Verbs again

In my previous post (about finishing initial processing of GallinaBlanca dictionary) I mentioned that verbs can be of some use in interpreting menus, possibly through derivatives of the infinitive form of the verb. So I’ve continued to do some digging in this area and have a few results to share.

Anticipating I’d be looking at verbs, independently of extracting them from the GB dictionary I used about nine online “lists” to compile an aggregate list. These verbs: a) may have nothing to do with cooking or cuisine, b) tend to be more commonly used verbs, and, c) may not be used (at all, or in same way) in Spain. So this is the list I’m calling C.

In the process of other searches I stumbled onto a culinary glossary. It has no connection with Spain and therefore the Spanish words might come from any part of the world. And as I worked with it more extensively and carefully I observe many of the issues with online resources of unknown origin: a) misspellings (probably, don’t want to jump to conclusion just because words seem to be misspelled), b) duplications, often including the singular and plural form, c) words that make no sense appearing in Spanish culinary dictionary (how did these drift in), d) inconsistent formatting and thus order (e.g. A la cazuela vs Cazadora, A la). In a previous iteration of my project I created a “glossary” by merging information from many sources and eventually it became a pisto (hotchpodge, if I can use that word in a non-culinary sense), especially losing any notion of whether the words applied to Spain or some other Spanish speaking area. So with these caveats I’ll call this list G.

And I have my list of verbs from the GallinaBlanca dictionary which I previously described. I’ll call this list D.

Now, simply, it’s too much work to compare the entirety of all three of these lists so I just did the subset (verbs only, of course) of verbs starting with A B or C. While this may be a biased sample it still reveals some interesting information.

Sorting the three lists together (with different fonts and colors for each list so I can distinguish) then I did manual processing to consolidate like terms together. As a result I ended coding each entry with GDC (or – if not in that list). So I generate the following table:

G– 44
-D- 4
–C 35
GD- 28
-DC 1
G-C 9

There are 126 verbs that appear in at least one of these lists. Only 5 verbs appear in all three lists. The list with the largest number of unique verbs is the G (glossary, 44), which thus indicates this is potentially very useful as it adds over 50% more verbs than I had previously found.  The verbs in the C (common) list may have nothing to do with cooking or food (we’re explore that later in the post) so this may not add much. Only 5 verbs from the GallinaBlanca list don’t appear in the glossary list so whoever compiled that got most of the cooking verbs.

So looking at the verbs that are only in the C (common) list and not in either cooking related list we do see a few surprising omissions (I’m assuming that these are SO common no one bothers to include them):

abrir –C to open; to turn on; to whet (as in appetite)
agregar –C to add
añadir –C to add
beber –C to drink
calentar –C to heat, heat up, warm up; to inflame
cocinar –C to cook
combinar –C to combine, mix; to put together, match, coordinate
comer –C to eat; to have for lunch; [Latin America] to have for dinner
concinar –C not in any dictionary, probably misspelling of cocinar
convertir –C to turn into, convert into, change into, make
cortar –C to cut, cut off, carve, slice, cut out; to chop; to cut (dilute sense); …

So out of the 35 verbs in the C (common) list only I’d probably include these 11 in a general purpose culinary list.

Now some of the verbs in the G (glossary) don’t appear to be useful. Some have no definition in any of the dictionaries I routinely use, including the most authoritative of the Spanish language (which is NOT limited to Spain so could include verbs that don’t get used in Spain).  So here are a few I’d consider dubious to include in a culinary glossary:

achicalar G– [Mexico] to cover in honey; soak in honey
añejar G– to age; [vino] to mature; to get stale
apanar G– to coat in breadcrumbs (also EMPANAR or EMPANIZAR)
apuntillar G– to finish off (a toro); to round off
ataviar G– to dress up
bardar G– to thatch
blanchir G– (not in dict) Wiktionary has it as a French term for make white
bresear G– (from glossary) To cook to slow fire, during long time, with condiments (generally vegetables, wine, broth and spices). Clearly a spelling error since not found.
cantar G– to sing; to crow, chirp
caramerizar G– (not in dict), another spelling? [from glossary] Spread a mold with sugar honey.
castigar G– to punish; to ground, keep in; to damage, harm
cerner G– to sift, sieve (same as cernir, which is it?)
chapurrar G– to speak badly

I wouldn’t include achicalar as it doesn’t appear to be used in Spain but this is a good point about my goal here. If I wanted to know the Spanish word, used in Spain, for an English word, I wouldn’t include anything that may be only used outside Spain. But my goal is asymmetric – to translate Spanish (on menus) only into English (so I can choose) so including a word in my corpus (and eventually my app) that is not likely to be used in Spain is not a problem (I do need metadata to note this however, for that term). If I never see the term it does no harm to never have it found in any lookup. OTOH, it would be a problem if I’m trying to translate English into Spanish, as in don’t use a word not found in Spain. It appears, for instance, frijoles, which is well-known to most in USA who visit Mexican restaurants is one such word, not commonly used in Spain, but possibly likely a Spaniard would know the word. That might lead to a scene (from The Way) like no tapas in Navarra, only pinxtos, and thus make you look foolish.

blanchir (to make white, which isn’t exactly synonymous with blanch but one might assume that’s what this means) was interesting in that it did not occur in any dictionary but did have an entry in Wiktionary. The standard term  for blanch is palidecer (purely in the sense of turn white) and escaldar or blanquear for the culinary sense. I suspect  blanchir might be used somewhere (possibly Puerto Rico) where it is just the cognate of the English verb. But, again, in collecting the corpus I should not make judgments like this although I might add metatext to an blanchir entry and meanwhile add it to corpus and then let the “big data” statistical analysis decide if this is a word or not.

bresear really looks like a misspelling (more likely to be brasear, to barbecue) but again it should go into the corpus with metadata notion rather than my passing a judgment on it (IOW, only a real expert in Spanish should be decided what to include or not in any translation dictionary, so if I find only one instance of a misspelled word it will get washed out since there are few occurrences of it in the corpus; OTOH, maybe people do commonly misspell this word so it needs to be in my app). caramerizar appears to be some variant of caramelizar, again perhaps used somewhere and not just a mistake. cerner has exactly the same definition (in the glossary itself, but also spanishdict) as the more common spelling cernir, although both appear in reverse lookup of ‘to sift’ in spanishdict (which is it, then? just a common confusion?) cernido is a possible term to see on a menu so it matters that my dictionary could spot this as past participle of cerner.

