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Apr 1, 2012 07:21 AM

Menus in English? Is there an app for that?

Will most restaurants have English menus as well as Italian? Has anyone seen an online, downloadable or app for decoding menus/food glossary? I have the Fred Plotkin Gourmet Traveller guide and it has a great food glossary at the back. Unfortunately the book weighs a ton so I don't want to lug it around. Worse case scenario we can scan it, but hoping there is something to download. I have tried to search for something, but I am not having a lot of luck. I find translators or Italian/English dictionaries don't always have the more obscure or regional dishes and that something get lost in translation. I also don't know how much wifi we will have, so it would need to be available offline.

for those of you with apps (eg. Eat Rome), would a glossary fit into your program at some point in the future?

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  1. a menu glossary is actually a whole new app in itself and, while i would love to have a million and one resources in Rome for Foodies, there are a number of obstacles (mainly financial) to being everything to everyone. Hopefully the amazing and fantastical Word Lens app will come out with an English/Italian version soon. Until then, you can count on the vast majority of restaurant in Rome, Florence and Venice having menus with english translations (of varying quality).

    2 Replies
    1. re: katieparla

      Thanks Katie, I was figuring the major cities would have English translations. Unfortunately (well fortunately actually), we will be mainly outside of major cities. I will keep searching.

      1. re: katieparla

        "Until then, you can count on the vast majority of restaurant in Rome, Florence and Venice having menus with english translations (of varying quality)."

        You are so right Katie. I think the best thing the OP can do is study up on Italian food words and phrases and try to navigate their way through an Italian menu with and English menu close at hand for a bit of assistance. So many times unique dishes and preparations suffer badly in the translation and one can miss out on truly wonderful food experiences. Familiarizing oneself with the cuisine of the areas one is visiting is an effort well worth it if one is a true lover of good food.

      2. The sort of app you want is very complicated because no glossary I have ever seen has enough words or enough definitions. I would tell you that Howard Isaacs and I are exploring e-avenues for our "Dictionary of Italian Cuisine," but I will probably be suppressed by the moderators. There is an Italian gastronomic dictionary app available published by Zanichelli. It is inadequate but still the best around. Most restaurants have either an "English" menu or a person who pretends to speak English. Except that they will tell you every fish that has a slight pink coloration is red snapper, you should probably be fine, though I would recommend studying first what you are likely to encounter in a given area.

        19 Replies
        1. re: mbfant

          Thanks mbfant, the one by Zanichelli looks pretty good. It is definitely a bit more than I want to spend on an app, but will probably bite the bullet if there is nothing else out there. I think it would be nice to have, not just for menus but markets, food stores, etc.

          1. re: cleopatra999

            Does anyone have an opinion on this book: Eating & Drinking in Italy by Andy Herbach?

            I can get it for my Kindle. Making it compact.

            1. re: cleopatra999

              it has good graphics but its smartaleck/condescending attitude is annoying and it doesn't have all that many words. I haven't seen the latest edition. The first and second were enough for me. I stopped when I got to the importance of hand-waving in enjoyment of Italian food. Gimme a break.

              1. re: cleopatra999

                I have the 4th edition and I find it useful. As a list of most commonly found terms, its handy. After multiple trips to Italy I can get by pretty well but sometimes a word just stumps. I will surely take it on my upcoming trip. Even on paper its quite portable. I also have the edition for Spain by the same authors.

                I don't have a Kindle (have a Nook and it doesn't seem available for that) but I just saw that it is available as an iBook from the iTunes store.

              2. re: cleopatra999

                most of the old-fashioned phrase books have the basics - nothing is going to give you translations of all the dialect or creative dish names. What you need to get straight on is how the menus are laid out - the basic category names (Antipasto - Primi (soups,pasta dishes ,risotto, basically), Secondi (carni (meat and fowl) and pesci), contorni (side dishes - mostly veg and salads) and dolci. and some of the basic food names. Also, read up on the basic specialties of the area. Copy the Plotkin pages you need double sided and throw them out when no longer needed. And relax - you may not know exactly what you are getting at all times, but you will have some pleasant surprises.

