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.


Ensalada ilustrada or Ensalada mixta

I was crunching through menus at Restaurante Asador San Quintín in Logroño and decided to detour into understanding why a salad might be enlightened (a literal translation of ilustrada). ensalada itself is easy to remember as it actually is what its cognate implies. But ilustrada, as the past participle (normally ilustrado but ensalada is feminine so requires -a ending) of the verb ilustrar, mostly means illustrated but has a special context of ‘a follower of the Enlightenment’ and thus ‘a person who is learned and educated’. I wonder if eating this salad endows one with enlightenment.

This salad is common enough that it appears on a list of salads and has its own webpage in the Spanish Wikipedia. There it is described as

es una ensalada mixta de verduras muy típica de la cocina aragonesa

Many images can be found with a Google search and there is even a video of making it on YouTube (not very helpful to me as it is entirely in rapidfire Spanish where I hardly get any word). Searches for ‘receta ensalada aragonesa‘ gets similar but not identical recipes. Of course, though, recipes are likely to vary (consider Caesar salad in English).

But ensalada mixta is often used on menus and appears to be more generic than any specific recipe.  mixta does have the obvious meaning of ‘mixed’. From past research many mixta salads are quite simple and plain but some of the receta for ensalada mixta are almost identical to some from ensalada ilustrada so it’s tough to distinguish them. Most, but not all ensalada ilustrada recipes include asparagus (espárragos) which can appear in other salads but then usually under another name. mixta recipes seem to include more vegetables (often cucumbers (pepino)) whereas the emphasis in ilustrada seems to be tuna (aka bonito). In short I’d guess mixta is the equivalent of ‘house salad’ in the USA and so it’s whatever the restaurant wants to use.

But whatever ilustrada is there was some fun in figuring out recetas as these use terms you wouldn’t ordinarily see on menus but are amusing to try to figure out.

1 puñado de yemas de espárragos 1 handful of asparagus yolks

I remembered yemas (yolks) from previous posts usually in the context of huevo (egg) so this was a bit mysterious. An alternate meaning for yema can be ‘Sprout of a plant from which branches, leaves and flowers develop’. In fact, one translation of ‘bud’ is yema. On other menus cogollo is used to reference the inner portion of a head of lettuce so yema seems to have the same meaning (the video I mentioned made this clear even though I couldn’t understand what was being said).

1 escarola limpia 1 clean escarole

limpia (limpio when modifying lechuga) is better translated as ‘cleansed’, again something the video makes clear, i.e. careful washing of both the lettuce and escarole. A good example of how not to guess this is a cognate for ‘limp’. And I’d certainly hope I get clean ingredients in my food.

Filetes de anchoa en aceite Campos Anchovy fillets in oil Fields
1 frasco de bonito del norte Campos 1 jar of bonito of the north Fields

Campos threw me for a while. It does translate to ‘fields’ as Google did and so I thought somehow this might imply something about the source (is it modifying aceite or anchoa? If anchoa (anchovy) then it might make sense as modifier of bonito as well). Searching for Campos mostly reveals a town in Spain but nowhere near the sea and thus no obvious connection. However searching for ‘aceite campos’ did pop up some online shopping sites and so, this is just a food brand.

1 Bolsa Tierna. 1 Tender Bag

This one really ran me around in circles until I lucked out and saw one of the small images on the search results page and then zoomed in. In this case it really was a bag (plastic) with Tierna as the label and it was clearly the prepared greens we see in supermarkets in USA. I also ‘tender’ is used in the same context as ‘spring’ or ‘young’ since it’s not a term I would expect to apply directly to lettuce, or certainly to a bag.

1 ud Tomate raff. 1 Toma raff.

Two things threw me on this. What is a ud? I’ve seen this on menus and eventually concluded it is merely the abbreviation of unidad (unit). It’s not clear why I need to be told 1 unit of tomato rather than just one tomato, however. raff  (Raf) turns out is a particularly variety of tomato as described in this Wikipedia page.

70gr Bonito en aceite. 70gr Pretty in oil.

I’ve seen this enough times in other samples to know that bonito (a type of tuna) confuses Google but interestingly it got it right in the example I showed discussing what Campos means. ‘pretty’ is a reasonable, but wrong translation. Often another fish, dorado, ends up as ‘golden’ which is actually a kind of truth since the fish got its name due to its color.