So again all this goes to show the work that must be done to really develop a very accurate dictionary that drives my app for menu translation (or to be published as a carefully researched culinary glossary).





Finished the GallinaBlanca Diccionario

I’ll explain what “finished” means in a minute but first I am almost at another milestone in my journey, so 1/2 mile outside Nájera, about 20 miles from Logroño and about 60 miles to reach Burgos, on my virtual  camino trek. That is since I’m stuck here in the cold midwest USA I do miles on my treadmill in the basement (training for the Camino, I wish!!!) and translate those boring miles onto a GPS track of the Camino de Santiago and then, most of the time, do a little “walking” courtesy of Google StreetView (the Camino is hardly a wilderness trail if a Google car is driving on it).

So what does it mean that I say I finished the GB dictionary. Well it means the tedious part is over. Their dictionary is provided via Javascript popups and one page for each letter of the alphabet and thus: a) there is no way to easily grab all the terms out of the HTML, and, b) Google Translate doesn’t operate on the popups. So I have to manually click each term, use mouse to get the text of its definition in Spanish, paste that in my MSWord document and in the webpage, get the translation (which it turns out seem to actually be provided my Microsoft; I tried the translation built into MSWord itself and it was pretty ragged), mouse that translation and then paste in the side-by-side table. Then I take the term and attempt to get a simple literal translation (more pasting, possibly into three different webpages).

Needless to say this is big-time tedious (and slow) and that’s what I’ve finished. It may be tedious but going slowly through the list means I take the time to study each result. Often even from the English translation of the definition of the term I really don’t know what the English word would be, which makes that lookup sometimes a surprise. Since this is a specialized vocabulary for cooking many of the terms are more obscure and thus missing in dictionary lookups so it’s off to doing searching and guessing and trial-and-error until I get a reasonable answer. Lots of work but a good learning experience.

So now I have that “done” (probably a few mistakes I’ll have to clean up). So I have pages of stuff like this:

HERVIR (literally boil) Cocer en líquido a una temperatura de 100º. Cook in liquid at a temperature of 100 º.
HORNEAR (literally bake) Cocer en el horno mediante calor seco. Cook in the oven with dry heat.
HUMEAR (literally smoke or steam, and one sense is exactly this definition? ahumar is the culinary verb) Se dice cuando el aceite desprende humo, indicando que está caliente, a punto. It is said when the oil emits smoke, indicating that it is hot, ready.
INCORPORAR (literally incorporate, add, include and mix in) Agregar, unir algo a otra cosa para que haga un todo con ella. Add, join something else to do a whole thing with it.
INSTILAR (literally instill) Echar poco a poco, gota a gota, un líquido en otra cosa. Slowly pouring, drop by drop, a liquid into something else.
LAMINAR (literally laminate) Cortar en láminas muy finas. Cut into very thin slices.

So what am I going to do with this now?

I deliberately picked a chunk of the dictionary that is all verbs because that’s my first attempt to create something derived from this list. There are a lot of verbs in this dictionary because it accompanies recetas (recipes) and these verbs (in some conjugated form) probably occur in the collection of all those recetas. So GallinaBlanca is nicely helping cooks read recetas that might contain a verb they don’t know. There are some fairly obscure verbs in the list.

Now what has this got to do with reading menus which is the focus of my project. Rarely are the menus (at least the list of items you can order) going to have complete sentences explaining the food (perhaps a brief, just a phrase, description). So verbs don’t much matter.

Or do they? A word you will frequently see on menus (even in name of restaurants) is asado.  This is grilled or roasted (as an adjective perhaps modifying some noun) or even just a noun in its own right, grill or roast. But this word has its root in a verb, that is asar (in the infinitive form, i.e. the typical word to lookup in a dictionary (Note: Online dictionaries are often smart enough to handle conjugated forms but typical non-interactive dictionaries (paper or smartphone) require you to see this is a conjugation of a verb and deduce the infinitive form to do the lookup – not easy if you’re unfamiliar with Spanish).  asado is the past participle of asar and as Spanish verbs are far more regular (some exceptions) than English this is almost an algorithmic rule to form past participle from infinitive very (like to baked and baked as a regular case in English). So in a quick extract from my list here are a couple more examples: hervir (to boil) hervido (boiled), estofar (to stew) estofado (stewed), picar (to mince or chop)  picado (minced).

So knowing some cooking verbs could come in handy. Memorizing them all is probably a waste of time but as I intend to collect everything I’ll need this in my smart app that is going to translate menus (having all the conjugations is then easy as well).

But I don’t like to depend on a single source for literal translation (each verb to its most direct English equivalent). Plus some verbs have a ton of different meanings and they are not always labeled as being the culinary sense in every dictionary. And some verbs don’t have much connection, given GallinaBlanca’s definition to the standard (at least online) dictionary definitions. For instance, this tough one to figure out:

ALBARDAR (literally: to saddle, put a  packsaddle on)  Envolver piezas de carne con lonchas finas de tocino, para evitar que se sequen al cocinarlas. Wrap pieces of meat with thin slices of bacon to avoid drying when cooking.

I suppose one might deduce that wrapping meat with bacon is “saddling” it, but really the clue comes from this:

Saddle is a butchery term that refers to the meat that is at the animal’s back and hips. Think of it in terms of the meat that would be in more or less the same place as a saddle on a horse.

