Archive for Spanish

Denominación de Origen / Certified Origin in Spain

Wine bottles showing labels for different Spanish D.O.

So you like food, wine, and all those good things?  And specifically Spanish food? Read on to learn about Spain’s  Denominación de Origen quality control system for agricultural products.

What is the Denominación de Origen (D.O.) system? It’s a Spanish regulatory system for some kinds of agricultural products and some kinds of food. Technically in English this is called Appellatation of Origin, but I prefer the easier to remember Certified Origin. Many other countries have their own regulation system, especially in the European Union (EU)

When was this system established? Spain’s main system is from 1996 (with some later updates) and is similar in some ways to the 1992 EU system. Two Spanish wine regions created their own regulations long before this date: La Rioja in 1926 and Jerez (Sherry) in 1933.

What are the advantages of the D.O. system? The D.O. system is a quality guarantee that protects and educates consumers. You know what you’re buying, and if you love or don’t love a product, you can read the specifications and learn for another time. The D.O. system also protects responsible producers by creating an identifiable product with a quality seal on the label, so no manufacturer can sell Rioja wine, for example (with all that name recognition) that does not meet Rioja quality specifications.

Who does the regulating? At the top is the Spanish Ministry that regulates agriculture (see suggested websites at the end). Every D.O. has a local administrative body called the Consejo Regulador; the Consejo is in charge of making sure the D.O. stipulations are followed and that the products labeled with the D.O. do indeed meet the requirements. The Consejo may also help new producers get on board, work with the government if regulations need changes, and also help promote the product outside the D.O. region. Additionally, if a private citizen sees or hears of infraction they can notify the Consejo, who should carry out an investigation and take action. (a cheesemaker I know did this when he learned that another cheesemaker was selling Torta del Casar cheese that didn’t meet the specifications and notified the Consejo of that D.O. It wasn’t a direct competitor, but the man I know said for the D.O. to work, it must be taken seriously by everyone).

Are there any disadvantages? The D.O. system imposes conditions / restrictions on producers, so there is less latitude to experiment with other raw material or other production techniques that might create an interesting new product. And while having a D.O on a product is good, not having a D.O. label can make success difficult for any product without the seal, even though it may be of very good quality.

So are there good products not certified by D.O.? Yes, many are excellent. There might be a wine producer very near the D.O. geographically, but cannot be a D.O. wine because the vineyards are not inside the geographical limitations. Or a cheese producer that cannot be D.O. because the goats are not the local girrrrls. Or products from areas that do not have D.O. certification (perhaps not enough producers or no agreement on the parameters), or the many agricultural products not covered by D.O. anywhere in the country. So a well-informed but cautious customer could make some really interesting discoveries, always with some caution and always checking for the registro de sanidad / official hygiene certificate / seal. (side note: very small family producers may not have the certificate and be fine, but buyers should always take care – best to not buy a case of wine or huge bottle of olive oil unless you are very sure of what you’re doing!).

What products are under D.O. in Spain? Most of us only think of wine for D.O., but this system also covers cheese, cured ham, sausage, seafood, olives, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, rice, saffron, paprika, honey, butter, hard cider, fruits, raw meat and vegetables.

What elements are described and regulated? As the name indicates, most important is the origin or geographical area (larger or smaller): that’s why the excellent Spanish bubbly is “cava” and never “Champagne”. Depending on the level of the regulation, the product probably must be grown (for plants) and raised (for animals) within the area; some D.O. also require the production process (if any) to take place within the area. The D.O. usually also includes requirements about the raw material – kind of grapes for wine, olives for oil, animal or even breed of animal for cheese and meats – and of course the fruits and vegetables certified are specific types. Items under D.O. that include some kind of manufacturing process (wine, olive oil and cheese, for example) also may stipulate the production process.

What else?

Spain’s certified origin system is actually more than D.O. In addition to the Spanish D.O. system, you might see European quality labeling on some products, like the European DOP or Protected Denomination of Origin; IGP or Protected Geographical Indicator, similar to D.O. but a little less specific geographically; ETC or Traditional Specialty Guaranteed, products made with traditional ingredients or recipes; PAE for natural, environmentally friendly production methods; or the two Catalonia-only categories “A” for small, family-run businesses crafting a very distinctive product; and “Q” for foods with superior raw ingredients, production methods or presentation.