150 gr. de queso en taquitos 150 gr. of cheese in taquitos (taco is ‘Small piece, thick and dice-shaped, in which a food is cut’)

And this took some work and I can’t confirm my “guess”. taquito is not a word in any dictionary. Searches reveal it to be a diminutive of taco (the food item, or even something you can buy in freezer section of a USA grocery store) and nothing else. But this made me curious what taco means in Spanish and way down in the list of meanings at Oxford is this (indicated used in Spain this way):

Trozo pequeño, grueso y en forma de dado en que está cortado un alimento. Small piece, thick and dice-shaped, in which a food is cut.

So I’m going with the idea that taquito is derived from taco and so it means really really small pieces. It’s hard to spot the queso in the picture and I couldn’t find any other source so this is just a guess. BUT it’s clearly not taquito one would find in Mexico or USA.

But this one continues to baffle me ( though got it while writing post):

1 sopera de mostaza 1 mustard tureen

I can’t find much else other than ‘tureen’ as a definition. I thought maybe this was a type of mustard (mostaza makes sense as ‘mustard’ based on the instructions of the recipe) but it also should be a unit of measure (to fit the pattern of other ingredients).  I had seen sopera together with cucharada which literally means tablespoon so the hint that sopera might also mean spoon didn’t quite fit. But alas, Spanish language Wikepedia comes to the rescue again since it includes both words together in this article in the sentence:

Su medida corresponde aproximadamente al volumen contenido en una cuchara sopera Its measurement corresponds approximately to the volume contained in a soup spoon

So this is a unit of measure, approximately a tablespoon.

So digging through recipes for items I find on menus is another source for my corpus but I have to be really careful not to create misleading extractions.



Something different – wine label and description

By coincidence I decided to get some good wine for our Valentine’s Day dinner. We cook ourselves because: a) we actually can cook some things better than restaurants do, and, b) we spend our money on the ingredients, not the restaurant’s labor and real estate. So off to Whole Foods for some very good wines at the same price as medium wine with restaurant markup. There isn’t a lot of Spanish wine available here. Trader Joe’s has some amazing values, cheap but tasty Spanish wines, but for a Reserva Whole Foods was my only option. Since I bought this wine I’ll allow myself to link their image.




from Bodegas de los Herederos del Marqués de Riscal (website)



Visit the website link I provided as this is an interesting place, very oriented to visitors and with a striking Frank Gehry designed hotel and elegant restaurant.

But finding this wine, first in my little used PeñínGuide to Spanish Wine 2016 which led to the website, gave me an opportunity to look at some translation issues related to wine. For the wine I bought there is a PDF for Spanish and another for English which appears to me to definitely be a human translation, thus providing the rare opportunity to compare side-by-side Spanish, human English, and computer English. For example:

Antes de salir (lit: go out, leave) al mercado tiene (lit: has) un period mínimo de afinamiento (lit: refinement) en botella de un año. Before release for sale it spends a minimum of one year rounding off in the bottle; time enough to show how much complexity tempranillo is able to achieve.

{Before going on the market, it has a minimum bottle-tuning period of one year.}

[Before going on the market, it has a minimum refining period in bottle of one year.]

I did a few dictionary lookups and noted the translation in the Spanish as (lit: whatever). The first English translation is the human one directly from the PDF. This has a definite clue that it’s human translation since the English includes an additional part (underlined) that has no match of any kind in the Spanish so the author chose to add this bit.  The {whatever} part is the translation done by spanishdict.com (actually Microsoft) and the [whatever] part is the translation done by Google (had to paste the Spanish in my own test page at this blog since PDF’s don’t get processed by Google in Chrome).

For me there are a couple of interesting issues in these translations:

  1. ‘Before going on the market’ seems to be a more “accurate” translation of Antes de salir al mercado BUT the human translation “Before release for sale” might actually be more accurate, i.e. this wine might not have literally gone to a mercado in order to be sold.
  2. period mínimo de afinamiento en botella is interesting to see the three different corresponding English: [human] “minimum of one year rounding off in the bottle”, [spanishdict] “minimum bottle-tuning period”, and [Google] “minimum refining period in bottle”. When I look up afinamiento I get refinement which Google uses (also the closest to word-by-word literal translation); I think this is definitely better than ‘tuning’ (no idea where that came from) and perhaps better than the human ’rounding off’ ‘period’ is omitted in the human translation but literally present in Spanish and both machine translations.