I’ve done a fair amount of cooking (and reading cookbooks) and ‘saddle’ as a cut of meat never registered. Or what about this one:

CINCELAR (literally chisel, carve, engrave) Hacer incisiones en una pieza (se utiliza sobre todo para pescados) para facilitar su proceso de cocción, generalmente en los asados. Make incisions in one piece (mainly used for fish) to facilitate their cooking process, usually in roasts.

I’ve done exactly this cooking fish (and more so bread) but I don’t think I’d use any of those literal English verb equivalents to describe the process.

So there is a lot of learn from these verbs. And as I said I don’t like single sources so I sometimes use a page here in this blog (test data) to paste some Spanish in, view that page, and then fire up Google Translate (maybe there is some simpler way but this works without too much hassle).

Now what I’ve read about Google Translate context matters. So a pure list of verbs, especially in infinitive form eliminates any possibility of a contextual AI-ish translation and thus is just a simple literal translation. For verbs with many meanings there is nothing to clue Google about which one to use.

So it was interesting to see how Google did on this translation. I found a total of 132 verbs in GallinaBlanca dictionary. Of these the following 44 had no Google translation:


Now Google can be forgiven (except it claims it’s AI does better than rule-based literal translation) for the verbs in RED since none of my dictionaries know what these are. For instance I actually think acidelar is just a typo since the definition GB gives it “Put lemon juice or vinegar in the water to cook poached eggs or vegetables, so that they do not blackened. ” is fairly similar for the known acidular whose definition is “Sprinkle with an acidic liquid fruit, vegetables or vegetables so that they retain their whiteness or colour.” But the definitions are not exactly the same and for me to declare acidelar to be a mistake is premature; after all it could be some alternate spelling or perhaps a regional difference from the standard dictionary Spainish, or, worse, it might be the spelling used in Spain versus what is used elsewhere. I simply do not have enough data to decide.

So what about something like

MOREAR (not in any dictionary) Dar vuelta sobre el fuego bajo y con un poco de aceite en un sartén o cacerola a los alimentos, para que tomen color antes de añadirle salsa o caldo. Turn over the low heat and with a little oil in a frying pan or pan to the food, so that they take color before adding sauce or broth.

This comes up blank in all dictionaries and most web searches I’ve tried. So the question is do I believe this is even a word (or perhaps it’s from some other language used in Spain). It certainly sounds like sauté (cooking technique) but that is saltear GB defines as “Stir the food in butter or hot oil when frying in an uncovered skillet.”

Now for the words not in RED I did find literal translations of them including ASAR which I find surprising that Google doesn’t know (this, as you recall, is the verb I used as example above to explain why I’m investigating verb, i.e. it is the infinitive root for asado, a very common word on menus). And I’m also surprised it didn’t know GUISAR (cook, stew; cook up) since I can recall from memory seeing that and especially its past participle guisado (refers, as a noun, to  casserole, stew, or, most generically, dish) and as an adjective as stewed. And I’ve seen rebozado (covered in batter or breadcrumbs) on numerous menus and it’s the past participle of REBOZAR (to coat in batter or breadcrumbs) that Google didn’t know. Now, OTOH, TRUFAR (try to guess before reading the translation) is probably sufficiently obscure Google may not have seen this but given the price of the item for this word you’d want to know what it means if you saw it on a mean (it means, to stuff with truffles).

Now as the other verbs which Google did have some translation I’m going through a somewhat tedious process of digging out (again, but this time in a single consistent process) the literal translations so I can compare Google to other sources. And sources are going to matter. Not only is it hard to say with absolute certainty what an appropriate translation is going to be (I believe even fluent Spanish speaking authorities might debate some verbs) I need to do this comparison of various sources in a systematic way, not believing one source over another until I can potentially “confirm” a translation via some processing of a large corpus of translated food related material, IOW, exactly what I’m building up now.

For the verbs Google did translate here are a few of the issues I’ve found thus far (not done with this analysis):

  1.  Often Google chooses the present participle as the translation instead of the infinitive, e.g. ADOBAR, Google says marinating instead of to marinate, not a big deal overall but this might get into a corpus and create a statistical flaw later in the analysis.
  2. For AVIAR Google picked the most literal, namely an adjective ‘avian’ rather than to prepare as the root verb (multiple meanings, this one matches the GB definition, “Prepare birds for cooking. It consists of all pre-elaborations that must be made to a piece: cleaning, flamed, wicking, flanged, etc.”  Note: That GB has defined this in more specific way than did and given the Latin root for both the verb and the adjective the GB definition is definitely superior (plus being more useful to understand in the context of cooking).
  3. Picking one of several literal translations, but not in the culinary sense (which I do, looking at because I know culinary is the context), e.g. BRIDAR which Google translates as ‘bridle’ (literally OK), but to tie or truss is much more useful in cooking sense.
  4. Or something like DESPLUMAR, which Google picks the present participle Fleecing, which is a plausible translation. But the GB definition is “Remove the feathers from the bird.” which comes closer to an alternate definition, ‘to pluck’. Amazingly using fleecing is a colloquial usage somewhat like English where someone is taken advantage of and thus “fleeced”.

I’m sure there will be more as I finish grinding through but this post, already TMI, hopefully gives a sense of how I’m post-processing the pure mechanical part of my study to pound the raw data into a more usable form to then create my corpus (all preliminary to creating my AI-ish smart menu translator).




Tough distinctions

In crunching through the GallinaBlanca dictionary I’ve encountered a significant number of words that seem to overlap in meaning,  or be synonyms,  or are difficult to distinguish. This is exacerbated with the issue that my main translation dictionary I use is asymmetrical (as I’ve posted before) – that is looking X to get Y as translation but then looking up Y gets Z and not X.

Sometimes my “confusion” is my short-term memory triggering me thinking I have two difference words for same thing. For instance, today I encountered:

SAZONAR (literally season) Condimentar con sal y pimienta Season with salt and pepper

Given that looks like it might be a cognate but can’t find if it is. Now ‘to season’ is already bad enough in English. In many cooking shows it narrowly means just to add salt and pepper but in other cases it is used in a broader sense. But let’s check condimentar to see about Spanish usage

CONDIMENTAR (literally season) Añadir sal, pimienta, especias, etc., a un guiso, según indicaciones de la receta. Add salt, pepper, spices, etc., to a stew, according to the recipe’s indications.

