Finding verbs related to cooking

As you can see on the tabs above this post I have a list of verbs used in cooking, recipes, food and restaurants. Like many such lists I create these from all the lists I can find that other people make, consolidating many sources, some often wrong (spelling, definitions) and then looking words up in dictionaries, including the most authoritative until I think I have an accurate and comprehensive list. Needless to say this is a lot of work so if you look at my list you’ll see it’s mostly unfinished, but has a large number of verbs as candidates.

But is my list even complete? Even after combining all the sources I can find?

So in this post I’ll describe another way to find cooking verbs from original source textual material.

But first:

So I’ve wanted to get back and do more work on this blog, but alas for 898 days I’ve been almost totally occupied with trying to learn Spanish and it’s amazing that I never seem to have time to work on this blog, which, actually is more fun and potentially of benefit to others (my list of verbs is the third most referenced page on this blog; gradually my accumulated lists are being found by other people).

When I started this blog, with plan to build a portable app to decode menus in Spain, my sister said I couldn’t do that without learning Spanish. I was kinda sure that wasn’t the case (after all it is just solving a puzzle, don’t have to be able to speak or listen to do that). But I fell for her pitch and so got trapped in an almost endless cycle of all available time (really mental energy) going into learning Spanish. I won’t bore you with all that (or see other posts), but it is a trap, in that the more you learn, the more you forget and therefore have to do more drills to refresh your memory. Soon that becomes all consuming and thus other things fall to wayside.

Well, at least, as this exercise will show I got something from 898 days and over 200,000 individual drills. While my speaking is horrible and I can only understand clear and slow speech (and then only 70% of the words) my reading is not too bad. So I figure let’s use that a bit more to help with this blog.

I also realized, in previous tries at decoding menus, that actually one needs to know about the cuisine itself, the dishes, the ingredients, and how they are prepared. Even with words on a menu accurately translated there is more one needs to know in order to be able to order what you really want. And, duh, guess what the best way to do that is?

Read recipes in Spanish from Spain!

Now there is a trick to finding recipes in Spanish (as original language) but also for Spain (since food terminology in Latin America can be quite different). So don’t search with English queries! After a bit of experimenting I found

comida recetas en linea de espana

gets some good results (food recipes online from Spain, without the comida you get some strange results). So I’m going to spend a while with the results I’m getting from this but I want to start with a simple example.

Aguacates rellenos de pollo mechado (otherwise known as Avocados stuffed with shredded chicken). With simple word-for-word dictionary lookups of each word you might come close title (mechado as we’ll discuss is tough to understand) and this might sound good to try. (Question, are you eating some avocado or just using their skins as a bowel for the chicken? It there anything mixed with the chicken? Would you really want to order it?)

This just happens to be the first receta I picked (from RTVE’s recipe site (the public TV in Spain). So here is the preparation part of the recipe in original Spanish and with a Google translation I added.

Cocinamos la pechuga de pollo como más nos guste; al horno, a la plancha o cocida, y la mechamos con ayuda de dos tenedores.We cook the chicken breast as we like best; Baked, grilled or cooked, and we mix it with the help of two forks.
Abrimos los aguacates por la mitad, retiramos el hueso y, con ayuda de una cuchara, vaciamos parte de su pulpa para poder rellenarlos con facilidad.We open the avocados in half, remove the bone and, with the help of a spoon, empty part of its pulp to be able to fill them easily.
En un bol, machacamos la pulpa del aguacate que hemos retirado.In a bowl, we mash the pulp of the avocado that we have removed.
Picamos las hortalizas en brunoise y las mezclamos con el pollo mechado, la pulpa del aguacate, el cilantro, el maíz y la mayonesa.We chop the vegetables in brunoise and mix them with the shredded chicken, the avocado pulp, the coriander, the corn and the mayonnaise.
Para hacer la mayonesa, en un vaso de batidora disponemos los ingredientes. Introducimos la batidora de mano y comenzamos a batir sin mover la batidora, pegada al fondo.To make the mayonnaise, put the ingredients in a blender glass. We introduce the hand mixer and begin to beat without moving the mixer, glued to the bottom.
Cuando observemos que la emulsión comienza a crearse, comenzamos a hacer movimientos suaves hacia arriba y hacia abajo con la batidora de mano.When we observe that the emulsion begins to create, we begin to make smooth movements up and down with the hand mixer.
Rellenamos los aguacates con esta mezcla y ¡disfrutamos!We stuff the avocados with this mixture and we enjoy!

Now since it turns I can “read” (at least parse the sentences and know enough vocabulary) I’ve marked all the verbs, which is the point of this post, i.e. how to find verbs related to cooking. I think you should be able to do what I just did when you reach about the A2 level (basically one year of high school Spanish). To skip to the chase here are all the verbs (infinitive) that can be extracted from this receta:

abrir batir cocinar comenzar crear disfrutar disponer gustar hacer haber introducir machacar mechar mezclar mover observar pegar picar poder rellenar retirar vaciar

Of these verbs the ones marked would be likely in cooking prose and many of the others are either common verbs in Spanish (hacer, gustar, haber, poder) or used in many contexts other than cooking. IOW, if one is trying to accumulate a list using this approach (analyzing an appropriate corpus) you need to apply some human intelligence, which, thus as my sister claimed, requires some amount of fluency in the language. Of the verbs I marked, all are in my list at this blog, but finding them used in context can be helpful to focus on the translation most relative to comida.

In fact picar is a good example as the primary dictionary definitions are to sting, to itch, but in culinary context it is to chop, or as I have mentioned in previous posts in a restaurant setting the to peck (like a chicken) fits because this describes basically snacking finger-food appetizers. So context matters and dictionary lookups can be misleading (or what you learn in Spanish course that might be more likely to teach the more common meaning)

The Google translation is pretty good (given my ability to read the Spanish and compare) with just a couple of bad choices: while hueso has bone as primary translation, it is also pit which fits the context, The other two, pegada (stuck) and crearse (create) are a bit more subtle and I’ll cover those later. And vaso de batidora (blender glass) really takes some analysis as GT translation is very literal and not very helpful (we’ll cover this later as well)

Now I also marked a couple of words that are either not verbs or being used as verb in the context: for instance, in the first line ” con ayuda de dos tenedoresayuda is a noun (help), but it is also the third person singular present conjugation of ayudar (to help). Given subject pronouns are often omitted in Spanish, he helps would be translated just as ayuda. So how do you know whether it’s help the noun or help the verb? Context, which means some fluency in Spanish.

