Spanish for Travelers: Dining

Basic Vocabulary for Eating Out

Scrambled eggs and croissant
Un desayuno de huevos revueltos y una medialuna. (A breakfast of scrambled eggs and a croissant.). Photo by Matt Biddulph; Creative Commons license.

Think back on your last vacation, and what do you remember most? Chances are somewhere near the top of your list is something you ate — either good or bad!

For many travelers to a country where a foreign language is spoken, dining provides not only the opportunity to experience a different culture but is also one of the most common opportunities to try using a foreign language. You don't need to know much grammar to order food — just a basic dictionary and the ability to pronounce the words.

To help you prepare before you leave, below you'll find a basic dining vocabulary. It's beyond the scope of this article to list all the unusual foods you may encounter in Spain or Latin America. Although there are regional variations in both menus and the words used for some foods, you'll find that the words on this vocabulary list will be understood everywhere. ¡Buen provecho!

el agua — water
el almuerzo — lunch
el aperitivo — appetizer
el arroz — rice
asado — roasted
el azúcar — sugar
la bebida — drink
el bistec — beefsteak, other type of steak
el bocadillo, el sándwich — sandwich
¡Buen provecho!Bon appétit! Enjoy your meal!
el café — coffee
caliente — hot (temperature) or warm
el camarero, la camarera — server
la carne — meat
el carnero — mutton
la carne de ternera — veal
la carne de vaca — beef
la cena — supper, evening meal
comer — to eat
la comida — meal
la cuchara — spoon
el cuchillo — knife
la cuenta — the bill
el desayunobreakfast
a la dieta, sin calorías — diet (adjective)
la ensalada — salad
los entremeses — hors d'oeuvres
los frijoles — beans
frío cool or cold
frito — fried
la fruta — fruit
la gaseosa — soda pop
el hielo — ice
al horno — baked
el huevo — egg
la lechemilk
los mariscosseafood
el menú — menu, daily special (regional use)
el mozo, la moza — server
el palillo — toothpick
los palillos chinos — chopsticks
el pan — bread
la papa, la patata — potato
a la parrilla — grilled
el pescado — fish
picante — spicy hot
el pollochicken
el postre — dessert
la propina — tip
el queso — cheese
el refresco — cool drink
el restauranterestaurant
el rosbifroast beef
la sal — salt
la salsa — sauce, gravy
la sopa — soup
el té — tea
el tenedor — fork
el vegetal, la verdura — vegetable, plant
el vegetariano, la vegetariana — vegetarian

Usage notes

El agua: Agua is a feminine noun, although el is used before it in the singular form. The plural is las aguas. If you're concerned about clean water, ask: ¿Es purificada el agua?

Pescado/pez: When a fish is still in the water, it is referred to as a pez; once it's out of the water, it's pescado.

The easy way to remember is that pescado is the past participle for "to fish," so the word also means "fished."

Tacos: As almost anyone who has traveled in a foreign country is aware, what you expect when ordering a familiar food isn't necessary what you get. The word taco is the same in English and Spanish, for example. But while many U.S. residents, for example, think of a taco as something made of beef, cheese and lettuce in a baked corn shell, in Mexico a taco can be just about anything rolled into a tortilla — chicken, beef, tripe, chopped liver, you name it. After all, the word taco is used primarily to mean a wad, plug, or stopper. So taco when referring to food came to mean a wad of food thrown into a tortilla. What people in the United States know as tacos is just one regional variation of a popular food.