Well, that’s good because given this is the broader sense then sazonar can be used the narrower cooking show sense even though both words translate literally to ‘to season’.

BTW: This was not what I meant to discuss at this point and it shows the benefit of blogging where I do attempt to do additional research before just spouting out my gut feel about some topic (I can think of someone more important who should do this).

Anyway, here was my original point about sazonar (even though the subtle difference with condimentar was my original main point of this entire post, good, just another example to relate). Here’s the other verb I (imprecisely) remembered as meaning something similar:

SALPIMENTAR (literally season; salt and pepper) Adobar algo con sal y pimienta, para que se conserve y tenga mejor sabor. Marinate something with salt and pepper, so that it is preserved and tastes better.

Now that I’m looking at this it appears to almost be a made-up word, given salt == sal and pepper == pimienta (the spice, the fruit (e.g. bell or piquillo is pimiento (in Spain, pimentón in Latin America)) and verbs in Spanish usually end in -ar (or -ir, -er) this just looks jammed together words to make a verb. But this word is in the definitive RAE dictionary so that makes it a real word. The Spanish edition of Oxford has:

Condimentar un alimento con sal y pimienta. Season a food with salt and pepper.

BTW2: My second mistake in doing this post was that I quickly searched (due to vague memory of similar term) and found salpimentar but actually thought it was salmuera which is doubly wrong (since that is a noun) and the verb, therefore, is a phrase (either) [ponerembeber] en salmuera for ‘to brine’. So I really went around in a circle here – my original vague notion was entirely wrong but I ended up, serendipitously, actually making the point of the article.

But, briefly, this was my main point with these examples of related words where literal translation doesn’t help much (or at all) to distinguish: a) hongo, seta and champiñón, and b) rabassepia, jibia and calamar. And these word sets also illustrate the need for multiple sources since there is some disagreement between sources and then evaluation. Or perhaps usage will also be different in different regions or by the heritage of the people using the words – oh joy.

So first, what is the word for ‘mushroom’ is Spain? After quite a bit of searches my conclusion (quite possibly wrong) is both seta and champiñónhongo is used in Latin America as mushroom (in culinary sense) hongo would be used more in the scientific (botany) sense as just fungus. Now in case you don’t know mushrooms are the fruiting cap of fungus; IOW, most of what you don’t see is the fungus growing underground and then pushing through the surface to produce its spores (to spread itself further) via the cap, which is the part we eat. So there is a fair amount of confusion here that calls for precision to disambiguate and I wouldn’t expect that in most menus (the authors are chefs not scientists, or nit-picky programmers like me).  So then it also appears to be that the difference between seta and champiñón is: seta are a flat-topped mushroom (maybe chanterelle, oyster, even shiitake); whereas champiñón are a round-topped mushroom (like common button mushroom or cremini, even portobello). There seems to be a further connotation (at least in some sources) that seta would be wild and champiñón are cultivated.

Now, so what? If you’re a bit of a foodie you’d have preferences for what type of mushroom you’d use how and also how you’d prepare it and so forth. And you’d probably know that most “wild” mushrooms are often dried and rehydrated vs simple button mushrooms are probably fresh AND wild mushrooms are a lot more expensive and also more flavorful (to the point some people don’t like them very much, preferring the blander button mushrooms, but in certain recipes bland is good). So you’re looking at a menu and going to pay out some serious € you’d want to know what you’re getting.

Now trying to distinguish rabassepia, jibia and calamar ran into a variety of problems. These, for English, might all be grouped under ‘squid’. With living things there is often the problem that layman have a “common” (and often misleading) name whereas the scientists are more precise (but then rarely used) and have their taxonomic names. But in addition the method of preparation of these food items may influence the names as well (i.e. is calamari a dish (made from various squid species) or a specific animal (in the scientific species sense).

rabas were amusing to me as they translate literally to ‘bait’. The one time I ever went fishing on the ocean (on a charter boat) we bought frozen packages of small “squid” (my notion of what a squid is) to use as bait. But in Spain these are a prized delicacy. But Oxford defines them as this:

tentacle of a squid or other cephalopod, prepared fried as an appetizer

So any old cephalopod with tentacles will do?

I can’t find much for jibia as does seem to be an equivalent synonym for sepia, both of which are translations for ‘cuttlefish’ (not ‘squid’ which translates to calamar). Trying to track down the difference was, for my searches, inconclusive. Some sources imply calamar is far superior than sepia, thus deserving a higher price. Other sources believe very small sepia are best. The closest it seems, relative to scientific sense, is that sepia are cuttlefish which include critters that are commonly called ‘squid’; IOW all squid are cuttlefish but not all cuttlefish are squid. In the scientific articles various anatomical differences were explained but it was less clear in the culinary sense.

Again, what does it matter? Well, some cuttlefish may make a better calarmari than others, plus some are big and some are little, so how much dinero (I’ll assume you know that as a loanword to English, otherwise it’s ‘money’) matters as well. Seafood is a particularly tricky food to buy as often substitutions are made of lesser animals for the more prized ones. Often even the fishmonger can’t tell the difference but when it comes to eating them (and paying for them) you should get what you expect. Now, OTOH, calamari (especially with some piquant red sauce) are probably hard to tell apart.