Another example is batidora, which is a case of making a noun from a verb root (IOW, knowing just verbs gives you a shot at guessing nouns). Most of the time a word ending in -dora is some kind of tool to do the action implied by the verb part, i.e. computadora, a tool that computes (computar), or in this case a tool that beats (batir).

con el pollo mechado and pegada show another common construct in Spanish. The past participle of a verb, for instance cocinado (cooked) from cocinar (to cook) can often be used as an adjective. Since the participle ends in -o, which is usually masculine, it becomes cocinada (feminine) when used with a feminine noun, which is why it’s carne asada and pollo asado, from asar (to grill). While mechado follows this pattern and gets translated (accurately) by Google as shredded, mechar is a bit mysterious to produce shredded. And pegada, used here as adjective, is really tricky, with -a there is dictionary entry of ‘punch’ (no fit in this context), but pegado is stuck or glued, from the verb pegar (to hit, to paste). So Google translated this as glued, which is kinda right, but this is referring to a mixing bowl and that one wants to have firmly “stuck’ to a surface so you can mix the stuff inside without the bowl spinning all around or sliding over the surface.

The point of a lot of these details I mention is that you can’t just grab a Spanish dictionary (in paper or on your phone) and type in a word and get a definition and, often, get a meaning that really tells you something. That’s why reading lots of recipes could help a lot to them reading menus. Menus don’t usually contain cooking instructions BUT they do often contain derivatives of verbs (as adjectives or nouns) to do tell you something.

So learning a selection of verbs, like from my list if I ever finish it, can help a lot in reading a menu.

And knowledge of Spanish help to figure out something like hemos retirado. Again, you might guess retirado is a past participle (and guessing it’s regular, thus the verb is retirar). Guess what, that’s right! retirar (to remove) is directly used in the instructions as the conjugated form retiramos, which (again missing subject pronoun, but deduced from conjugation is ‘we remove’). It’s interesting the style of writing this recipe used we do xxx a lot, which is a polite form of language (instead of the imperative, commanding you (the cook) to retira (if being familiar and addressing you as ) or retire (if being formal and addressing you as usted). This is also a good example of false cognate (not so obvious with retiramos, but you might guess retirado is retired and it’s not). Now hemos is the present we conjugation of haber, or we have. As in English this is one of the “moods” in Spanish (the perfect as calls it or Pretérito perfecto in Spanish). So I have removed and I removed (retiré or retiraba, which gets into the messy distinction between imperfect and preterite (both for action in the past) are different in Spanish, just as in English and have slightly different meanings.

And finally I’ll show off a bit more of 898 days of studying Spanish to explain poder rellenarlos. poder is used a lot in Spanish and basically means ‘to be able’ (aka ‘can’). But the -los on rellenarlos is one of those things that defeats looking up derivative words in a dictionary. The -los is for an indirect object pronoun, in this case, them, which we affix to the verb infinitve rellenar (to stuff). There is quite a bit of this in Spanish and it can be confusing.

For instance dámelo is three words stuck together (the accent just shows it’s not pronounced with the same stressed syllable as normal). is the imperative polite ‘you give’ (a command to you (usted) to give) from dar (to give); me is just me as the indirect object, and lo is just it (the object), IOW, give it to me. So, of course you can figure out that estas manzanas, dáselas is ‘those apples, give them to them’, right?

So why am I “showing off” so of what I learned and pretending I could teach you some Spanish. Instead of that interpretation what I am showing is how knowledge of the language does facilitate reading. Even if you don’t know all the root words in a piece of text (like cooking instructions) all these little bits of Spanish grammar and conjugation and sentence construction can let you find the words that really tell you something.

And for this post my lengthy discussion also demonstrates how to get a really good verb list – go through lots of recipes in tedious detail, finding verbs in context and then with a combination of the not-too-bad but often flawed Google translations and the rest of the context you can build up a reasonable corpus, i.e. the infinitive form of a verb and its (possibly multiples) meanings you extract from the translation and deduction.

So I’ll finish with something basic in this recipe, from its title; pollo mechado

mechado is the past participle (so -ed in English) of mechar. But a dictionary lookup of mechar (several good online dictionaries) doesn’t yield ‘to shred’. Instead you get to stuff, or to throw into, neither of which fit shredded very well. There is an additional meaning to lard that is intriguing (certainly sounds like a cooking term).

In fact from an excellent source I mention on my cooking verbs page, The somewhat crude Google translation yields this

At the time of wicking , holes are opened in the selected piece, and then they are filled, introducing in them foods that compensate for this tendency to dry out, usually bacon or bacon type fats , these are called wicks. Likewise, you can add elements that help make the piece tastier once cooked, such as aromatic herbs , vegetables, dried fruits, etc.

If you’re familiar with cooking, this is a description of the process of larding. Excellent, got it, but how does this get to shredding. The closest match in the dictionary (under culinary contexts) for ‘to shred’ is cortar en tiras (cut into shreds) or triturar (to grind).

Now in the past when dictionary searches fail to reveal a clue, I do just ordinary searches. Why try mechado , you’ll find a Filipino dish. So the best I could find, which fits this recipe is (from a user contributed site, just like this, attempting to explain Spanish phrases, but therefore often wrong)

Carne mechada is “pulled meat”…generally it is pork shoulder meat slowly cooked and then “mechada” (pulled) with a fork…like the pulled pork you put in a bun. Mechas is slang for hair threads….

It’s the ” y la mechamos con ayuda de dos tenedores ” in the first line (btw, that la before mechamos is not ‘the’, but an indirect pronoun it, which in this case precedes the verb, not affixed to it). So I guess. I have made pulled pork before, when the pork was too hot to shred by hand so I used forks, but wow, this one is tough. Given the “slang” is not used in Spain, presumably this must be a Latin American recipe.

All this work and now to summarize it all into a corpus and then do it a few hundred more times and I might be able to build a really good page that meanwhile a fluent Spanish speaker attending culinary school could create from memory.

p.s. In a little proof reading I notice I forgot to discuss nos guste (in the first line) so I’ll leave this as an exercise for the reader to deal with verb gustar and how to say you/someone/we likes/liked/will-like/would-like in Spanish. Hint it involved the rarely taught in beginner Spanish subjunctive mood conjugation, but the often taught reflexive form.

te gustarás esta entrada de blog, sí

and you will say, por supuesto, excelente, me encanta.

A short example of finding cooking verbs in context

In order to create my list of cooking verbs here at this blog, for you and for me I used a process I’ve used (and refined a bit over time) for using various online sources to compile lists (this post has details). Then, after the tedious compilation and collation process, I attempt to generate my own, best-guess (from all the data I can find) at an English equivalent for Spanish verbs. Of course, in many cases there is no simple/short equivalent , so while ahumar is simply ‘to smoke’, what is the short equivalent for acanalar?

This is a tried and true process and if it is done very carefully can produce a very good list of cooking verbs with adequate and brief English equivalents. It is, by the way, rather hard to do this well and many lists I find on the net are not so great.  And if one is thorough it’s also possible to create the most comprehensive list one can find. So this is a challenging project even if it turns out few people will find this source.