In Spain the stars of the D.O. show are……

Wine has over 70 D.O, so you have opportunity for getting past Rioja, Ribera de Duero and Albariño. (try Somontano, Ribeiro, Bierzo and Priorat, for example). In addition to D.O., wine has other nomenclature. Table wine category is not usually linked to a geographical region, though often is produced in a wine region though with fewer specifications than D.O. Vino de la Tierra is a bump up from table wine, a little more specific in geography though still without all the D.O. regulations. Within most D.O. there is crianza and reserve, denoting age of the wine, and if you are travelling in a wine region you might get vino del año (year’s harvest), perhaps a glass of respectable Rioja at 0.50 centimes! And at the top of the line, some wine cellars bottle under a 2015 nomenclature called Vino de Pago, which is even smaller geographical area, sort of like terroir and estate-bottled.

Olive oil has around 30 D.O. We all know about olive oil in Andalucia, but did you know there’s also oil from the north and northeast? Usually the D.O. specifies the kind of olives, which may only exist in the D.O. region. Yes, there is a considerable difference in oil made with different kinds of olives, from mild to quite flavorful, with different oils appropriate for different uses (salad oil probably stronger than oil for making mayonnaise, for example). Olive oil is truly one of Spain’s star products, so it’s worth trying many to find your favorites – and worth having more kind in your cupboard at any one time. Learn more about olive oil here:

Cheese has around 25 D.O.  Spanish cheese is excellent, really varied and not well known outside Spain, except for the ever-present Manchego. There’s smooth and cured, cow, sheep, goat and mixture. Get beyond Manchego by trying lightly smoked Idiazabal from the north; Majorero goat cheese from the Canary Islands; Cabrales blue-type cheese from Asturias in the north; and Torta del Casar sheep cheese from the west, a cheese so gooey that it’s best to lop off the top and serve as a spread. And that’s just to name a few cheeses of the many kinds in Spain – and not all with D.O.

Now it’s time for you to explore the world of Spanish agricultural products!


Photo credit: thanks to my neighborhood wine shop Vinomania for many years of good advice and for letting me take this photo in the shop. Vinomania is a small shop with a very good selection, friendly service and always good suggestions. Vinomania, calle Humilladero 18, corner calle Sierpe, one block west of calle Toledo, Metro La Latina.


Websites for more information, unless noted otherwise, only in Spanish (but still useful)

Our friend Wikipedia has ha good article about Spanish D.O. (English)

Good descriptions of many products covered by Spanish D.O.

Good information on Spanish wine D.O., so you can do some exploring

Regulatory systems in the EU and elsewhere. (English)

Pages on this same site with more information on products with D.O. (English)
Cider in Spain
Hot peppers
Olive oil

The Spanish Ministry that manages D.O. is the Ministerio de Agricultura y Pesca, Alimentacion and Medioambiente (Ministry of Agriculture, Fishing, Food and the Environment). Their website is a labyrinth of pages, some very useful and some not at all. Here are a few.

This page looks like one of the better ones: you can filter by region (if you are travelling) or by product (if you are curious) to learn about Spanish products with D.O.

Map of fruits and nuts with D.O. (interesting!)

Frecuent questions about D.O. (probably less interesting for most readers)

Statistics for some D.O. products

Bilingual Blips


Being bilingual is a blessing, and sometimes a curse. While doctors of various specialties extoll the benefits of knowing two languages, while cultural specialists sing the praises of people who can communicate fluently linguistically and culturally in more than the native language, the reality of living bilingual has some very odd side effects.

First, let me clarify. By my own very strict definition of bilingual, even after more than half my life in Spain, I’m not bilingual and never will be. My accent is way too obvious, though I’ve begun to suspect that’s a subconscious way of maintaining my original Anglo identity. But aside from that (and an occasional grammatical error) I’m totally fluent, including slang, puns and political rants in my second language. Most other people would consider me bilingual so let’s use that term here.