BTW: sepia does also literally translate to the color and there is a chance that would occur on a menu. AND, squid ink is la tinta natural del calamar or just tinta.

sidenote: One thing that has always confused me (speaking of ) is that red wine is almost always referred to as vino tinto even though ‘red’  is rojo, given that white wine is almost always vino blanco thus using white == blanco. I guess you just take it as it comes since this is a distinction one would quickly learn. Weird, in a little research for this sub-point tinta is a noun (feminine, -a) just for ink whereas tinto is both noun (then for wine) and adjective (‘dyed’ or ‘stained’, but then for a dyed feminine noun we’d be back to tinta – oh, joy). Fortunately I doubt there would ever be a problem with this.

p.s. (added after initial post). If you think some of these were close I just hit simiente which is almost totally a synonym for semilla (both are seed), except, apparently (just a single anecdotal source) simiente also means semen. Very tiny distinction, both are used in Spain, so either might appear on menu, although it is another word for ‘seed’ that is far more likely, pepita, which in some parts of U.S. would be known directly, although most likely as roasted pumpkin seeds, not seeds in general. Funny coincidence I’d find another example minutes after publishing my post.

Interesting verb marear

In my previous post I pointed out some interesting issues with the GallinaBlanca dictionary – in particular for each word there is a link to go see where this word is used in recetas (recipes) on this site. This turned out to be very helpful for this verb whose Spanish definition and spanishdict translation are below:

MAREAR Es lo mismo que rehogar. Sofreír un alimento para que se impregne de la grasa y los ingredientes con que se condimenta. It’s the same thing as a fry. Sauté a food so that it is impregnated with the fat and the ingredients it is flavored with.

usage example in receta: cook until the onions are dizzy (marear)

spanishdict has translations for marear which are:  1) a variety of translation in the sense of (to produce nausea) {I suppose that might apply to cooking}, 2) to make dizzy in sense of (to disorient), 3) to confuse in sense of (to disconcert), and, 4) to make drunk in sense of (to intoxicate) {I suppose this might apply to cooking if we’re soaking the food in booze but that’s another word}.

But looking at the English translation and then clicking the link to find the use of this word in recipes (which Google then translated as dizzy) I think the real cooking issue is to cook something (like onions in the usage example) is sufficient quantity of oil and for sufficient time for then to absorb most of the oil (and also any fat-soluble flavors).

So it would have been almost impossible to determine anything approximating the meaning of marear (relative to cooking) without this specialized dictionary and some of the usage examples. While I suspect it’s unlikely it does seem possible this verb might be used in the description of some food item on a menu and thus good to know.



Subtle differences in apparent synonyms

I was chugging through the GallinaBlanca dictionary and looking at the word guisar (literally to cook). Something tickled my memory that there is a distinction in Spanish words between the cooking process when it involves heat (actual cooking) versus just general preparation of any kind.

In fact in English this ambiguity exists. It makes sense to say “I cooked eggs”, “I cooked steak” and even, though a bit clumsy, “I cooked bread”. Now of course we have more specific words that would fit better to say how I cooked the eggs (fried, boiled, scrambled, etc.) but cooked can fit. Likewise it would fit better to say how I cooked the steak (broiled, grilled, pan-fry, etc.) but cooked can fit. Few would ever say “cooked bread” (instead almost certain to use baked) but what about fry-bread or even viewing the U.S. version of tortilla as bread and usually cooked on stovetop with iron where cooked would be more accurate than baked. Subtle differences (possibly as tough on native Spanish speakers as their words are on me).

But while I might label the act of making a sandwich as ‘cooking’ I wouldn’t say “I cooked a sandwich”; or “I cooked a salad” (unless maybe it’s a pasta salad or a spinach salad). So cooking is actually a bit more generic than the verb to cook and we’ll face that challenge in Spanish.

I do a fair amount of cooking, plus watch lots of cooking shows and read lots of cookbooks, so my vocabulary of both very precise and generic verbs to use in the kitchen is fairly large. SO, it also is in Spain. No single word will do.

So while translation dictionaries would show a clear distinction between hornear as only ‘bake’ and cocer which can translate to ‘cook’, ‘bake’ or ‘boil’. So my example above has the same issue (at least for bread) – hornear would probably be preferable to cocer.

But when we look up translations for cook (as a verb, not the noun) gives cocinar, preparar, guisar and hacer (we’ll ignore the amusing amañar which is used colloquially in accounting as in cooking the books).  Note that cocer is not one of the choices and you might wonder why I went off on it but that’s coming in bit; the reverse lookup of cocer was given above and includes ‘cook’ yet it wasn’t listed as a translation of cook (the subject of yesterday’s post about the asymmetry sometimes encountered in translation dictionaries).

Also the GallinaBlanca dictionary includes cocer but not cocinar (which might imply cocer is more likely to be used in Spain) BUT it does use conjugated forms of cocinar in the text of definitions. Likewise hacer is not in the list but has conjugated forms in definitions. IOW, they expect their readers to already know cocinar and hacer but feel they have to explain cocer and guisar – strange (and does this mean anything, on my point, i.e. subtle differences in words. Who knows and I can’t ask them.) Likewise preparar is not defined in the dictionary but is used in definitions – again they expect us to know this one and given it has a cognate in English it’s easy to know what this means (and I believe this was the original word I was after, cooking that isn’t cooking with heat).

So what to do – how do I try to add something to my work extract of this dictionary (in this case the difference between cocer and guisar which they do feel they need to define (but not hacer or cocinar or preparar).

COCER Someter a la cocción del calor un alimento, bien sea en agua, caldo, salsa, al vapor o al baño maría.

Cocer lentamente: muy importante para conseguir el punto, sabor y aroma de cualquier guiso.

Cocer al vapor: cocinar alimentos con el vapor del agua hirviendo.

To cook the heat a food, either in water, broth, sauce, steam or bain-marie.

Cook slowly: very important to get the point, flavor and aroma of any stew.

Steam: Cook food with steam from boiling water.


GUISAR Preparar los manjares sometiéndolos a la acción del fuego, especialmente haciéndolos cocer en una salsa después de rehogados. Prepare the delicacies subjecting to the action of the fire, especially by making them cook in a sauce after sautéed.