So now I’m looking at a different process, described in this previous post about how I’m changing the focus of my work, that is now looking at recipes instead of menus to find a robust vocabulary of food/cooking terms in Spanish.  Now given I’ve actually spent 1.5 years learning Spanish I can use other techniques to find source material.

So here is a very short example as: a) the full recipe has lots of interesting tidbits, and, b) I don’t have enough time, today, to explain all of it.

Here is the webpage for making Tacos Tlaquepaque. This a great site with many recipes and I encourage you to take a look. I’ll extract a few bits to add my analysis but I’ll honor their IP rights by not reproducing any of their material.

When I first started trying to extract Spanish food terms and their English equivalent I’d copy some text from various restaurants (only in Spain) and do my own processing (basically putting it in a format I could annotate in MSWord). Then I’d get the Google Translation (or in a few cases a human translation) to put side-by-side with the English. I figured I could just match up bits from one column to the other column and thus extracts “pairs” (Spanish and English) to put in a corpus. I quickly learned this was a fairly naive idea and I had a lot of fun writing earlier posts about quirks that descend from this approach.

Now that I’ve learned some Spanish, although still below intermediate level, I can “parse” (to put it in computer sense) a corresponding English (whether GT or human) and match up much better with the Spanish and I’ll show a few examples of this.

So let’s get started. I’m going to take step 1 (of this recipe) of the instructions or Elaboración paso a paso (step-by-step elaboration (that’s literal from GT, preparation is a bit clearer than elaboration)).

Retira la carne del paquete y enjuague bien, seca con toallas de papel. Coloca en una olla de cocción lenta o en una olla grande normal. Cubra con agua. Agrega la cebolla, el ajo, las hojas de laurel, la mejorana y el tomillo. Cocina durante 8 horas si usas la olla de cocimiento lento a temperatura baja. Si prefieres cocinar utilizando una olla normal en la estufa, cocine durante aproximadamente 2 ½ a 3 horas hasta que la carne esté muy suave y se pueda deshebrar fácilmente. Una vez que la carne esté cocida, deshebra y separa 6 tazas de carne para hacer los tacos.

So let’s reformat this and break it down the way I do it to study.

Retira la carne del paquete y enjuague bien, seca con toallas de papel.

Coloca en una olla de cocción lenta o en una olla grande normal.

Cubra con agua. Agrega la cebolla, el ajo, las hojas de laurel, la mejorana y el tomillo.

Cocina durante 8 horas si usas la olla de cocimiento lento a temperatura baja.

Si prefieres cocinar utilizando una olla normal en la estufa, cocine durante aproximadamente 2 ½ a 3 horas hasta que la carne esté muy suave y se pueda deshebrar fácilmente.

Una vez que la carne esté cocida, deshebra y separa 6 tazas de carne para hacer los tacos.

Remove meat from package and rinse well, pat dry with paper towels.

Place in a slow cooker or large regular pot.

Cover with water. Add the onion, garlic, bay leaves, marjoram, and thyme.

Cook for 8 hours if you use the slow cooker on low heat.

If you prefer to cook using a regular pot on the stove, cook for about 2 ½ to 3 hours until the meat is very soft and can be easily shredded.

Once the meat is cooked, shred and separate 6 cups of meat to make the tacos.

So that’s the original Spanish, with some spacing to make it more visible and the Google Translation, which, actually, is pretty good. Now in my MSWord file I’ve eyeballed and found all the verbs (or verb derivatives) and marked those with color (which I’ll now repeat as WordPress lost my coloring of bits of text). I can do this (mostly), even for verbs I don’t know because I can now “parse” the Spanish even if I don’t know all of this text.

Now, Dear Reader, if you know a little Spanish you will see how relatively easy this is to parse and tie together English words to Spanish. For everyone else only some basic knowledge of Spanish is required to know that the order of words changes (paper towels is towels of paper (toallas de papel)), a bit, from Spanish to English, or sometimes two words are used in Spanish for one in English (una vez, literally one time, is once) and otherwise it’s fairly easily to associate.

So let’s look at the first sentence and what I extract from this:

Retira la carne del paquete y enjuague bien, seca con toallas de papel.

There are three verbs in this:

  1. retira has corresponding ‘remove’. This is because retirar is the regular -AR infinitive but the -a ending is a little tricky as it appears two places in a conjugation. -a indicates 3rd person (he/she/formal-you) indicative present OR it indicates 2nd person (informal you) imperative. Using is a bit more common in Mexico than Spain and this is a “friendly” website so it uses the informal you and corresponding conjugation. Thus retira is not ‘he /she/it removes’ but instead [you] remove!, as a command. Note that Spanish is interesting in that often pronouns are omitted so one has to detect person directly from the conjugation, which makes this a bit tricky, especially in spoken Spanish when races by at a million miles an hour. So from this single word I extract the pair: {retirar : to remove}, which instead of listing as a “cooking” verb (since retirar could apply to lots of things) I would go ahead and put this in my “common” verbs section of my COOKING VERBS page, since, well, it’s likely to appear in recipes. Now if I hadn’t learned some Spanish I might have just put {retira : remove} in my corpus, which, while technically correct, isn’t very accurate. Whew, a long explanation and one no fluent Spanish speaker would need, but perhaps some of my readers are also trying to learn Spanish.
  2. Now enjuague is fun as it corresponds to the English ‘rinse’. Looking in my favorite dictionary I find enjuagar which it turns out is the irregular verb ‘to rinse’.  So this is the conjugated form for 3rd person imperative, which is interesting, since 2nd person was used for the other verb. Now rinse could apply to other things than rinsing food but I’d call this a “cooking” verb and in fact have it in my list, although undefined at the time of this post.
  3. So that leaves us with seca which corresponds to the verb ‘pat’ but given what we’ll know about this, now it’s two words in English that correspond to one in Spanish, so ‘pat dry’ is the equivalent.  And that’s what makes this interesting and Google’s translation kinda cool. seca alone is from secar (to dry), or 2nd person indicative present or 3rd person imperative. Where is ‘pat’ in all this?  Well, ‘to pat’ doesn’t have a direct (infinitive) Spanish equivalent; instead the dictionary says dar palmaditas or acariciardar palmaditas is fun because it is literally ‘to give a little pat’. IOW, actually there isn’t a direct one word equivalent in Spanish of ‘to pat’ in the context of this recipe. Now guess what. In my learning Spanish I did get ‘hacer ejercicio‘ (or hago ejercicio conjugated for I). In English we have the verb, ‘to exercise’ but there is no direct equivalent in Spanish, so we have to say ‘do exercise’ so ‘do’ is the verb and ‘ejercicio/exercise’ is the noun. So, really the most direct translation is simply “dry with paper towels”, not pat dry. So this is cute that Google has found, statistically that seca in this context is ‘pat dry’ which, frankly is a bit better translation in this context – cool, congrats Google.