Usually I can switch between languages with ease – especially when listening I sometimes don’t even realize what language is spoken, it just goes to the processing center in my brain without going through any “oh, turn Spanish on/off”. This is mostly useful, though sometimes a word of the wrong language will sneak into a sentence. *

But sometimes that language switch gets stuck. That’s most noticeable when interpreting, when after a while I inevitably speak Spanish to the Anglo and English to the Spaniards.
Then there’s the written language. Again, usually this goes smoothly, but there are times when I cannot understand the English translation and must read the Spanish – alas, that can happen in museums or tourism sights, where the English translation is not very good (sad but true). When reading these English translations, it helps me to think in Spanish.

Menus are another confusing place. My restaurant English is not very good, so I almost always read the Spanish. Anyway, there are some very badly translated menus – one of my favorite bloopers is “steak in spit” (meat on a skewer).

Then there’s fast food. I really should collect all the ways to write “sandwich” in Spanish: sanwis (purely phonetical), samwis (phonetical plus grammar rule about mutating n to m), sandwhich (know-it-all who knows w always followed by h), and variations on these three (sandwis, samwich and the like). And my bilingual brain is still baffled at times by “hay sandwiches” which I’ve often tried to read as English (dried-grass sandwiches for horses) instead of part English and part Spanish, announcing the availability of bread slices with something in between.

Which brings us to my new favorite, seen when dashing through Madrid’s Cuatro Caminos rotunda-square: Low Cost Come. Hmmmm. We are not in the red light district of Amsterdam, and a second / third glance clarifies that we’re talking about food.

Translated, they’re talking about inexpensive food. Ungrammatical even in Spanish: using “low cost” like this seems to mean it describes the next word – but the noun is “comida”, not “come” which of course has a different meaning in English. One can only guess that small window space created a need to improvise – thus the command form “come” instead of the noun.

Better punctuation might help make this clear – or some indication that we are looking at two different languages. Anything else, in the situation, could lead to a bit of confusion, at least for anyone bilingual enough to notice the unusual combination of words.

And no, I do not have an especially dirty mind. Just a bilingual brain. Unless, of course, this is a supremely clever marketing strategy. Perhaps I should inquire?


*for a fun bilingual movie, look for Miguel y William (Michael and William), a 2007 romantic comedy about a fictitious meeting between contemporaneous writers Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare and their rivalry for a lovely lady. It’s partly in Spanish and partly in English, with subtitles in whichever language is not being spoken. Not to be considered Great Cinema, but it’s entertaining and has some great Spanish scenery.






Fat One Christmas Lottery


The Fat One is coming. 

Every year, on the morning of December 22, Spain virtually stops.  Childish voices singing out numbers are everywhere: all radios and TV’s are tuned to the same station.  Everywhere people are listening, watching, waiting, sometimes with slips of paper on the table by them.  Waiting to know if their lives will change that day – or not.

It’s the Gordo, the “Fat One”, Spain’s annual Christmas lottery.  And winning the coveted first prize can indeed change lives – 400,000 euros (about $422,000) would be very appreciated in most Spanish households.

The Gordo, some history:  The Spanish lottery started in the late 18th century under Carlos III as a less painful way of collecting taxes – part of the money was for prizes and the rest went to the Spanish Treasury.  That first lottery was a pick-some-numbers lottery (similar to powerball lotteries and Spain’s current Primitiva).  In 1811 Spain was partially under Napoleon, and the Congress of the still-Spanish part of the country (based in southern city of Cádiz) created a new kind of lottery with printed tickets and an assigned number – again to collect tax money.  The first Christmas lottery was that system, held on December 18, 1812, with top prize for number 03604.

Those childish voices are the lottery singers from San Ildefonso primary school (located on Plaza de la Paja, one of the prettiest squares in Madrid). With 400 years of history San Ildefonso is one of the city’s oldest schools; until the late 1970’s it was for orphans and mostly boys, with the goal of giving disadvantaged kids a better start in life. (Nowadays some of the students have families and of course there are lots of girls.)  Students from this school have been singing out the lottery numbers since 1771, with girls participating since 1984. Children are chosen for their voices, and practice handling the lottery balls all year so the Gordo drawing goes smoothly.  In 2016, there are ten boys and ten girls between the ages of nine and thirteen, most of them repeating from 2015.