It is clear from these two definitions that cocer is a more generic term and also can have added words to make it more specific (there are more than just the two listed). But guisar somehow seems more specific than cocer but the definition given doesn’t help me much understand the difference. So let’s get another one if we can:

GUISAR Cocinar un alimento con otros ingredientes y diversos condimentos, en especial cuando se rehoga y después se cuece en su salsa. Cooking a food with other ingredients and various seasonings, especially when you fry it and then cook it in your sauce.

So this is the Oxford dictionary and the Google translation of the Spanish and it adds a little bit (BTW: this is typical of my posts. I didn’t actually consult Oxford before doing the next step I’ll describe below which was the trigger of this post but when I get the impulse and vague idea for a post I work on it more thoroughly – the pressure from your Dear Reader raising my bar instead of just first-thing-off-the-top-of-my-head posts (like someone we know on Twitter)).

Anyway I hadn’t solved the issue of difference so I did the next step I often do – ask Google with “what is the difference between guisar and cocer“.  [Interesting, I didn’t have those search results in a tab to go back and look at so I repeated the search and got nonsense; using cocinar instead of cocer gets better results but doesn’t actually repeat what I found before which is the point of this post.

Fortunately I do have a tab open that is the point of this post. Someone else actually did an academic project (in linguistics) on exactly this issue (and more) and that’s very interesting. Here’s an online PDF describing their work (or this alternative link which appears to be an archive that might be around in the future). If you’re actually interested go read this paper as that will be more accurate than my summary.

First I’ll quote this part which caught my attention:

As many words in the field as possible were compiled, for which purpose a variety of texts was used. The division of the words into basic and non basic was based on the intuitions of ten informants. Five Spanish dictionaries–an ordinary monolingual one, a Spanish/ English bilingual one, an etymological one, one on usage, and one of synonyms and antonyms–were consulted, as well as seven cookbooks, five from various areas of Latin America and two from Spain. The informants were all native speakers of Spanish, and, except for two who also spoke English well, they had little or no proficiency in English. They were from as wide a variety of Latin countries as it was possible to find: one from Bolivia, one from Chile, two from Mexico, one from Panama, one from Peru, two from Puerto Rico, one from Spain, and one from Venezuela. Various methods were used to tap their intuitions: (long list omitted in this quote, see the paper)

¡Excelente! This is exactly the kind of work I’d like to be doing. Really getting as much raw data as possible from many sources before attempting to analyze that data. Great job, Mary Dardis.

The paper covers more than just my question (quisar vs cocer) and seems to be creating some sort of semantic network to include a lot of cooking terms (I expect to come back to this again).

So cutting to the chase my summary is (partly quoted material and my injected comments or paraphrasing)

cocinar (both transitive and intransitive) and cocer (transitive only): This apparent contradiction is resolved if we posit that the two are synonyms, differing only in transitivity. cocinar is used primarily to refer to human activity (i.e. subject used with this verb would be human) and cocer to refer to specific acts of cooking (when the verb takes an object). Both mean processing food through the agency of heat. Neither specifies the type of process used (my note, e.g. sauté or bake or braise). guisar refers solely to stove-top cooking; also can be the human activity or specific acts of cooking (i.e. it’s both transitive and intransitive).

So there is one clear distinction here – guisar is stovetop cooking BUT this business of “you fry it and then cook it in your sauce” isn’t covered (at least I don’t think so but the paper is long and I skimmed parts).

BUT, DUH (and this just hit me) GUISAR occurs in the GB list just after GUISADO. Now in both English and Spanish verbs get transformed in numerous ways so without even knowing the answer (yet) I’m betting these are related.

Want to know why? I kept thinking, from my cooking – sauté and then cook in sauce. I do that in one of my favorite dishes – lemon chicken with capers. But also I realized this is the process we usually use for braising meat, either directly or in chunks for making a STEW! Guess what GUISADO means! (Hint: it’s the past participle of guisar). In fact, guisado was another word where I did additional research even though its meaning was fairly clear. In this various sources sometimes a word will translate to some generic form, like ‘stew’, but in fact is a fairly specific recipe (even if there are variations). This is a critical part of my project – assuming a word like AJOARRIERO is in a dictionary (it is a stew) this isn’t just any kind of stew but something common but specific. Would you want to order something from a menu if all you knew was it was a stew? Or what if there are several items that translate via your simple app or dictionary to ‘stew’ – which one do you get? Now if you’re fluent in Spanish you can discuss this with your server, BUT if all you’re doing is reading menus you need to know more.

But why save me all this trouble (which while time consuming is a great learning experience). Now that I know guisar is ‘to stew’ let’s go look it up. And, violá, the translations at for ‘to stew’ are (drumroll, please!): guisarestofar and cocer (plus some more specialized senses). It’s amusing that cocer is listed given its own translation doesn’t include ‘to stew’. So when all is said and done with this post it’s really just the same subject as yesterday: simple dictionary lookups (whether in your phone app or here online or in a dead tree dictionary) is going to mislead and you won’t have the couple of hours I burned up on this while you’re sitting at a table in Spain.

[BTW: Doing all this investigation gave me a new question, about subtle differences – what is the difference between guisar and estofar? But I’ve hit my endurance quote for this so I’ll save that for a later time.]

Mary Dardis’ paper was focused on linguistics and just happened to use cooking terms for the raw material. But it would be really cool if someone who is solidly bilingual and a great chef (are you listening José Andrés?) would do a similar (but far more extensive) project.

Well, that’s not likely to happen so I may be the best you’ll get and certainly when I find information that is beyond my ability at least I can give you the link.

Asymmetry in translation dictionaries

I’m at the mercy of online translation dictionaries to do this project and I’m using them a lot and thus gradually learned some of their eccentricities. So I thought I’d mention a very simple example. This is based on using which in general is a tremendously helpful source and thanks to them very much for providing it, free, online.

But I’ve found a challenging issue of asymmetry in looking up Spanish words to get English versus looking up English words to get Spanish. For instance, for Spanish word X you might get English results A, B, C, but then looking up A or B or C you may not get the original X and/or you get Y and Z Spanish words. Likewise, as this example will show you look up English word D, which was not in the list for lookup of X, but it does show X.

