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Translation of Spanish dishes: examples of errors and suggestions.


We have all been there (maybe because of professional deformation): you walk into a bar and you check the menu. Your eyes fix on the wonderful and original translations right underneath the dishes. A 21st century tragicomedy! Of course, you want to cry and laugh at the same time while reading such nonsense. That is when most people do not hesitate to blame the translator, a hard pill to swallow for us. However, wrong translations of Spanish dishes may be avoided with the help of an expert culinary translator.


Culinary translation involves menus, restaurant webpages and recipes. Although it usually goes unnoticed, its function is essential. The problem comes when owners decide to use other methods, from lost to the river (or to the menu). The most common thing to see is the typical Google Translator copy-paste, which does not consider context or linguistic aspects. Another method is to ask your nephew for a little favor because he has done his Erasmus this year.


Over the years, owners have become aware that menu translation is an important factor in a company seeking to grow. Indeed, translation agencies hiring has increased by 20%. Obviously, a bad translation is not going to ruin a business if their food is good. Nevertheless, first impressions are vital within this kind of companies.


Main translation mistakes



Perhaps we should reflect on if ‘octopusses to the party’ really means ‘pulpo a feira’ or something else. It is particularly relevant to keep in mind that tools, ingredients and techniques are not common throughout the world.  A good option to avoid this trap would be including a description of the dishes that cannot be literally translated. Thus, customers would exactly know what they are ordering.




Obviously, specialized glossaries are necessary to help us express exactly what we mean. However, typical dishes of a country, Spain in this case, do not usually have exact equivalents in other languages. This is when we tend to panic. This is also when language murders are committed. It is very easy to find menus that include gypsy arms (brazo de gitano) or saint bones (huesos de santo). Please, we are not talking about human traffic.


Suggestions and factors to be considered regarding translation of Spanish dishes.


  1. The target audience of the translation (cultural aspects)


  1. Units of measurement in recipes.


  1. Try to avoid automatic and literal translations.


  1. If there is not an exact equivalent, include a description for customers to know what are they ordering.


  1. Use reliable linguistic sources and official institution websites.


Maybe it is the time for you to reflect on how this translation of Spanish dishes can affect your business. ¿Do you want to solve it? We can help you. Do not hesitate to contact us.


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