How the Gordo works: The Christmas lottery is basically the same system as the twice-weekly Lotería Nacional that happens all year, except with much bigger prizes and more numbers in play.  Since 2011, numbers range from 00000 to 99999 (Spanish lottery lore says that 00000 always goes to the King but that may be myth).  For the Gordo this year, every number has 165 series and every serie has a billete and every billete has ten décimos, so there are 1,650 décimos for every number 0000 – 99999. The serie number and the décimo number are both shown on the ticket as well as the number, so every single ticket sold is different. If you do the math, you can see that means 1,650,000,000 décimos on sale for the 2016 Gordo lottery.  Each décimo costs 20 euros, so that’s potentially 33,000,000,000 euros in play.

Who buys and where:    Everyone buys, or almost everyone. Most individual people get at least one décimo, some workplaces get entire billetes or even the entire number if the company is big, with employees participating or not – but most do in this situation, probably to avoid that potentially awful situation where everyone wins except the non-players.  Families often get a few décimos, and friends frequently exchange halves of décimos with the idea of getting parts of many numbers  in hopes that at least a few will win something.  It’s also traditional for neighborhood stores, markets or bar-cafés to have several décimos and sell small portions or give them away to favored customers.

Spanish lottery lore claims that specific places are “better” to buy than others. One place is a village in Catalonia called Sort (luck in Catalonian language) where indeed they got a big prize some years ago – busloads of people now go to that village every year to buy lottery. Doña Manolita lottery stand in Madrid is another example – lines are blocks long at Christmas, and street-side lottery sellers claim their tickets are from that same stand.  And another bit of lottery lore: lottery falls (or should fall) in disaster areas, so if there have been floods, fires or another catastrophe in the preceding year, people try to buy there thinking that the Universe will somehow even things out by throwing luck to a hard-hit area.

What number to buy?  There are several schools of thought for picking a number. One way is to go in with a close idea of what to buy, or at least choosing the last digit, even looking up where to buy an exact number on Internet.  Another way is to go to a favorite lottery stand and look at what numbers they have and choose a “pretty” number or at least avoid an “ugly” number, whatever that means to the specific buyer.  And the last way is to trust Lady Luck completely, letting lottery seller make the selection.   Lottery trivia: statistically, the Gordo has ended in five more often than any other digit, so that’s either an excellent or very bad choice, depending on the buyer’s point of view.

Mechanics of the drawing:  There’s a complicated, super-secure system for prior to the Gordo drawing, now done in the Teatro Real Opera House instead of the lottery building. On December 22, there are two big cage-like spheres with wooden balls, all laser cut with numbers, one sphere for the prize numbers and the other for the prizes.  The spheres are spun and balls fall down into trays under each sphere and are called out by the children lottery singers in a traditional tune and rhythm.  The drawing is entirely random, so the first prize could be the first or the last prize chosen.

Once the lottery drawing is over, the prize list is drawn up rapidly and with the lottery sellers by the afternoon of December 22, as well as in all the newspapers on December 23.  Prizes are listed in columns by the last number, and chronologically from the top in each column 0 to 9. Special prizes are listed at the very bottom of the column.

So what are the prizes?   The Gordo actually refers to first prize – 400,000 euros for a décimo (20,000 euros per euro played).  Second prize is 125,000 euros, third 50,000 euros, two fourth prizes of 20,000 euros and eight fifth prizes of 6,000 euros for a décimo.  After the big prizes there are the “almost” prizes (numbers before and after the main prizes) and the “same ending” prizes, where winners get prizes if their number shares one, two or three last digits with the big prizes.  And the pedrea, 1,794 random numbers that win 100 euros for a décimo.

All in all, that’s seventeen different kinds of prizes, with a total of 2,310 million euros in prize money, about 70% of the total projected intake for the special lottery (the remaining 30% goes to commission for the lottery sellers and directly to Spanish Treasury).  And yes, sometimes tickets go unsold so the intake is less, but sometimes those tickets have prizes that do not need to be paid.