Here’s what I mean in example (this is GallinaBlanca’s definition of gourmets (yes with the s)).

Persona entendida y de gustos refinados en la gastronomía.

The spanishdict translation is

Understood person and of refined tastes in the gastronomy.

Now needless to say this looks a little clunky PLUS ‘understood’ just doesn’t seem to fit. Matching the bits of the sentence it is entendida that is being translated to understood. Looking up entendida in it is listed under the verb entender (to understand).  Digging through the conjugation on the spanishdict’s page for this very entendido is listed as the past participle (don’t understand the masculine form there and the feminine form in the sentence, but that’s a different mystery). Hence ‘understood’ is the direct literal translation.

But reading the sentence and knowing what a gourmet is (that word being a loanword into Spanish) I thought ‘knowledgeable’ would fit the definition much better. Now while ‘know’ is one of the definitions of entender (as intransitive verb) it’s hard, from just scanning spanishdict’s entry on entender to conclude ‘knowledgeable’ is one of the meanings.

So here is the asymmetry (just this one example, I’ve encountered this before in multiple case). Lookup up ‘knowledgeable’ in  Under the general sense of “knowing a lot” the first translation is informado which is qualified with the sense (of current affairs). Then second translation is  entendido  which is qualified with the sense of (about a specific area). And the third is  culto which is qualified with the sense of (in general).

Now (and I should have tried this before launching into this post) looking up entendido (instead of the entendida used in the original text) spanishdict tells me this is ‘expert’ which might be even better than ‘knowledgeable’.

So what is the point? If one has studied a foreign (to them) language a lot and really gotten into its structure and rules and vocabulary, plus colloquial usage, all these things I’m noticing are probably obvious and a fluent Spanish speaker would probably laugh at my stumbling through these things. Fine, that’s not the point. I’m writing these posts for people like me, i.e. willing to acquire some familiarity with Iberian Spanish for the pragmatic purpose of getting what you want at restaurants. Sure, fluent conversational skill in Spanish is an excellent idea for an extended tour of Spain but that may not be feasible. (I’ve consulted with a couple of people who’ve studied Spanish for years and, frankly, they haven’t been much help on some of the details I’ve been encountering as they are more focused on broad and general conversations).

And in contrast hauling along some small paper translation or phrase guide (as I’ve done in multiple countries) or these days using an app on your app (assuming you want to pay the stiff tariffs for Net connection while trekking) these tools do these same simple things I’ve been doing in this project AND THUS often getting a bad answer. Now unless you want to spend hours analyzing a menu before placing your order it’s best to have something more sophisticated than the best tools available today. Now maybe in a few decades Google (or someone) will have an incredibly great translation app but the state of the art today leaves a lot of gaps. So, now, entendida human translation beats the machine and if I succeed, at least for a narrow area of discourse, I hope to create that more sophisticated translation for diners.

Adventures with sources

Note: I’ve been involved in a particular part of this project for nearly a week and have material for numerous posts but due to holiday activities haven’t had the time to make any posts, so now I’ll just provide the background for some future posts when I catch up.

My project involves building up a large corpus of Spanish food items and descriptions (aka preparations, recipes)  from menus of actual restaurants in Spain and then from that corpus deducing (ideally with some AI-ish code) a Spanish-to-English “vocabulary” of food terms/phrases/concepts, not just for Spanish in general, but specific to Iberian Spanish (thus avoiding many terms only found in Western Hemisphere, or worse, that mean something different in Spain than elsewhere (e.g. tortilla)).

So I was doing my virtual walk along the Camino de Santiago and finding restaurants via POIs on Google Maps and then grabbing those that had websites and online menus to extract for my corpus, a tedious process but one that produces good “raw” data plus gives me a chance to actually internalize some Spain food knowledge (vs pure AI approach that Google uses). In doing this I went off on two levels of distraction. First, I noticed a grocery store (supermercado) on the map that then had a website and as it turns out, also, online ordering. This was a great source since it had photos of the available products and thus the opportunity to get equivalent English words for the Spanish names of food items PLUS this would be oriented to Spain, not general Spanish. Second, in doing this I stumbled on to another business that is selling food online, Gallina Blanca, which I learned was a rather large multinational supplier to restaurants and homecooks. On their website they have a large number of recipes (recetas) which if I get decent translations would be a large source for my corpus, not just ingredients, but also preparation techniques.

But then I discovered an interesting item at the bottom of the webpage, a link to a diccionario.  I thought this would be a real bonanza of food terms but quickly learned: a) it is a real pain to extract information just due to the mechanics of how the webpage is built (i.e. mostly javascript, not HTML, therefore nothing to “copy” (with mouse selection) despite seeing it on the screen), and, b) then as I tediously did begin to extract some information and began to work out a process I realized ‘dictionary’, in this case, meant something different than I thought. I’m used to finding “translation dictionaries” online and referring to these just as ‘dictionary’. But at Gallina Blanca’s site they have the classic notion of a dictionary, i.e. a word (or term) and its definition, in Spanish. What I was expecting, naively, was the English equivalent for Spanish food terms and it turns out I have to do a lot more work to get that. So, for example,

AGUACATE Árbol originario de América, cultivado por su fruto, de pulpa espesa y perfumada. Muy usado para ensaladas, salsas y sopas. Native tree of America, cultivated by its fruit, of thick and fragrant pulp. Widely used for salads, sauces and soups.

Note: This is a good example of how there are enough cognates in the Spanish definition that it is possible, plus knowing only a few rules, to assign the word-by-word correspondence between Spanish and English for the corpus even without any significant knowledge of Spanish.

The actual dictionary gives me the definition in Spanish of aguacate. I used’s translate function to get the English from the Spanish definition.  BUT, this didn’t quite get me the same thing as finding that aguacate literally translates to avocado (which is itself a loanword in English) which then gives me a much better notion of what aguacate really means (especially in context of a restaurant menu) than the dictionary definition.

