Practice Reading a Menu in Spanish

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Zehel

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.

A good way to practice a foreign language is by navigating through a local menu and its options. Learn about reading a menu in Spanish, menu categories, what to ask for and how to say it. Updated: 12/01/2021

'Comida' (Food)

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.

Menu Categories

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
  • - 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 Per&uacute. 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:

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