OK, you can see why I said I couldn’t cover the entire recipe if just crunching though one sentence has taken this long!

So I’ll leave as an exercise to my reader, what would you put into my verb list {Spanish:English) from just one step out of seven in a recipe?

So I’ll close with this: deshebrar. This infinitive is implied bythis sentence:

Una vez que la carne esté cocida, deshebra y separa 6 tazas de carne para hacer los tacos. (Once the meat is cooked, shred and separate 6 cups of meat to make the tacos.)

So deshebra (shred) is a conjugated (imperative) form of deshabrar. But this is the main point of this:  is not in my list, so analyzing this one step of one recipe I’ve found something to possibly add to my list.

The dictionary definition ( has a strange primary meaning: ‘to unpick’ (in the context of sewing, not even sure what that means) or ‘to unstring’ (in the context of to strip of fibers). HUH! But then, it turns out, as SD says, unique to Mexico, it also means ‘to shred’. Bingo, now we have a pair {deshebra : to shred}. Cool, except how many people in Spain might get this? And thus, I don’t have this in my list, because nothing I found online had this. So now I have something new to add to my COOKING VERBS, but, I must qualify it as Spanish only used in Mexico! Now, interestingly, has the multi-word cortar en tiras as the culinary sense of ‘to shred’ and the word-by-word is literally ‘to cut/chop in strips’ (not quite the same as I think of with ‘shred’).

So in this tiny amount of original Spanish I hope I’ve exposed you to the challenges I fact (in creating my COOKING VERBS list) and you (also me) would face in reading recipes.

Fun, eh!



Studying recetas

I recently described my shift in focus to learning about Spanish comida terms from studying recipes (recetas) instead of menus (cartas: my original focus) and  also focusing on Mexico instead of Spain. I’ve just begun this project but I have processed a single sample that I’ve analyzed to reflect on the difference.

My basic question is how could one compile the largest and most comprehensive corpus of words related to food, cooking, dining and gastronomy. An extensive and as accurate as possible corpus can then be fed into a computer program (AI, or fairly conventional algorithmic) to generate a “translation” tool, not to translate in literature sense but good enough for a diner to select what they want to eat from a menu.

There are many ways but four main approaches to ordering food in Spanish: 1) be completely fluent in Spanish, as well as the cuisine of the local area, 2) use a translation tool based on a corpus just extracted from menus for the desired cuisine, e.g. Spain, maybe even regions of Spain, or any other Spanish speaking country where it’s likely there may be many terms that are not used in Spain, 3) used a translation tool based on the broadest cooking and dining and gastronomy sources, and, 4) achieve sufficient fluency in Spanish to discuss food choices with the waiter, or chef, if needed, or perhaps other people in seeking recommendations.

So, IOW, learn Spanish generally, but also including specialized terminology for food and cooking and gastronomy or just obtain (or in my case, build) a translation tool specialized on food terms. Which is easier and/or most effective? Which would accomplish my original goal?

So I’ve started with a good/fun/interesting site for getting lots of recipes in Spanish (and some with human English translations) for food in Mexico. Now I actually have about 10 cookbooks (we’re a bit of collectors of cookbooks), all in English. So I’m fairly familiar with Mexican cooking so I looked around, briefly, online to find a good Spanish source and found:

Mexico en mi cocina

I explored this site to get a feel for what content is there and settled on this recipe as my first test case: Tostadas de tinga de atún and a companion site in English Tuna tinga toasts.

Now right away we have an interesting word: tostadas. In the general sense of Spanish (and definitely in Spain) this would be ‘toast’ or ‘piece of toast’ and from any previous look at menus in Spain this is what this word appears to mean (or sometimes equivalent to crostini or bruschetta). But to anyone who has eaten in most any Mexican restaurant in USA (or presumably Mexico), it has the meaning my dictionary lists as applicable to Mexico as tortilla. Now in Mexico (and USA) tortilla is the familiar “maiz pancake” as the dictionary says, although often it may not be from maiz (corn) but also might be wheat flour, sometimes even whole wheat flour. In contrast, in Spain, tortilla is almost universally a kind of omelet (as dictionaries or Duolingo say, but it’s really closer to the Italian frittata than the French omelet; in fact, on some menus I studied in Spain what we norteamericanos think of as ‘omelet’ is called tortilla frances. So right away I have a good example of how Spanish words are not universally understood the same way in different Spanish speaking countries.

All this said, however, a dish in a restaurante mexicano in the USA labelled as a tostada would not be just a tortilla, but a tortilla, usually fried and crisp, placed flat on a plate and piled with various additional ingredients. In fact this receta I’m using as an example,  the corn tortilla has a thin spread of frijoles, then the tinga de atún (tuna in a red sauce), then shredded lettuce (lechaga) and then a dressing of Mexican crema (something similar to sour cream or crème fraîche). I think you can see a picture from this site (or use the main url to go to the page).

I may do some other post about some other interesting issues, on this page, about reading Spanish but now I just want to show a couple of statistics about the issue of knowing Spanish (generally) versus just looking at food/cooking related Spanish.

As of today, I’ve studied in Duolingo for 550 days. I’ve done 94 of their lessons (known as “skills”). According to their statistics I’m 59.1% complete,  and have done 2623 lexemes (58.7%) out of 4466. Several of the skills have been focused on restaurants or grocery scenarios. My rough guess is I’ve spent about 1500 hours just on this study. In addition I’ve now completed about 30 hours of intensive “immersion” technique classroom study. I’ve come fairly close to completing the A2 (CERF) standard level of Spanish, which means I’m getting close to intermediate level, although in terms of verbal proficiency I’m still back in early A1 level, IOW, just barely able to talk to a waiter, not hold an extensive culinary discussion. All this is certainly in the range of about one year of high school Spanish, maybe even a bit more.

Now what does that do to help me read the receta? Interestingly fairly useful, although I have to say also having the pictures of the preparation of the dish helped me puzzle through some words I didn’t know. And for the most part I could “parse” almost all of the sentences as I’m basically familiar with most of the Spanish grammar to read this.

BUT, and a big but.

I just don’t have enough vocabulary to really read this. So that’s some of the data I’ve analyzed. This is a problem with learning a language. A small number of words are the most frequently used and thus quickly learned in general Spanish classes but then a vast number of words is required to really understand. IOW, you spend 10% of your time to learn 80% of the text (by count) and another 1000% of your time to learn the other 20% (by count). The, of, and, for are handy to know but have little information content.

