campo a principios del mes de abril si bien es en mayo cuando, masivamente, en grandes colonias circulares, conocidas como “corros de brujas”, comienza a extenderse por todos los campos de Asturias que tengas las características que propicien la proliferación de este manjar.

En las mejores temporadas, el perrechico puede llegar hasta el final del verano lo que indicará el carácter extraordinario de la temporada.

The mushroom begins to be present in the field at the beginning of the month of April although it is in May when, massively, in large circular colonies, known as “corros de brujas”, it begins to spread throughout all the fields of Asturias that have the characteristics that propitiate the proliferation of this delicacy.

In the best seasons, the perrechico can arrive until the end of the summer which will indicate the extraordinary character of the season.

IOW, this is a seasonal mushroom which is a delicacy and local to northern Spain. Which fits in very well with the other items on this restaurant’s webpage.

So it would appear mystery solved and for me an interesting new source (an online with numerous pages about food items). AND, it presents a clue to another common translation issue: hongo vs seta as mushroom. I’ve mentioned this before with two points: 1) hongo is primarily used outside Spain for mushroom (still true), and, 2) hongo is the cultivated (round button type) mushroom vs seta is the more wild type (like shiitake or chanterelles), which is probably wrong. Here is a more likely explanation:

Diferencias entre los hongos y las setas Differences between mushrooms and mushrooms
La confusión entre hongo y seta es habitual y puede ser que hasta algo común entre los aficionados al mundo micológico sin llegar a profundizar en el mismo, es decir todos aquellos que conocen el nombre de la seta o del hongo pero que mucha más intenso y próximo es su conocimiento gastronómico que la tipología exacta de lo degustado. The confusion between fungus and mushroom is common and may even be something common among fans of the mycological world without going deeply into it, ie all those who know the name of the mushroom or fungus but much more intense and closer it is your gastronomic knowledge that the exact typology of what is tasted.
En realidad, la diferencia es sencilla de interpretar ya que las setas son las fructificaciones de los hongos.

Es decir, el hongo es a la seta lo que el manzano a la manzana.

Actually, the difference is simple to interpret since the mushrooms are the fruiting of the mushrooms.

That is, the fungus is to the mushroom what the apple to the apple.

Todavía más sencillo es diferenciar un hongo de una seta teniendo en cuenta que el primero está bajo tierra y el segundo sobre la misma, a simple vista del aficionado y lo que, por norma general, termina en casa después de pasar un día en el campo. Even more simple is to differentiate a mushroom from a mushroom considering that the first one is underground and the second one on the same one, at the naked eye of the amateur and what, as a rule, ends at home after spending a day in the field .

It’s fun to see Google Translate notion of the title line, i.e. differences between mushrooms and mushrooms; IOW, Google thinks both hongo and seta equally translate to mushroom. But I choose to believe the answer presented in this text especially this part:

Es decir, el hongo es a la seta lo que el manzano a la manzana. That is, the fungus is to the mushroom what the apple to the apple.

I’ve mentioned this in other posts, as a common, but not always, “rule”. A plant that produces an edible part is often named such that the plant is masculine (-o) and the fruit is feminine (-a) [recall this discussion about olivo vs oliva]. So hongo is the actual fungus growing underground and seta is the fruiting body or what most of us would actually think of as ‘mushroom’.

It is good to clear this up but I suspect if you see hongo on a menu in Spain just think mushroom. After all the webpage (snippet, above) that started this digression listed BOTH as menu items which means I’m back where I started – why? Is there a difference? Perhaps hongo as cultivated and seta as wild is not entirely wrong. I doubt both would be listed if somehow some mushrooms weren’t called hongo and others called seta.

So still not resolved!




Another Logroño Menu

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I’m stuck in midwest USA and unable to actually be trekking along the Camino so I convert training miles on a treadmill into virtual trek. Unfortunately I’ve sustained a painful toe injury I’m allowing to heal before resuming my virtual trek. So instead of encountering new restaurants and menus I’m going back to some I’d found before. Once again I’m looking for eccentricities in machine translation as well as interesting challenges for more informed translation.

My latest menu comes from Restasurante Mesón Cid in Logroño,  They use an interesting approach showing six menus at different prices with different selections. They don’t show a carta and instead suggest:

Para individuales le recomendamos consultar los platos de temporada. For individuals we recommend consulting the seasonal dishes.

This is a good tip but again shows the fundamental flaw in my approach, i.e. an app to very accurately translate and describe menus without requiring conversational Spanish fluency. No luck on “consulting”, I would guess, so I’d be stuck with the fixed menus.

