When you’re learning a new language, one of the first things you learn is food vocabulary. Studying Spanish in Spain, we all need a basic understanding of what menus and signs in supermarkets mean, especially in an authentic Spanish town like El Puerto de Santa Maria where the locals definitely dont much English, German or French. However, food can also be the area that leads to most misunderstandings! 

This got me thinking about just how important it is to understand what a menu means, and to know what you’re ordering! Like all good language students, I like to learn from my mistakes. So, here’s my list of vocabulary and explanations for understanding the menu in a Spanish restaurant.

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Typical Spanish dishes:

La paella Spanish dish made of yellow rice, vegetables, peas and various types of seafood, typically including prawns/shrimp, mussels, cuttlefish.
La paella valenciana Same as above but with meat (often chicken and chorizo) instead of seafood.
La paella mixta Same as above, containing both seafood and meat.
El fideua Similar to paella, but with noodles instead of rice
Las tapas (los pinxos) A range of small dishes, typically containing seafood, meat or vegetable, often served with a drink.
El gazpacho Spanish tomato soup, served cold.
Las patatas bravas Fried potatoes, usually in cubes mixed with a sauce made of garlic, oil, mayonnaise, tomatoes and chilli peppers.
Un revuelto Dish made of scrambled eggs, usually with another ingredient.
Una tortilla española Spanish omelette – contains potatoes and onions.
El arroz negro Black rice – rice cooked with squid and squid ink.
El chorizo
Los churros Long sticks of pastry, usually served with sugar and chocolate
Los pinchitos Andalucían dish consisting of cubes of pork threaded onto skewers
El jamón serrano Serrano ham – a type of ham usually served raw in very thin slices, often with bread or vegetables.
Paella Valenciana y Paella Mixta

Paella Valenciana (front) y Paella Mixta (back)

Reading a menu:

La Entrada / El Primer Plato Starter
El Plato Principal Main Course
Platos Fríos Cold Dishes
Platos Calientes Hot Dishes
La ensalada Salad
El postre Dessert
A la parrilla Grilled
Frito (Frita/Fritos/Fritas) Fried
Al horno Oven-baked
A la brasa Barbecued
A la plancha Cooked on a metal plate
Asado Roast
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 Meat and poultry:

La carne Meat
El pollo Chicken
Una chuleta (de cerdo) A (pork) chop
El cordero Lamb
Un biftec Steak
Una hamburguesa Hamburger
El jamón Ham
La ternera Beef / veal
La carne de caballo Horsemeat
Roast chicken

Pollo asado – Roast Chicken


Los mariscos Seafood
El pescado Fish
Las gambas Prawns
La caballa Mackerel
El cangrejo Crab
Los camarones Shrimp
Los mejillones Mussels
El choco Cuttlefish
El bacalao Cod
El salmón Salmon
Los anchoas Anchovies
La langosta Lobster
El langostino Crayfish
El pulpo Octopus
Los ostiones Oysters


La lechuga Lettuce
La zanahoria Carrot
La cebolla Onion
El maíz Corn
La col Cabbage
Los pimientos (rojo/verde/amarillo) Pepper (Red/Green/Yellow)
El tomate Tomato
La alcachofa Artichoke
Las judías Green beans
Las habichuelas Beans
El espárrago Asparagus
El apio Celery
El pepino Cucumber
El ajo Garlic
El champiñon Mushroom
El aceituna Olive
Los guisantes Peas
La calabaza Squash/Pumpkin

Carrots – Las Zanahorias


El queso Cheese
El manchego Cheese from La Mancha, made from sheep’s milk
El provolone Cheese from Provolone in Italy
Parmesano Parmesan
El queso feta Feta cheese
El queso de bola Edam cheese
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3 Comments on “Spanish Food Vocabulary – learn from our mistakes!

  1. Really great list, however I feel the need to point out that ternera is not just beef, it is veal.

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