But in other cases having the definition is handy, especially in comparison to the literal translations in some dictionaries. For instance,

ABRILLANTAR Dar brillo a cualquier preparado con jalea, gelatina, grasa, o pintando con huevo la superficie de un manjar antes de meter al horno o de presentarlo. Give shine to any preparation with jelly, jelly, fat, or by painting with egg the surface of a delicacy before putting it in the oven or presenting it.

Brighten any preparation with jelly, jelly, grease, or painting with egg the surface of a delicacy before putting it in the oven or presenting it.

For this word I got both the translation (first one) and the Google translation (second one). abrillantar is obviously a verb and literally means ‘to polish’  (which one might guess) but its meaning in the cooking sense is better explained by the definition provided from this website, which I’d probably translate simply as ‘glaze’ even though glasear is the Spanish verb for that.

So after some time I have steadily refined my process (and streamlined it a bit, actually learning a semi-hidden feature of MSWord to reduce number of manual steps per entry) and begun to realize what I can really learn from the tedious process of crunching through a large number of terms (gracias, GallinaBlanca). And several of those entries will be the basis of some future posts.

But I have been curious about attempting to discover the source and range of this dictionary. GallinaBlanca doesn’t say anything (that I can find) about where they obtained this dictionary. So I face a classic problem I had in earlier versions of this project of getting terms that really are for Spain, not somewhere else in Spanish-speaking world where those terms might not be used or understood in a restaurant in Spain. But without any explanation of this dictionary this is a guessing process for me, but occasionally I get clues. For example,

AREPA Pan de maíz amasado con huevos y manteca. Corn bread kneaded with eggs and lard.

Wikipedia has a good article on arepa that makes it fairly clear this is something common in Colombia or Venezuela but doesn’t even mention Spain. This is just one clue (I’ve had a few others in my work thus far but none as clear as this one, yet) and so I expect to find more as I work through and thus, hopefully, determine if this dictionary cannot fully apply to Spain (which, btw, I learned (I think) is best to refer to its Spanish as ‘Iberian’ or ‘peninsular’ (and not Castilian or castellano, since that irritates some people).

Also given there is no explanation of the source of this dictionary at the website I also have questions whether it is accurate. There is a clear error in the javascript – each page of the dictionary (by letter) is obtained by clicking on the letter in an A B …Z bar except that starting at ‘O’ it’s off by one position (‘O’ gets you words starting with ‘N’ and so forth). IOW, a simple human error. And one error makes me question if there are others. So, for example

ACIDELAR Poner zumo de limón o vinagre en el agua para cocinar huevos escalfados o verduras, para que no ennegrezcan. Put lemon juice or vinegar in the water to cook poached eggs or vegetables, so that they do not blackened. ₽  ₽ Put lemon juice or vinegar in the water to cook poached eggs or vegetables, so they do not blacken.

I couldn’t find acidelar in any online dictionary but did find this

ACIDULAR (literally: acidulate, make sour) Rociar con un líquido ácido frutas, verduras u hortalizas, con el fin de que conserven su blancura o color. Sprinkle with an acidic liquid fruit, vegetables or vegetables so that they retain their whiteness or colour.

Spray fruit, vegetables or vegetables with an acidic liquid, in order to preserve their whiteness or color.

so since the definitions seem mostly the same is the ‘e’ really supposed to be ‘u’ and whoever composed this dictionary just made a typo?

But the most interesting mystery (thus far) along these lines was

ALBARICO Especie de Palma (Bractis setulosa). Species of palm (Bractis setulosa).

I couldn’t find albarico in any online dictionary BUT there is the very similar term (in the GallinaBlanca dictionary and elsewhere) which is

ALBARICOQUE (literally: apricot, probably the fruit, not the tree itself) Fruto de albaricoquero, de hueso liso y piel y carne amarillas. Albaricoquero. Apricot fruit, smooth bone and yellow skin and flesh. Apricot.

So while the descriptions are quite different I thought, perhaps, albarico was simple some short form of albaricoque. But this is wrong.

In some cases words in Spanish, especially for plants, are derived from the Latin scientific nomenclature so I tried to look up, Bractis setulosa, assuming that (from the definition) was the Latin name. No results. So I tried bractis alone (found nothing that made sense) and then setulosa. A-ha! There was a valid entry, that seemed to match definition, for bactris setulosa AND this is a tree, according to Wikipedia ” spiny palm which is found in Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago and Suriname”. (also evidence this dictionary is not for Iberian Spanish) So that looks like a very plausible human typo, moving the ‘r’ from second syllable where it should be to first syllable where it is wrong (in the sense nothing can be found for that spelling). I felt this was a good piece of detective work on my part to spot this AND it represents fairly good proof there are mistakes in this dictionary. And where there is one there may be more.

So I’m still learning all sorts of interesting things from my slow plodding through all these entries (and will do some more posts) but all this work shows the challenge of trying to get an accurate (and even harder, complete) translation dictionary for Iberian Spanish.

Good words to notice: incluido and suplemento

Many of the menus in Spain are a fixed price with some choices for each of the meal courses. This is a convenient buying option to be able to pick a price and then the items available within that price.


You should notice these two words on the menu.

incluido:  Usually somewhere at the bottom these item indicates what additional costs might be included (or not, as in incluido) the bill, typically the VAT (tax) or IVA (in Spanish). But you may also encounter that one of the items as suplemento, an extra charge for this particular item.

Or, for the cognate incluir is the verb and (incluyo, incluyes, incluye, incluimos, incluís, incluyen are conjugations that might be used), notice that no is not which may proceed these various forms to indicate something is not included.

To avoid surprises you should scan the menu carefully and make sure you understand the possibility (or exclusion) of additional fees added to the check.

Note that tipping is typically not done, although: a) in restaurants primarily for tourists tipping may be standard (or at least they’ll try to convince you it’s appropriate, given you are used to it in other countries), or, b) a small “round up” in the bill may be just a bit extra to supplement the compensation your server will receive.