Now it’s not my goal to harp on flaws in machine translation (in this case Google Translate since the webpage (unlike PDFs I often find) is accessible to Google BUT it’s interesting to consider some of the issues. Machine translation is wonderfully useful but it has its flaws. So simply trusting that translation might leave you with a real surprise on your plate. So, here’s a couple of things for this menu:

  1. I’ve encountered this before but it works out poorly on this page that something about the HTML structure of the page confuses Google and so after translation it has “broken” the formatting of the page, which in this case means nearby items on the menu have been run together in a jumble that is hard (impossible in one case) to decipher. Perhaps a photo and OCR of a printed menu, then with translation might avoid this problem.
  2. Since this source has six different menus, sometimes with the same items, all embedded in a single HTML page I get to observe the strange effect, sometimes trivial, sometimes significant that the same words in the same page (overall context) produce different translations (including in some case none). As a trivial example, Croquetas caseras translates to ‘homemade croquettes’ (the normal English translation but in another case to ‘croquettes homemade’. This is not a problem understanding what the item is but it’s interesting that in one case Google can properly reverse the word order as Spanish does to the English variety but in the other case it can’t. Why? I have no clue and reading some of the technical material about Google Translate revealed no answer (to me, at least).  For this one, Cogote de merluza, the problem is a bit worse. This comes out as ‘Cogote Hake’ and ‘Cockle of Hake’, neither of which is very helpful. One literal translation of cogote is nape (as of the neck) but I’ve encountered this enough on menus that I think, even though there is a different term for this, this mostly means ‘cheek’ (when referring to fish). At the very least it’s something you’d like to know.
  3. Since there are multiple examples of exactly the same dish I quickly notice that the a la X construct is very inconsistently handled. In particular, the a la plancha (something you just need to know, grilling but on iron rather than directly over fire) went through, correctly as grilled, strangely as ‘to the plate’ (pure literal and not helpful), ‘to the grill’ (better but clumsy) and not even translated at all! This is just interesting as basically this is so common I suspect any customer would just know this anyway.
  4. A minor differences in the column heading (per menu) produce different translations: a) Segundo plato (a elegir) translates to ‘Second course (to choose)’ but Segundo plato translates to ‘Main course’ (when in this case (and many others) is more accurate) but it shows that the notion Google somehow looks at “context” in its AI based translation has interesting consequences.
  5. The cochinillo in Cochinillo asado gets translated to ‘piglet’ in one case and ‘suckling pig’ in another. Neither is misleading (as to what the dish really is) and in fact deciding which is more accurate is tough. Here I face the same challenge as Google, finding both usages in a corpus, which should be used? In a more trivial example asado in Cordero asado comes out as ‘roast’ vs ‘roasted’, again in irrelevant difference for interpreting the menu but curious why Google Translate has this difference.

Now on to some of the more interesting translation issues.

  1. Embutidos de Salamanca leaves me wondering what a salamanca sausage might be. But this same word appears in Jamón de Salamanca so it’s probably a proper noun, either brand (like Campos in previous post) or in this case a place name (a capital city of province of same name).  While the restaurant called out this particular designation all I can find is that it’s another variety of Iberian (which is also listed on the menu).  And so what, then, about Embutidos de Guijuelo. Guijuelo is another city and a DO, but basically it too is just another Iberian. There is definitely difference in the pricing of these menus so knowing whatever subtle difference there is between just generic Ibérico and Salamanca and Guijuelo (and probably even more designations). This is a really big deal in Spain, especially the Jamón, so: a) learn the difference (if you can) before plunking down dinero, or, b) if you choose to experiment and buy the more expensive one at least know you’re doing that and try to savor the difference you paid for.
  2. Google just missed this one as it is easy to lookup: Navajas o Langostinos a la plancha translated to Navajas or prawns to the grill’. navajas isn’t that hard, literally ‘razor’ or in the context of food, ‘razor clams’. And there is that clumsy ‘to the grill’ translation instead of ‘grilled razor clams and prawns’. Plus there is the ongoing issue of whether Langostino really is ‘prawn’ (vs gamba which is also on this menu). In Spain, langostino, gamba and quisquilla seem only to describe size, not the actual type of shrimp species, but in Italy or Chile it’s a quite different critter (and more premium).
  3. Pulpo a la gallega  (Galacian style octopus) and Espárragos de Navarra (Navarran asparagus, a somewhat unique variety, usually white) are just regional designations and you get to guess (or know from your much smarter app) what these really mean.
  4.  Chuletón, which is still a bit of mystery to me got translated in one instance as the common translation, T-bone steak, but in another case as ‘trowel’. I can’t find any connection that leads to that translation and I doubt I’d want to eat one. It must be some colloquial thing that perhaps a T-bone looks a bit like a trowel?
  5. And Google did the unfortunate non-translation under pescados (fish) of rape to rape. This also seems to be generally translated as monkfish. OTOH, now try to figure out what a monkfish is? IOW, translating doesn’t help much, you need to know what monkfish is (and in Spain, as it’s different than other places) before you’d pick that over dorado (which Google got right, ‘gilt-head’ in one place and just golden in another and just dorado in another, again why the inconsistency?) or lubina (seabass).
  6. This one, Sorbete de helado de limón al cava (Sorbet of lemon ice cream with cava) is a bit confusing (at least to me since I think of sorbet and ice cream as different desserts, not one as a preparation made from the other). In case you haven’t encountered wines from Spain before cava is another name for prosecco; oh, you don’t know that well both are an incorrect name for champagne. Champagne is a DO and can only come from France (as I once learned at a French owned sparkling wine producer in Napa California).  I’ve had all four and can’t tell much difference (at least good ones) and it sounds like a great thing to add to lemon ice cream. BUT, helado isn’t always ice cream (thus resolving my first comment) and instead can just mean ‘frozen’ so both sherbet and ice cream are helado, although generally helado does mean ice cream. Either way everyone likes helado.

There are a few more interesting bits but as usual I’ve gone on too long so I’ll undoubtedly pick up more translations challenges in the next menu.