So let’s look at some more for this, some simple differences in the human translation versus literal lookup or machine translation:

VARIEDAD DE LA UVA (lit: variety of grape) VARIETY USED
GRADOS (lit: degree or grade) 14,1º ALC./VOL 14,1º

Grados is probably not a translation issue, just a different description used in Spain versus the more typical one used in U.S. (although note the English is British, not U.S. English so who knows what this might mean, as in possibly a legal labeling requirement somewhere).

MARIDAJE (lit: marriage, combination,  union) FOOD MATCHES

And this is another interesting turn of phrase. In U.S. “food matches” might also be “food pairings” and, in a stretch, “married” might be used in this context. With only this single sample I can’t draw any conclusion but I find it amusing language to use maridaje for this meaning.


Again, the human translation is definitely not very literal but carries the meaning just fine and frankly I’d prefer the English term (which literally translates to the bulky mejor servido en),

ATRIBUTOS (lit: attributes) GUSTATIVOS (lit: taste) APPEARANCE (lit: aspecto o apariencias)

This one, however, is a little misleading (I think) to switch from ‘taste attributes’ to ‘appearance’. The text (see some below) under this heading covers: color, nose, tannin and finish, a mixture of sight, smell and taste sensations so ‘appearance’ is a bit too narrow to cover all these.

En boca (lit: mouth) es fresco, con taninos pulidos (lit: polish) muy agradables (lit: nice, pleasant, agreeable), con buena estructura pero fácil de beber. Fresh and easy to drink on the palate, good backbone and lovely, polished tannins.

{In the mouth it is fresh, with very nice polished tannins, with good structure but easy to drink.}  

[The palate is fresh, with very nice polished tannins, with good structure but easy to drink.]

The human translation, though useful and pleasing, has little resemblance to the original Spanish (backbone is completely missing in the Spanish). The spanishdict translation is quite literal but definitely gets the meaning across (in wine tasting tannin is almost something you feel on your tongue (pucker) rather than a taste). How Google decided to use palate for boca is surprising – perhaps part of their claim their AI figures out translation via context and while dictionary lookups certainly do not have palette for boca or boca for palette it is appropriate and surprising that the machine translation went down the same path as the human translation.

While there are many more interesting things I’m finding from this description webpage I should wind down and so I’ll just leave you with these bits of the description of the weather at the vineyards for this vintage year (spanishdict translations {xxx} added to human translation.

La vendimia de este año ha estado condicionada, en gran medida, por varios puntos clave sucedidos a lo largo de toda la campaña.

Comenzamos el ciclo con un estado de reservas importante, que se tradujo en brotaciones buenas y viñedos con una carga en general elevada.

La ausencia de heladas primaverales, vientos fuertes en brotación y granizadas de verano, hacen que lleguemos a mediados de septiembre con unas uvas muy sanas y con unos parámetros de calidad que sugerían estar ante una cosecha interesante.

This year’s vintage has been, to a great extent, conditioned by a series of key events during the growing period.  {This year’s harvest has been largely conditioned by several key points that have occurred throughout the campaign.}

We started the cycle with good reserves and this was reflected in good budding and vines which would be heavily laden in general.  {We started the cycle with a major reserve state, which resulted in good sprouts and vineyards with a high overall load.}

The absence of spring frosts, strong winds during budding and hailstorms in the summer meant that we reached the middle of September with very healthy grapes and quality indicators which promised a very interesting harvest was on the way. {The absence of spring frosts, strong winds in sprouting and hailstorms of summer, make that we arrive in mid-September with very healthy grapes and quality parameters that suggested to be before an interesting harvest.}

I will crunch this some more (plus extract even more from this website) to obtain a list of useful terms in describing wine.

That, and drool a bit, at the prospect of actually visiting this place and staying at their hotel and chowing down on their menu but short of winning the lottery that probably isn’t going to happen.

P.S. I found a restaurant (website) that carries the wine (above) and so found a price, 23€, which is about $29 and about what I paid at Whole Foods. But that is a restaurant price (with service) so I’d guess a bottle of this wine in retail outlet (or at the winery itself, quite a touristy place) for around $20 or somewhat less than retail imported into U.S.

