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.
|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.