Negotiating Spanish regional words every day

Spain is a country of diverse culture and regional languages. How do you manage with different dialects when you just want to order a coffee or breakfast? We take a tongue in cheek look at living in Spain’s largest autonomous region, Catalonia

Having lived in Spain for nine years now I am still learning about what I should be eating or drinking in this country of such great variety with so many different regional names for the same thing. In Catalonia I have to get to grips with both Catalan and Spanish names for simple things like a coffee or breakfast.
Here’s some of what I have learnt so far:


Ok, actually there are two breakfasts. One quick one at home before you rush out to take the kids to school and go to work -  that’s with un café con leche (coffee with milk) or in Catalonia a café amb llet and maybe a Catalan pan con tomate or in Catalan pan i tomaquet, which I highly recommend. It’s a toasted bread drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, ripe tomatoes, maybe garlic and salt and pepper. Just what you need to get the day going, so forget cornflakes. If you have a sweet tooth, try a magdalena, a sponge cake. Luckily, the word will work both in Spanish and Catalan.
So you remember: 
Spanish                                                       Catalan
café con leche                                           café amb llet
pan con tomate                                        pan i tomaquet
magdalena                                                 magdalena
Got it? Well, never mind, it took me ages too.
Somewhere between 10.30 and 11.30 everyone downs tools, pencils or other working objects and heads for the nearest café for their second breakfast or as we Brits would call it, elevenses. Remember not to try to phone someone during this time as they are unlikely to be at the other end of the line. So, for your 2nd breakfast you might order a macchiato coffee (isn’t it strange that in Britain we use an Italian word for a small strong coffee with a dash of milk?) Don’t however ask for a macchiato in Spain, they won’t know what you mean. Use the word cortado, but if you are in Catalonia say tallat. I haven't yet learnt all the other regional words for this simple beverage. 
What to have with your cortado? Well, maybe a mini con jamón, a small roll with ham or if you prefer a jamón salado, a cured ham or a mini con queso, a roll with cheese. There again if you are in Catalonia you’ll ask for un mini amb perníl, or un mini amb pernil curat and with cheese un mini amb formatge.
So did you remember all of that? Probably not - and that’s just breakfast!



Spanish Catalan
un cortado   
un tallat
un mini con jamón un mini amb pernil
un mini con jamón salado un mini amb pernil curat
un mini con queso un mini amb formatge


Of course in Galicia and the Basque Country they will have local words for the suggestions above. I need to spend more time there to learn what they are, but I know that a coffee with milk in Basque is very strange - ensea kafea and in Galician it’s café con leite which actually sounds very much like Portuguese to me, but then I digress.
Now, lunch is altogether a more complicated affair in the various regions of Spain. Not to worry though, Castilian Spanish should see you through until you are offered a menu in a very local restaurant where they don’t expect outsiders and it is written only in the local lingo and then you have to try to understand what you are ordering or try to get help from the waiter or waitress. Everyone is Spain does speak Spanish, but many prefer to converse in their local language or dialect only which can be a bed of nails for us who come from overseas. Don’t get despondent, persevere and you may be richly rewarded with a wonderful meal you never actually expected.
Let's take beef as an example. It is available almost everywhere, but can be called tenero (Spanish), carn de vaca or vedella (Catalonia) or you might see buey on the menu which means ox. It will usually taste delicious whatever the name rather like the scent of Shakespeare’s rose. So I have come to the conclusion that to paraphrase the great playwright “a meal by any other name can taste as sweet.”  Just occasionally though you’ll end up with something you don’t really like. Never mind, wash it down with a good vino - perhaps un blanco, tinto o rosado, (a good vi, blanc, negre o rosat where I live) a Tempranillo, Crianza or Albariño - but that’s for discussion another time.
Enjoy your meal, buen provecho. Oh, in Catalonia, that’s bon profit.

Further reading for Living In Spain


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Social life in Spain

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Arrange health insurance and locate your new local hospitals and practices.



Education in Spain

Emigrating with school-age children? Learn more about schooling in your local area.