Adventure with olive oil

I got bogged down with TMI from sources so I’m going off on a brief digression about aceite de oliva. I stumbled onto an interesting source about this. I was crunching through a glossary I’d found which would provide a comparison source to what I found in the GallinaBlanca diccionario. But with any online source one has to evaluate it to see how accurate it is and in the case of Spanish whether it applies very specifically to Spain. That’s what I was doing when I bumped into yet another glossary. But the site that contained that glossary had numerous “lists” that could be interesting for my project (accumulating a large corpus of food terms used in Spain). So one that caught my interest and is now the digression I mentioned is all about aceite de oliva. The post continues past the table showing what is available at this handy website (which I’ll be analyzing for weeks and future posts):

Términos Gastronómicos Gastronomic Terms
Utensilios de cocina Cookware
Diccionario del aceite de oliva Dictionary of olive oil
Diccionario de gastronomía vasca Basque gastronomy dictionary
Diccionario del café Dictionary of coffee
Glosario del tapeo “tapas españolas” Glossary of tapas “tapas tapas”
Glosario de cocina colombiana Glossary of Colombian cuisine
Glosario de cocina vegetariana argentina Glossary of Argentinean vegetarian cuisine
Glosario de los alimentos Glossary of food
Glosario de los vinos Glossary of wines
Glosario de las Frutas Glossary of Fruits
Catálogo de especies pesqueras Catalog of fishing species
Glosario de las plantas medicinales Glossary of medicinal plants
Glosario de cocina japonesa Glossary of Japanese cuisine
Diccionario culinario inglés-español English-Spanish culinary dictionary

The olive oil dictionary begins with this preface (translation by Google):

Aquí encontrarás algunos de los términos del aceite más usados, y los que más utilizan los catadores de aceite. Te resultarán útiles para entender mejor el mundo del aceite. Here you will find some of the most used oil terms, and those most used by oil tasters. You will find it useful to better understand the world of oil.

Sounds good to me. I’ve done my usual thing of getting side-by-side original Spanish and the Google English translation so I can evaluate each entry (for example):

Aceite vegetal: Es el que se saca de los vegetales tales como coco, maíz, maní, ajonjolí, soya, oliva, etc. Vegetable oil: It is the one that is extracted from vegetables such as coconut, corn, peanut, sesame, soy, olive, etc.

Here the translation is very easy to match up corresponding words and determine this is certainly a good enough translation. But we’ll look at a few that have challenges.

But first what about “olive” itself. It turns out there are multiple Spanish words for this with subtle difference: olivo, oliva and aceituna. Now having the masculine and feminine version of the basic noun oliv• has parallels in other cases (but not, as I researched, an absolute rule). The masculine form refers to the plant (or tree in this case) and the feminine form refers to the fruit of this plant/tree. So that explains that, but then should we use aceituna (which is a feminine noun) or oliva? I can’t find a definitive answer to this but I do get a general clue: oliva is going to be used as a qualifier as aceite de oliva (and maybe other cases) – IOW, a generic reference; whereas aceituna will refer more specifically to an actual olive (like you’d get in a tapa).

So with that settled we can move on to some challenges in translation. Now as I’ve said before I’m not picking on Google (or any of the other translators) since I think they’re quite remarkable and very helpful. But they have limits and it’s useful to attempt to characterize those. The criticisms I’ve seen tend to come more from a literature perspective and frankly I agree, I think machine translation badly botches that more complex language. But for my purposes (translating menus) a glorified literal translation is probably good enough to get the idea. But bear in mind, those of you thinking you can head to Spain with just a smartphone this technology does have a lot of holes.

Now the first one I’ll pick on is simple:

Aceitunada: Cosecha de la aceituna. Olive: Harvest of the olive.

cosecha does literally translate to ‘harvest’ or ‘crop’ (either the process or the season) but aceitunada, which I initially thought was a simple diminutive of aceituna actually appears to have a more robust meaning, which is (according to spanishdict) “The season for gathering olives” (as a noun) or “Of an olive color” (as an adjective). I’m guessing Google just used the adjective translation and shortened it. But given this diccionario is giving us definitions of terms, obviously aceitunada does refer to harvest season, not an actual olive (or some diminutive of olives).

So moving on we have an interesting one here:

Dulce: Aceite de agradable sabor, que resulta dulce por su carencia de amargor, picante o  astrigencia. Sweet: Oil of pleasant flavor, which is sweet for its lack of bitterness, spicy or astrigence.