The take-home is the full amount won up to 2,500 euros – after that the State keeps 20% of prize money. That’s relatively new – until 2012 lottery prizes were tax-free. Critics of that newish policy say that the 30% intake going directly to treasury is already plenty of tax withheld, but the decision to add additional tax was made in times of crisis with the government looking for any possible way of increasing revenue.

The last, smallest prize is the reintegro – the get-your-money back prize, where a décimo wins exactly the 20 euros it cost.  When that happens, almost everyone “reinvests” in the Niño lottery (January 6) – décimos cost exactly the same and while prizes are lower, there are more prizes so there is a better statistical chance of winning.

But if nothing “falls” in the Gordo or the Niño, there’s always next year….


Lottery trivia: The Gordo is the most famous lottery drawing in a country that dearly loves games of chance. All the lotteries below are state-run:

  • Loteria Nacional:  similar system as the Gordo and the Niño. Twice a week.

Prizes accumulate on the following if no winner happens at first drawing(s).

  • Loteria Primitiva: powerball type lottery, pick six numbers. Twice a week.
  • BonoLoto: powerball type lottery, pick six numbers. Six days a week.
  • Gordo de la Primitiva:  pick five numbers and one in a separate column. Once a week, guaranteed prize of five million euros.
  • Euromillon: pick five numbers and two in a separate column. Twice a week, guaranteed prize of fifteen million euros. As name suggests, this is played in most European countries.


Eat like a local: Menú del día

201611menuSpain is a foodie nation. So how do the locals eat?

The outside world knows about tapas and pintxos, the little bar snacks that can easily be a roving meal. Everyone knows about paella, gazpacho and maybe even about potato omelette.

But most non-locals do not know about one of Spain’s favorite eating styles: the menú del día.

Menú del día, some history:
Spain’s tourism industry took off in the early 1960’s, with number of visitors almost tripling between 1959 and 1965. That took some adjustment for infrastructure, and thus the menú turístico was created by then head of tourism Manuel Fraga.

(We can also thank Fraga for the tourism slogan Spain is Different and for expanding the Parador hotel system, but let’s leave those stories for another time).

So what was the menú turístico? The goal was to offer local-style food quickly and economically to the mass tourism market: by national law, all bars and restaurants had to offer a set meal, with starter, first course, second course, dessert, (usually with several choices for each), bread and beverage. Prices were fixed for the full meal, and were the same for all establishments in the same restaurant category.

The downside was that the fixed price was so low that restaurant owners tried to discourage clients from ordering the menú, or added supplements to some of the choices offered, so only the most basic meal was available at the fixed price. Another outcome was that to save work and money, some restaurant owners dumbed-down their menú food to the lowest common denominator of local cuisine (bad paella, bad gazpacho and greasy fried food), instead of celebrating the rich and not-always-expensive variety of Spanish food.

In 1970 the menú got a makeover: higher though still fixed prices, slogans to encourage locals to order the daily deal and menú del día as its new name. The focus was still local cuisine, and with locals ordering too, the menú started working better for everyone. When Spain reorganized after dictator Francisco Franco’s death, regional governments took over tourism administration (1978) and fixed prices disappeared in 1981.

The menú del día is immensely popular among locals – over 50% of Spanish workers who eat out choose this option. It’s fast and usually excellent, with food varying from traditional home cooking to some very imaginative twists on the classics. Even non-classic restaurants like Indian, Peruvian, Chinese or vegetarian (to name a few) have adopted this system.

The exception to the prevalence of the daily deal: high-end or luxury restaurants, where the menú is absent entirely or has changed into a more elegant and more expensive menú de desgustación (tasters’ menu) or another kind of fixed or semi-fixed daily deal.

Tips and tricks for the best menús :

The menú usually changes every day – you can find it chalked on a blackboard outside, on a handwritten photocopy in the window or on the table. Some restaurants don’t change the menú so frequently, so it’s part of the printed menu. And in some smaller places, the waiter will tell you the daily deal instead of a printed menu.

