Ashley has a M.A. in Spanish as well as a B.S. in Foreign Language Education. She has taught K-12 and now teaches college level.
Food. It's an essential part of life and a window into culture and traditions, and some might argue that it tastes better when it's made for you. If you want to experience some Hispanic cuisine, maybe from a cafe in a Plaza Mayor in Spain or from a street food cart in Latin America, you're going to have to know how to read the menu, la carta, or the menu of the day, el menú del día, first.
A proper feast isn't complete without courses. Here are some menu headings you might need to know.
First, you'll probably order a bebida, or a drink, to help wake up your taste buds. You might consider:
- agua- water
- café- coffee
- té - tea
- gaseosa, soda, refresco-soda pop
- jugo- juice
- cerveza- beer
- vino- wine
An aperitivo, entrante, entrada or entremés refers to an appetizer as we recognize it in the U.S. in the sense that it is a small portion of food usually eaten before a full meal. For example, tapas are a popular snack, similar to a small plate or an appetizer that you might like to try in Spain.
While we're talking about tasty pre-meal goodies, let's not forget sopas y ensaladas, or soups and salads. Soups may also be labelled as caldos, which are more like broths, or cremas, which have a more creamy texture. You might also find traditional Spanish gazpacho, or a cold savory soup, under the menu category.
This brings us to the main course, the plato principal. Of course, this could include subcategories such as pastas (pastas), carnes (meats), pollo (chicken), pescado(fish) or mariscos (seafoods), just to name a few. If needed, you might also ask for options that are vegetariano or vegano. If you want to explore beyond the familiar, here are some traditional favorites you might try:
- Paella is a traditional dish from Spain that includes arroz (rice) and azafrán (saffron) as well as different meat options from pollo to mariscos and even possibly conejo (rabbit).
- Ceviche is a native dish from Perú. It's made with pescado' or mariscos that are crudos (raw) but marinated in citrus juices.
- Arepa is typical of Colombia and Venezuela and it is a sort of sandwich made with a thick corn tortilla filled with different carnes, vegetales, quesos (cheeses) and salsas, if you wish.
- We can thank El Salvador for the pupusa, or thick corn tortilla stuffed with almost any combination of quesos, carnes, vegetales y frijoles.
- Mofongo, a dish popular in the Caribbean, is prepared by mashing plantains and adding in different seasonings, carnes, vegetales, and other toppings.
- Mole is a Mexican salsa to try that combines of chiles picantes, or spicy chiles, with chocolate and many other flavors can be a great addition to any dish whether it be served over pollo or enchiladas.
- Empanadas are similar to fried dumpling or turnovers. They can be sweet or savory and stuffed with almost anything.
- Arroz con frijoles are rice and beans; a staple in most Latin American countries. Depending on the region, it can vary in preparation, seasoning, and even what the locals call it. Don't be surprised if it is offered for el desayuno, el almuerzo y la cena; breakfast, lunch and dinner!
If you want some extra goodies to go with your meal, consider ordering a side dish or acompañamiento. Possible choices are:
- arroz con frijoles
- papas / patatas- potatoes
- elote- corn on the cob
- chicharrón- a thick pork rind
- yuca- a sweet root vegetable
To bring your meal to a close, ask for a postre, you guessed it, a dessert! Common Hispanic desserts might include:
- Sopapillas-think cinnamon sugar on a fried tortilla, sometimes with ice cream.
- Flan- or a sweet custard dish that can come in many flavors, but is always topped with a sweet syrup.
- Churros- which are similar to doughnuts, made by frying dough and sprinkling with cinnamon sugar.
- Arroz con leche- which literally translates as rice with milk and is a rice pudding that can also be made with a variety of flavors.
How Would You Like That Cooked?
We all have our favorite food preparations. Although you might not want to admit it, you might really like fried food, or you might opt for other healthier options. Knowing these terms will help you discover some familiar favorites on a foreign menu.
Anything that is described as frito or frita would please any fried food lover while grilled foods will be described by a la parilla or a la plancha. If you opt for a baked option, it will read as al horno, while a roasted dish will include the word asado or asada. To add a little more flavor, dishes prepared a la leña or ahumado will have more of a fire-roasted or smoked taste, respectively. Other preparations include cocido or boiled, guisado or stewed and tostado or toasted. And if you can't take this heat, then stay out of the kitchen!
Now that you know some basic menu items, here are some phrases to help your experience run smoothly:
- Me gustaría means 'I would like. . .'
- Quisiera pedir means 'I would like to order. . .'
- La cuenta, por favor means 'check, please.'
Remember the important menu headings like bebidas, or drinks, and plato principal, or main dish. If you want to spice up the meal, don't forget to order an appetizer or aperitivo to start and a postre, which means dessert, to finish. It might be a good idea to order a sopa, soup, or ensalada, salad, if you're extra hungry. Now, acompañamientos, or sides, may or may not come with your plato principal, so keep that in mind as well. Don't forget to try to explore cultural favorites! Recognizing how a food is prepared as well as using proper manners can make all the difference as well. ¡Buen provecho!, or Bon appétit!
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