I noticed this simply because the spell correction objected to astrigence in the English translation. Sure enough, using Oxford as an authoritative source there is no such word in English, so, curiously, why did Google pick it? My best guess is that sometimes Google does a literal translation of individual words via rules (even though they say everything is learning based, not rule driven). But I’ve seen this before and especially in this translation (later in this webpage): caracacterístico as ‘caracacteristic’ – see the pattern, the gross misspelling relative to the correct translation of característica (‘distinguishing feature’ sense) or  característico (‘typical’ sense) to characteristic (also  atribbuto translated as attribbute, where did that come from, rule or bad learning set) – that looks like an algorithm to me, but, of course, it could be “learning” but from an incorrect source. Who knows. But in researching this I spot another issue: astrigencia appears to be wrong. I say “appears” because it is a judgment call I’m not qualified to make to 100% assert this is an error, but I believe it is. spanishdict (somewhat like Google search) considers the possibility you misspell your search term and so corrected my input (directly clipped from the webpage, so not my error) to astringencia which then has the correct English word as translation, ‘astringency’ and the reverse lookup matches. The authoritative dictionary doesn’t have astrigencia but does have astringencia so I’d call that settled but I don’t have the authority to make this determination.

Now just a few simple ones, but demonstrations of how a critical term isn’t done properly by machine translation, which is my point that you can’t rely on current smartphone implementations for critical translations.

Basto: Viscosidad o aspereza que se aprecia en algunos aceites corrientes, dejando en la boca una sensación pastosa. Basto: Viscosity or roughness that can be seen in some ordinary oils, leaving a doughy feeling in the mouth.

Google couldn’t figure out basto but it’s readily available in dictionaries translated to ‘coarse’ or ‘rough’, which does match this definition. So if a restaurant told you the cheaper olive oil was demasiado basto Google is no help figuring that out.

This one was interesting to figure out and led to a couple of fun links I’ll provide:

Almazara : Edificio donde se encuentra el equipo necesario para la obtención del aceite de oliva Almazara: Building where the necessary equipment for obtaining olive oil is located

Again Google couldn’t translate the term of this entry, almazara to what spanishdict defined as ‘oil press’ or ‘oil mill’. That’s a bit ambiguous (is it the piece of equipment or the building) but and Oxford says it is “Mill in which oil is extracted from olives”. Now searching for almazara on the Net revealed these two interesting links: a) a blog post about the “building” (really a factory, possibly of multiple buildings, as described), and, b) the website for one of these that nicely describes how they produce their oil and their oils (I doubt you’d find this particular oil in even the best gourmet markets in USA but you might find some other Spanish brand so these descriptions could be helpful).  You’ve already learned that bodega is winery so now you know what to look for to find olive oil being produced (and possibly sold).

The next one has some interesting subtle issues with translation:

Almendrado : Sabor que recuerda el gusto de los frutos secos y que suele presentarse en los aceites virgen extra del Bajo Aragón y Cataluña Almendrado: Taste that recalls the taste of nuts and that usually occurs in the extra virgin olive oil of Bajo Aragón and Catalonia

Google couldn’t decide what almendrado means but given the definition (the English translation) triggered my memory of almendra (literally ‘almond’, which, btw, follows that masculine/feminine rule – the tree is almendro and the nut is almendra). As a noun almendrado translates to macaroon (not quite what we need here) but as a adjective translates to ‘almond’ (as a modifier, so like an almond cookie not the almonds in the cookie). But, this is an interesting term because in the definition this website provides it’s referring to el gusto de los frutos secos (he taste of nuts) not almonds specifically. Typically fruto seco is the literal translation of ‘nut’, although nuez (following the masculine/feminine rule) is the more appropriate translation of the nut itself (and not the tree). So what I interpret they’re really saying is whether the olive oil tastes “nutty” (or not), not “almondy”. [Note: See how Google’s AI can learn something wrong (as mentioned above) given the source it is learning from uses non-words like almondy]

And I’ll wrap up (for now, there is a lot more in this source to discuss) with this:

Alpechín : Líquido acuoso residual que se obtiene del proceso de elaboración del aceite. Comprende el agua de la aceituna, el agua de adición y de lavado y un porcentaje variable de sólido. Alpechin: residual aqueous liquid obtained from the oil production process. It includes the water of the olive, the addition and washing water and a variable percentage of solid. {6}

Google gets off the hook for not translating alpechin since there is no equivalent word in English. For this word the online dictionaries provide a definition, not a translation, and spanishdict says this “water that oozes from a heap of olives” which is a short version of what this olive oil diccionario is telling us. I doubt alpechin would ever be served in a restaurant, but who knows, maybe someone thinks it’s cool and so I’d be glad to have this term in my much smarter app I’m going to build.

And I’ll leave you with this. If you do even a little cooking you already know this but it’s interesting to see the actual description:

Virgen: Aceite que no ha sufrido artificio en su formación. Virgin: Oil that has not suffered artifice in its formation.

No ‘artifice’, eh!