Usually the price includes two courses, dessert, bread, beverage and tax – but not always! Sometimes beverage or VAT tax is not included (10% for restaurants). The written menú must say what is included and what not – be sure to check as this can change the overall price considerably. (I got caught once when beverage was not included and wine was expensive).

If there are several restaurants in an area, take a stroll to evaluate your options. With the menú posted outside you can see what’s available and select your favorite foods or avoid something you hate, not to mention comparing prices.

Sometimes this is called menú de la casa instead of menú del día, and on the Camino (Road of St. James) it’s usually called menú del peregrino (pilgrim’s menu), but the idea and the format is the same.

Some restaurants only offer the menú at lunch on weekdays, or have a higher price at night and on weekends. If you are a local or semi-local and find a place you like, take note so you can take advantage of this great deal.

The menú del día cannot be shared between two people, though many places have half-menus at lower (but not half) prices. Many places have special kids’ menus.

Not too hungry, or food restrictions? You can order two first courses, often more than enough since firsts can include pasta, rice, beans/legumes, soup, veges, salad and sometimes eggs.

Really not hungry, or in a huge hurry? Look for platos combinados (combined plates, badly translated): A one plate meal with some kind of protein (fish, eggs, sausage, chicken, meat), some kind of carb (usually fried potatoes, sometimes rice) and maybe some salad. These are less expensive, but do not include beverage, bread or dessert. In my experience these can be good, but usually the food is usually not quite as good or as healthy as a well-chosen menú del día.

Loads of bulls……


Loads of bulls. Loads and loads of very large bulls.BullNew

What’s with Spain’s huge roadside bulls? Surely it has something to do with bullfighting?

Well, no. The bull silhouettes started as roadside advertising for brandy. Originally they showed the word Veterano, one of several kinds of brandy made by a Spanish company named Osborne.

First created in 1956, the bulls were working billboards until 1988, when a European Union law prohibited advertising for alcoholic beverages near roads. Technically that should have been the end of the bulls, but there was such a huge public outcry against taking down the bull-billboards that the court (eventually) pardoned the bulls, declaring them to have “surpassed their original advertising function” and to be part of the landscape, both cultural and physical. The word “Veterano” was painted over and the bulls remained, observing the Spanish landscape from hills along the highways.

Now the bulls are almost an unofficial, tongue–in-cheek logo for Spain, at least for the bulls-and-flamenco version of Spain, which of course is not the only version of Spanish-ness. Watchbands, mugs, tee-shirts, ties, bookmarks, stickers, keychains, lighters, shelf-size replicas and lots more can be found at tourist shops and official Toro de Osborne shops. Oh, and I’ve heard tell of bull tattoos, on public and not-so-public parts of the anatomy.

The bull almost-logo has had some backlash, equally tongue-in-cheek. Regions with strong not bulls-and-flamenco identity have created their own animal silhouettes, most notably Catalonia, where a donkey silhouette mimics the bull quite closely. (I’ve also seen sheep and goats, not as well done and not as frequent as the donkey spinoff, but maybe that’s only a question of time). So far, the donkeys are only for bumper stickers and small items – no donkey billboards, though some good Photoshop photos show large donkeys standing on roadside hills.

Travelling around Spain it seems the bulls are everywhere, but that’s not quite true. There are loads of bulls in Andalucia (23), Castilla-Leon (north-central plains, 14) and Castilla-La Mancha (south central plains, 13). Interestingly, these are the stereotypically “Spanish” landscapes of wide rolling plains, where the bulls look best. Aragón and Extremadura, both bordering previous regions and with at least some of the same kind of landscape have 6 and 5 bulls respectively.

Following that theory, it’s puzzling to see 11 in the Valencia region (eastern seaboard, almost no rolling plains), especially when Murcia, neighbor region to the south has none – so perhaps the number of bulls in a region has something to do with fondness for brandy, absence of that fondness, or just speedier action taking down the billboards in 1994. And knowing about sharing or not sharing the bulls-and-flamenco identity, it’s not surprising that there are no bulls in Catalonia, only one in the Balearic islands (sharing many of Catalonia’s identity issues) and also only one in the Basque region.