I have written a couple of programs to help me: 1) a program (lexer) with a lot of options and special features to identify all the unique terms/words/lexemes (essentially the same thing in this context), and, 2) another program (flashcards) I use for my own types of drills, where I have coded all the words I’ve encountered in Duolingo (that 2623 number above) but that I expand with all the conjugations for the tenses I’ve learned and a few more variations so my drill has about 4500 words in it. I then have a option to compare all the words from lexer with all the words in my flashcards to find “new” words.

So the text of the webpage for this recipe, which includes some descriptive material, not just only the recipe, has 226 unique words (for instance, it has cebolla (onion) and cebollas which I count as two words, even though cebollas is just the plural of cebolla; or cocido, cocina, cocínalos, cocine which are different forms of the verb cocinar (to cook); or la, las, los (but not el), which are variants of the in Spanish, the most common words).

IOW, 226 “words” is not very many, but how big would my own vocabulary need to be to be likely to know most of these 226 words?

Well we start with the statistics that I’ve learned 93 out of 226, (41.2%)  of these words in 1.5 years of studying Spanish, so by that measure I’ve got 2.16 years to go. BUT, many of these words are specialized to cooking and thus not very likely to be learned in another two years of general Spanish. So here are the words I’ve learned in 1.5 years, all fairly common:

aceite cebolla cebollas cena cocina comer comida comidas fresco frijoles fuego jugos latas menú mexicana mexicano pescado picante plato preparar queso sal saludable saludables suave taza tazas tomate tostada tostadas vegetal

Not bad, but try to figure out the recipe from just that vocabulary. BTW, fuego, which I’ve learned as ‘fire’  and medio (media for me since it goes with hora which is feminine) I’ve learned as ‘half past'(as in a time) and alto which I’ve learned at ‘tall’ are used in the phrase, fuego medio-alto, which one, with my knowledge I might, but just barely, guess is ‘medium-high heat’. Did you get it, Dear Reader? So while I’ve “learned” these three words I’ve never had them in this combination, so ‘fire half-past tall’ is a pretty lousy translation.

For instance, here are the words (50) from the ingredients part of the recipe (including a few terms for measures), with the words I haven’t had in Duolingo marked in red:

aceite adobo ajo al atún blanca cada cebolla chile chipotle crema cucharada cucharadita de desmenuzado diente en enlatado finamente fresco frijoles grande gusto latas lechuga maíz mediano mexicana mexicano negros o onzas orégano picada picado pimienta pintos queso refritos sal tamaño taza tazas tomate tostadas una vegetal y

So, the words I haven’t learned in a general Spanish class is about half of the ingredients section AND most of the words that are really critical to this recipe I have not learned (some, of course, I remember from studying menus in Spain). So for instance, one ingredient is:

1 diente de ajo grande finamente picado

Now this has an interesting tidbit. In Duolingo I learned diente as tooth and ajo is a very common word most people would know to be garlic. So what is a garlic tooth? My favorite dictionary SpanishDict.Com doesn’t know, word-by-word, what this is, but here’s where 1.5 years of studying Spanish pays off (especially with frequent use of this dictionary and understanding how to look things up) and so the de is an important clue (general Spanish knowledge) which is ‘of’ but more importantly that means ajo is a qualifier of diente, so treating this as a single “term” we find ‘clove of garlic’. So either general study or specific looking at cooking/food terms makes this understandable. Now grande isn’t hard and finamente can be deduced (due to general Spanish knowledge) as an adverb (-mente ending) and a guess (it’s a bit of a cognate) this is either finally or finely and of course finely makes sense in a recipe. Again from general knowledge of Spanish most words ending in -ado are past participles of -AR verbs, which I’d then deduce as being picar. Not very likely to guess that, but by luck, in this blog, I’ve previously learned what para picar means on a menu in Spain. picar has multiple meanings and an somewhat unusual one, ‘to peck’ (like a bird) leads to ‘to nibble’ (for a person), so this somewhat common phrase essentially means ‘to snack on’, i.e. some kind of finger food placed on the table to be shared. But in this recipe its meaning ‘to chop’ applies and the past participle in English would be ‘chopped’, which of course is what it means. So Google Transfer actually got this spot-on

1 large garlic clove, finely minced

So if Google is getting this right, why do we need to either learn Spanish or use an automated tool just for cooking/food? And in fact the Google Translation is very close to the human translation (just a couple of the usual GT mistakes) or my translation. So would be fine as long as you have an internet connection is some tiny town in Mexico, but maybe you’d like to have an app on your phone that works offline.

So let’s consider the final statistic. Of the 93 words in the recipe that I have not encountered in 1.5 years of general study of Spanish, 59 (63.4%) are related to food or cooking. So a word like mariscos (generic ‘seafood’, sometimes just used for shell fish, esp. in Spain is a common “food” word.  espolvorea is the conjugated from espolvorear (to sprinkle) which I call a cooking term (you might see this on a menu) or desmenuzado (past participle of desmenuzar (to crumble, among many definitions), so crumbled) is another cooking term. Note: Both of these verbs are in my unfinished COOKING VERBS page so I guess I’ll need to finish that and possibly expand it as I crunch through recipes, as I note a verb in this recipe, ensamblar, that I don’t have in my list and it is a useful verb to include.

tamaño I had to look up (size) which is interesting as I’d learned talla (also size) in Duolingo but it only applies to clothing which is another interesting point – Spanish words have multiple translations into English (and vice-versa) and some of those only apply in certain contexts, so therefore even learning one of multiple meanings in a general Spanish course may not help, or even be confusing.

One thing I can say is that learning how verbs work in Spanish and various, especially all the common, conjugations makes it easier to figure out things and in some case more clear (for instance, -zando vs -zado, is crumbling vs crumbled and that would be handy to know.

So here’s all the words (93) I haven’t had in 1.5 years of general Spanish with the food/cooking words (59) embolded. and words that I can recall from my previous work (as part of my original purpose of this blog), i.e. translating menus in Spain.

acerca activación adicional adobo agrega agregar ahumado ajo alacena aperitivos aprovecha aproximadamente así atún botana calidad calienta cantidad celebrar chile chiles chipotle cocción cocido cocínalos cocine coloca combina condimenta crear crema cubra cucharada cucharadita decisiones dejar delicia deliciosa deliciosas delicioso derretido desmenuzado elaboración enlatado ensamblar envasado espolvorea expresadas finamente fuente gotas haya incluir ingredientes lechuga liberado maíz mariscos mediano mitad oliva onzas opción opiniones orégano patrocinada picada picado pimienta pintos pizca podrás preparación propósito proteínas publicación raciones realmente receta refritos rico rocíe sabor sartén sea será soltado tamaño tinga total transparente usaremos virgen

And, of course, even in this small sample we see a difference between Spain and Mexico’s Spanish in that chipotle, pintos, refritos or tinga are unlucky to appear in Spain. And, as exercise for the reader, in Spain this phrase: Si te gusta la comida un poco picante, would most likely have os instead of te.