So as you travel around Spain, do some bull-spotting. Can you find all ninety-one?
Bull trivia: These critters are big – 14 meters / 46 feet tall and 4000 kilos / 8818 pounds. They’re anchored with a lot of cement, and a full metal support structure on the back side, also painted black so almost invisible from most angles. The bulls are ummm anatomically correct, as you can tell at a quick glance.

Learn more:

Food Slang 101

FOOD  – and food-related expressions. Food seems to pop up in slang and popular expressions more than any other group of words. Here is some slang using food words:

Pasta:     Pasta like macaroni and spaghetti and slang word for money

Pavo:      Turkey and slang word for the euro-coin. A “pavo” used to be a 100 peseta coin, using it for the euro-coin is inflationas a euro is something like 166 pesetas.

Chorizo:   sausage and a petty thief – or not so petty, also used for businesspeople and politicians caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

Partirse un piñon:     Share a pine nut, used to say people are close, more often in business or politically than personally. Most usual construction: Esos dos están a partirse un piñon.

Berza:   kale  and someone or something that is tedious and not-too-intelligent, or drunken spree

Buenas migas:     good crumbs, another way to say people are close, though this one can be friendship as well business. Most usual construction: Esos dos hacen buenas migas.

Seta: wild mushroom and mountaineer slang for the top flap of a backpack, usually with a small storage pouch.

Coffee Like You Like it



En vaso / desayuno / mediana / cortado*



Having trouble getting the exact caffeine fix you crave? Feel you are lost in the world of words describing coffee? Here are some tips that will get you what you want, at least in Madrid; there may be some minor regional differences.

Café con leche: The well-known expresso coffee with milk. To fine-tune this basic term: largo de café for more coffee than usual, corto de café for less coffee than usual. Usually in the morning, cups will be taza desayuno, a bigger size for dunking churros; you can ask for taza mediana to get a smaller cup or vaso to get coffee in a glass. If the amount of caffeine kick is important for you (or if you don’t like milk), taza mediana is best, as the larger cups or glasses usually have more milk but not more coffee.  Check out what other customers are getting—some places always give vasos unless you ask otherwise, other places only if you ask specifically. If you want more quantity and that extra kick, your solution might be café con leche doble.

A cortado is black expresso coffee “cut” with just a bit of milk For some reason, this is rarely seen at breakfast, perhaps because there’s not enough quantity to accompany toast or churros. Saying just cortado is more frequent than café cortado

Café solo is just that, black expresso with no milk. Café solo can also be fine-tuned to taste: try con hielo in the summer (expresso on ice) or café americano (watered-down expresso, fairly close to weaker non-expresso coffee). For the brave or perhaps the foolish, a carajillo (expresso coffee with a splash of brandy) might do the trick.

Café americano is the not-expresso coffee usually found in the USA.

And there’s more:  at some coffee shops in summer café granizado gets you coffee ice-slush, blanco y negro coffee ice-slush with ice cream. Descafeinado is decaf, but you probably should specify and ask for de máquina—otherwise you might get a packet of instant Nescafé and a cup of hot milk. Some regions do café bombon, a coffee with condensed milk on top, sometimes with liqueur.

If coffee isn’t your drink of choice, you can get chocolate, though most places don’t have the thick Spanish hot chocolate and will offer ColaCao (powdered chocolate mix to dissolve in milk) or will heat up chocolate milk in single-serving bottles. Té is usually black tea; it’s still difficult to find green or red tea outside urban areas. If you want té con leche, it’s probably best to first ask for tea, then for a bit of milk in your cup with the brewed tea or else you might receive a tea bag steeping in a glass of hot milk.

Go herbal: Chamomile (manzanilla) tea is usually available and is a nice way to relax or settle your stomach after a stressful day. Poleo or poleo menta  is mint, another nice way to end a meal if coffee will keep you awake later on.


* Left to right:  Usual glass for cafe en vaso (umm. this is standard beer glass for draft beer, too), breakfast-size (desayuno) cup for dunking croissants or churros, middle (mediano) if you don’t dunk, small cup for cortado or solo. Thanks to friends at Cabaña Senen on west side of the lake in Casa de Campo.