So, what does this [over]analysis say? I would conclude that learning Spanish, even in general way, is helpful, but using a standard math/legal paradigm: a) not necessary (although helpful), and, b) not sufficient.





De nada por usar mi glosario

Thanks for using my glossary.

I’ve noticed an uptick in hits on my glossary and verbs pages and that’s fine with me. I’ve spent a lot of time searching for clues about Spanish food words online and have found a lot of material. So now that I’ve assembled my list I’m happy to give back. I hope no one extracts by glossary directly, not so much because I’m worried about IP rights (intellectual property) but because anything online should definitely be considered of dubious authoritative meaning.

In my glossary I tried hard to get reasonably accurate English equivalents, but: a) I have only a little Spanish fluency and thus might easily make mistakes, and, b) without thorough proofreading and review even correct information may have errors, especially typos.

Also exactly where (geographically) a word is used matters. Once when I just blindly compiled and merged some glossaries I found I didn’t realize that the same Spanish word, in Spain, in Mexico, in Puerto Rico and other Spanish speaking countries doesn’t have the same meaning, especially for food. If you think this is a minor issue, see what you get (being used to Western Hemisphere food) when you order a tortilla in Spain or tostada in a Mexican restaurant in USA.

I think I’ve found most of the online glossaries and dictionaries and be assured I’ve found lots of mistakes and inconsistencies in them. So it would be a big surprise that mine also doesn’t have numerous mistakes. I’d love it if I had readers that wanted to comment corrections or even disputes about word meanings. I’ve found a few web sites where people do debate the meaning of Spanish words, but, thus far, haven’t managed to bring that kind of discussion to my blog, which I’d really like. But, Oh Well, at least someone is extracting something from my glossary.

I’d also note that both my glossary and my cooking verb list is an ongoing project, especially the verb list. I am spending as much time as I can immersed in Spanish, but recently mostly actually learning Spanish (I gave in and finally signed up for a real course, not just my self-study). So the time I have to continue to improve my glossary (I have a lot of source material I could compile, edit and add to my glossary) and I really need to get back to my verb list (quite extensive, but not thoroughly researched or published).

I enjoy doing this project even without any sharing with anyone, but it’s even better if the work I’m doing somehow benefits someone else. But, again, while I don’t mind people extracting material from this site, just be aware its quality is somewhat suspect and you should not think this is some authoritative source. Use my material but use your own judgment about its accuracy.

verbos for cocinarasustar

I first introduced the topic of compiling a comprehensive list of verbs, specific or re-purposed for cooking in a post about a month ago. This is a long and tedious process of searching for verbs, either with English or Spanish definitions, throughout the Net and then compiling them into a consistent list with enough research to create a reasonably short definition and then placing these in  a page at this blog for hopefully the most comprehensive list anywhere on the Net.

With this post today I’ll update my Cooking Verbs through all the verbs starting with A (a small fraction of my in-progress list). I decided to split that list in two sections: a) common verbs with general meaning that can be applied to cooking, and, b) verbs that are specialized and used primarily for cooking.

In the first post about verbs I mentioned that some verbs with common meanings get “re-purposed” into a more specialized meaning just for cooking. So as I crunch through my in-progress I sometimes find verbs that are so specialized and have interesting meanings, so I’ll discuss one, asustar, here. At the final part of this post (please keep reading or skip down) you’ll find the surprising definition, but I want to give the complete background of this cooking verb.

asustar is interesting because a standard dictionary definition is: to scare, to frighten. So how does this get applied to cooking. A somewhat longer definition, from Oxford, in Spanish (with Google Translations) is:

1 Causar un susto o impresión momentánea de miedo. 1 Cause a scare or momentary impression of fear.
2 Producir escándalo o asombro muy grandes. 2 Produce very big scandal or astonishment.
3 Añadir agua u otro líquido frío a un alimento que está en ebullición para que deje de cocer momentáneamente. 3 Add water or other cold liquid to a boiling food to stop cooking momentarily.

The third definition from this dictionary is the typical one used for cooking, which I’d treat as something roughly equivalent to “blanching”, although in most cases “to blanch” (usually vegetables) is to boil thing briefly and then remove and put into ice water to stop the cooking (not as this definition implies, adding cold liquid to rapidly cool down the cooking liquid). But the idea is the same and the consequence, especially for green vegetables, is to preserve the bright green color the initial boiling produces, rather than letting the cooking go on and dull the color.

In one of the really good online sources I found there is a very good definition (all in Spanish) which I’ll paraphrase here (original Spanish from the website and Google translations (a bit beyond the Spanish I’ve learned):

Cuando hablamos de “asustar” dentro del mundo gastronómico esta palabra adquiere una nueva significación. En ningún momento se refiere al verbo de dar un susto a alguien sino que se trata de una palabra que procede del latín y que procede de “suscitare”, algo que significa “suscitar” o “excitar”.

En Mami Recetas queremos ayudarte a que aprendas a cocinar y domines la cocina al máximo y, por eso, a continuación te daremos el significado de asustar en la cocina. De esta forma, conocerás cuál es su significado cuando usamos el término culinario en el mundo gastronómico.

When we talk about “scare” into the gastronomic world, this word acquires a new meaning. At no time does it refer to the verb of giving someone a scare but it is a word that comes from Latin and that comes from “suscitare”, something that means “to stir up” or “to excite”.

In Mami Recipes we want to help you learn to cook and master the kitchen to the fullest and, therefore, we will give you the meaning of scaring in the kitchen. In this way, you will know what its meaning is when we use the culinary term in the gastronomic world.

This is a good preface to then the elaboration of the explanation at this site:

Cuando decimos que vamos a “asustar” dentro del mundo gastronómico estamos haciendo referencia a que vamos a añadir un líquido frío a otro que ya esté hirviendo. El objetivo de esta técnica consiste en romper la ebullición de forma inmediata y, así, conseguir una textura sorprendente. When we say that we are going to “scare” into the gastronomic world we are referring to the fact that we are going to add a cold liquid to another that is already boiling. The objective of this technique is to break the boil immediately and thus achieve a surprising texture.
Por tanto, “asustamos” al líquido que está caliente e hirviendo añadiéndole otro a una temperatura más fría. … y conseguimos hacer que las salsas sean más espesas y tengan una textura diferente. Therefore, we “scare” the liquid that is hot and boiling by adding another at a cooler temperature. … and we managed to make the sauces thicker and have a different texture.
Básicamente usamos esta técnica en la cocina cuando estamos cocinando platos como las legumbres. … por ejemplo, de las alubias que cuando están hirviendo la piel puede volverse muy dura y provocar que terminen rompiéndose. En cambio, si añadimos agua fría a la cocción conseguimos que se “asusten”, es decir, que se evite la dilatación y no se rompa la piel. Basically we use this technique in the kitchen when we are cooking dishes such as legumes. … for example, of beans that when they are boiling the skin can become very hard and cause them to break. On the other hand, if we add cold water to the cooking we get them to “scare”, that is, to avoid dilation and not break the skin.

So that is a fairly good description of a basic cooking technique, but it’s the final bit that I found most interesting:

Otro de los momentos en los que se suele usar esta técnica es cuando estamos cocinando el pulpo. Con esto, se consigue que la piel se conserve y que por tanto el sabor del pulpo quede más suave y fino. Another of the moments in which this technique is usually used is when we are cooking the octopus. With this, it is achieved that the skin is preserved and therefore the taste of the octopus is softer and finer.

I had first encountered this term in my extractions from the Gallina Blanca dictionary, which unfortunately (for you, Dear Reader) doesn’t seem to be available any more; fortunately I extracted the material before this disappeared. So here is the definition I found over a year ago that I found so interesting (originally in Spanish, here with the Google Translation):

ASUSTAR (un pulpo) “asustar al pulpo” es ponerlo en abundante agua hirviendo  sumergiendolo en ella tres o cuatro veces, sujetando con unos palos su cabeza hasta que se “encoja”. Según expertos esto hace queden más finos y los tentáculos no pierdan los llamados botones. “Frighten (or scare) the octopus” is to put it in abundant boiling water sumergiendolo (submerging it) three or four times, holding with a few sticks its head until it “shrinks”. According to experts this makes them thinner and the tentacles do not lose the so-called buttons.

I couldn’t figure sumergiendolo when I first saw this and Google was unable to translate it, but as I’ve mentioned one benefit of actually learning Spanish is I can now understand some words Google can’t translate. So I now can recognize that the lo is object pronoun (it) stuck on the end of the present participle (aka gerund) of the verb sumergir (to submerge).

So this is certainly an interesting verb and totally unique to cooking technique. In fact, though I forget where, I saw a TV episode about the favorite/classic dish in Galacia, i.e. pulpo (octopus). I saw the cook do exactly this procedure, dunking the octopus in a large pot of boiling water and quickly withdrawing it and repeating this multiple times before putting the octopus all the way in the pot. I suspect this is a critical process to improving the texture of the octopus, which is then served, cut into pieces, on a wooden plank doused in olive oil and salt.

This dish is so common in Galacia there is even a name for a restaurant that features this dish: Pulperia, which otherwise might not be obvious. Although in other places this might just mean a grocery store,  Searching Google for “Pulperia in santiago” will yield various restaurants but also many photos of this famous dish.


Breakfast, lunch and dinner

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

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

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

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

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

Repurposing or inventing verbos for cocinar

One benefit of actually trying to learn Spanish is understanding how verbs work and how this understanding can make reading menus easier. Verbs are interesting in Spanish: first, there are a lot of them, often for a very specialized purpose, and, two, derivatives of verbs may appear in descriptions of food.

For instance, for many verbs the first person singular indicative mood present tense conjugation is also a noun, e.g. for trabajar (to work) [yo] trabajo means “I work”, but trabajo is also the noun for ‘job’ . Also the participles, especially present (aka gerund) can be used as an adjective (and then its ending matches gender and number), e.g. for ahumar (to smoke) ahumad{o|a}[s] (ahumado ahumada ahumados ahumadas) would mean ‘smoked’ and might appear in a menu item.

But other verbs, in the long list I’ve accumulated are not that likely to appear on menus but are frequently used in recetas (recipes) which sometimes appear somewhere on the website for restaurants. So even highly specialized verbs, e.g. desbarbar, which Google thinks is ‘deburr’ may be useful to know (in this case, its meaning changes to removing the fins from a fish).

So I’ve found at least 327 verbs that apply to cooking. Some have relatively common meanings, e.g. abrir (to open), agregar (to add), aplastar (to crush) and others have more specific meaning, relative to cooking, that are not found in dictionaries and thus can be quite difficult to translate.

So how did I get this list of 327 verbs? First I looked in various lists I found online of “common” verbs and extracted the ones that might apply to cooking, such as echar, which has many meanings, but in the context of cooking is ‘to pour’. Second, I searched for lists of verbs related to cooking and I found about 15 of these lists (with English translations). So I extracted everything from these lists, from the webpages, converted them to a common format, and sorted them and then began to: a) lookup definitions in the three dictionaries I use (, Oxford and DLE (aka RAE, the official authoritative dictionary); often some cooking verbs do not appear in these dictionaries; and, b) to consolidate the various translations, which sometimes contradict each other to create the most useful (relative to cooking) translation I can create. I expected, when I am done with this (a tedious and time-consuming process, that requires a bit of OCD to complete) that I might be able to create the most extensive list of cooking related verbs anywhere on the Internet.

I was working on this a long time ago, without really getting much more done than accumulating raw data, and thus, since starting that sub-project, have learned quite a bit more Spanish, not that much in terms of vocabulary, but a better understanding of sentence structure and especially verb conjugation (since so many verbs are regular). Plus my year of studying Spanish has made it possible that I can “read” (with some lookups in dictionaries) much better than I could before actually learning some of the language and also I’ve had a lot more practice using Google Translate and comparing its results with my own translations, but also where I’ve found parallel Spanish and English texts (many sites in Spain are multilingual and so I have human translations, by Spanish speakers, to compare to Google’s translation and my attempt at translation).

So when I returned to this project of trying to get good clean and consistent definitions of these 327 verbs I started doing some searches of multiple verbs at once, e.g. search for ‘abarquillar abatir  ablandar acanalar … receta‘ (or any list of at least four verbs) which I thought might get hits on glossaries written in Spanish (instead of what I’d previously found, glossaries of Spanish words with English translations). And, in fact, I found some excellent sources, that often provide very comprehensive explanations of these cooking terms even though I have to muddle through reading the explanation in Spanish (with help from dictionaries and Google translate).

So with all that as a preface and explanation of the process whereby I’ll eventually add a page to this blog with all the verbs I’ve found with English translations (in terms of cooking and food) I’ll provide a couple of interesting examples of this process from the ones I’ve now finished (abarquillar abatir ablandar abrillantar abrir acabar acanalar acaramelar acecinar aceitar aceptar achicharrar acidular acitronar aderezar adobar agarrarse agregar ahumar)

So let’s start with abarquillar . has some meanings: to curl up; roll up; to wrinkle; to warp. Now frankly that doesn’t help much, especially without some context. So in trying to go beyond dictionaries and find this verb in the context of cooking I stumbled onto a wonderful site (several actually, but this was the best).

I’ll extract a bit of its explanation (in Spanish, plus my slightly edited Google Translate)

Muchas veces los términos culinarios son muy descriptivos por sí mismos, de manera que aunque no conozcamos su definición exacta podemos tener una idea aproximada de a qué se están refiriendo. Es el caso del término abarquillar, que obviamente nos recuerda a una determinada forma. La definición tradicional de la RAE es: Encorvar un cuerpo ancho y delgado (una plancha metálica, una lámina, un papel, etc.) como si fuera un barquillo. Many times the culinary terms are very descriptive in themselves, so even if we don’t know their exact definition we can have a rough idea of what they are referring to. This is the case of the term abarquillar, which obviously reminds us of a certain form. The traditional definition of the DLE is: to develop a wide and thin body (a metal plate, a sheet, a paper, etc.) as if it were a wafer
Abarquillar en cocina Abarquillar in kitchen
En cuanto a término culinario su definición es un poco más precisa. Abarquillar se refiere a tomar forma convexa, de barquillo. Ocurre con la carne frita o asada. La forma de evitar que esto suceda es sacar el tejido nervioso que la rodea la carne y luego golpearla con una maza. As for the culinary term, its definition is a bit more precise. Abarquillar refers to taking convex, wafer shape. It occurs with fried or roasted meat. The way to prevent this from happening is to remove the nervous tissue that surrounds the meat and then hit it with a club.

Got it? Well, it turns out the picture at that website is a bit more useful – it shows bacon. Now if you’ve ever cooked bacon in a skillet you know it starts as a flat piece and as it cooks it “crinkles” and the ends curl up. Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. Likewise if you’ve ever fried a thin cutlet, with some fat on the edge you know it can curl up into a “convex wafer”. So that’s what this verb means, in cooking context, how meat curls up while cooking. So this website, which really has some excellent instruction on cooking skills explains how to prevent this (for bacon, the only real answer is baking it, not frying it; or if frying constantly flattening the bacon).

Now I doubt this verb would appear, in any form, on a menu but it certainly could be found in recetas. So it’s definitely something to have in a comprehensive list of cooking verbs.

So let’s move on to abatir (to bring down, as closest meaning Oxford provides) and use the same process, which led me to putting this definition in my glossary, ‘to blast chill’. For this same cooking site here’s some of its explanation:

¿En qué consiste abatir en la cocina? What is to bring down in the kitchen?
Aunque la palabra abatir no aparezca en el diccionario de la RAE como un término gastronómico, lo cierto es que sí que se suele aplicar en el universo de la cocina. En este caso, cuando usamos “abatir” estamos haciendo referencia a una manera de procesar los ingredientes que una herramienta que se conoce como abatidor de temperatura. Although the word abatir does not appear in the DLE dictionary as a gastronomic term, the truth is that it is usually applied in the kitchen universe. In this case, when we use “abate” we are referring to a way to process the ingredients that a tool is known as a temperature abductor.

IOW, this cooking instruction site is explaining the sophisticated (and rather expensive) device, often found on cooking TV shows, known as a blast chiller. This device can reduce (hence “bring down”) the temperature of something hot to a very low temperature very quickly. So this verb’s conventional meaning is quite different in the cooking context; and perhaps it might appear on a sophisticated menu.

And then there is abrillantar whose dictionary definition is “to polish, to enhance”, but in the cooking sense it really means “to glaze”, as in brush a glaze on a ham before (or during) cooking. So the gerund, abrillantando, has actually appeared in some menus. And there is acanalar whose dictionary definition is “to dig channels in, to corrugate”. Now what could that possibly mean for food. Well it applies a lot to preparing crusts for pastries, so this too might appear on menus.

And then a verb that is hard to decide, which came first, the verb or the food item itself, and that is acecinar.  This has dictionary meanings, “to salt, to cure” or “to get very thin”, some help but not enough. But then we connect it to Cecina de León, a prized item you will see on a lot of menus. The closest English equivalent is the noun jerky (and the verb I’ll invent for English, to jerkify). Jerky in the USA can resemble Cecina but it’s not the same thing, even though jerky is “thin” and “cured”.

And so finally we have agarrarse (the pronomial form) whose dictionary definition is “to hold on”, but in the most relevant context means “to stick”. So again from Mami Recetas website:

Cuando cocinamos y elaboramos una receta, es posible que a veces esta se “agarre”. Este término suele ser muy conocido entre los amantes de la cocina y de la gastronomía pero, también, puede ser que no termines de comprender a qué hace referencia. When we cook and prepare a recipe, it is possible that sometimes it is “caught”. This term is usually well known among lovers of cuisine and gastronomy but, also, you may not understand what it refers to.
En este artículo de Mami Recetas vamos a descubrirte qué significa agarrarse en la cocina para que, así, comprendas mejor toda la terminología del sector gastronómico. In this article of Mami Recipes we will discover what it means to hold on to the kitchen so that, thus, you better understand all the terminology of the gastronomic sector.
¿Qué es Agarrarse en la cocina? What is holding on in the kitchen?
En muchas recetas podrás encontrarte con consejos y recomendaciones que te indican que es mejor evitar que la comida “se agarre” o que la receta termine “agarrándose”. Pero ¿qué significa esto exactamente? Básicamente es un sinónimo del término “pegarse”, por tanto, cuando indicamos que se debe ir con cuidado para que una receta no se agarre, en realidad, estamos indicando que se debe evitar que se “pegue”. In many recipes you can find tips and recommendations that tell you that it is better to avoid that the food “grabs” or that the recipe ends “clinging.” But what does this mean exactly? Basically it is a synonym for the term “stick”, therefore, when we indicate that you should be careful so that a recipe does not get caught, in reality, we are indicating that you should avoid “sticking”.

It’s often difficult to reduce these lengthy explanations to a single line translation, but as an example here’s what I’ve accomplished thus far:

abarquillar to wrap, to curl up, to roll up, to crinkle, to wrinkle
abatir to blast chill (lit: to bring down)
ablandar to tenderize, to soften (butter)
abrillantar to glaze, to polish, to enhance
acanalar to dig channels in, to corrugate, to groove, to furrow, to flute
acaramelar to caramelize, to coat with caramel
acecinar to preserve meat with salt, smoke and drying
aceitar to oil, to pour oil onto, to lubricate
achicharrar to scorch, to burn, to burn to a crisp
acidular to acidulate, to make sour
acitronar to fry until crisp/transparent
aderezar to season, to dress, to garnish, to adorn, to liven up, to spice
adobar to marinate, to pickle, to dress
agarrarse to stick (lit: to hold on)
ahumar to smoke, to fill with smoke

So I have a long way to go as this is a time-consuming process but I hope to have a comprehensive set of verbs soon to post here. And then, knowing a few ways verbs get converted into other terms, this list may help with looking at menus.





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.