                1. re: jen kalb

                  I totally agree Jen, and have no problem with surprises. What I do love though is perusing menus and enjoying what I am reading, which is where the translator would come in handy.

                  1. re: cleopatra999

                    it would help, only up to a point. There are so many quirky, slangy local names and pasta types, for example,and so many dialects that the its hard to imagine a translation tool that keeps up with it. You can certainly put online menus through google translate and see what you get. "Italian" is not a single language. In major tourist areas this will be less of an issue as noted above

                    1. re: jen kalb

                      Google translate is great, however it is not available off line. How common is wifi in restaurants, in and out of the cities?

                      1. re: cleopatra999

                        Wifi is practically unheard of in any restaurant you might actually go to for the food.

                        And may I be permitted a word as a respected professional translator of Italian food? Isaacs and I have about 7000 words (and growing) in our book, and the index (which I compiled) of Encyclopedia of Pasta (which I translated) has about 1300 listings for pasta names, of which many are close variations and names of the same shape. Your dinky little back-of-the-book or paperback vocabularies are just going to give you a false sense of security and don't talk to me about translation tools. As Jen says, the vocabulary is never ending. Do some homework so you know what to expect. You can learn a lot by reading about the specialties of the places you are going. Learn how to form a sentence in Italian, even if it's just "Do you speak English?" The only way you'll really know what you're eating is by dialogue with the person who cooked it or whose job is to serve it. This is true also for native speakers, and the sooner you realize it, the better you will eat.

                        1. re: mbfant

                          I wanted to edit the above, but when I logged back on, I couldn't. Let the record show that I did not use the word "dinky" with anyone particular in mind, much less Fred. All back-of-the-book glossaries, including mine, are merely first lines of defense. I also would like to clarify the apparent paradox. Yes, Italian food terminology is infinite, but yes, you should study up local specialties anyway. Italian food is highly conservative and all but the very most avantgarde cooking is going to be traditional or based on traditional recipes. Creativity, with a number of noted exceptions (where foam or new machinery is involved), is more riff than revolution. Thus knowing the traditional basics will be of enormous help. Another thing: Anglos in (very) general think they should try not to bother servers with a lot of questions. But actually the more questions you ask, the more respect you get and the more useful information. If you indicate as a point of departure that you are well aware that a given dish is a local specialty, you are more likely to learn what the chef does with it rather than its basic ingredients. Obviously, since I have dedicated my life to the language of Italian food, I think food dictionaries are useful, but I believe that the brief and laconic glossaries circulating are woefully inadequate and anybody who thinks otherwise is mistaken.

                      2. re: jen kalb

                        As an illustration of Jen's comment, I love the salad known as Panzanella (Tuscany) and have ordered it several times in Italy. I also like Caponata (Sicily) (I love Roscioli's version without red peppers) and have ordered it several times in Italy.

                        The other day I was watching a cooking show based on the Amalfi Coast and the host was going on and on about how he loved to make and eat Caponata when he is on the Amalfi coast because the tomatoes are so wonderful - and then he went on to make what I would consider to be Panzanella - bread, tomato, onion salad!

                        So things can change even if you think you know the names of certain dishes. Which is why it is important (as MBF pointed out) to engage your server and ask questions about the menu and the preparation of the dishes in which you may be interested.

                        1. re: ekc

                          I guess I am feeling nervous about how much the servers will know English and how much they will want to interact with us. I have flashbacks of being in a Paris cafe, knowing a bit of French, but being pretty sure that I was being laughed at for my lack of ordering etiquette and language skills. Hopefully we will not encounter this in Italy.

                          1. re: cleopatra999

                            You won't. Not in the Italy I live.

                            1. re: cleopatra999

                              It is an utterly different scene here. Unless you show you care -- by asking, and the more detailed the question the better -- servers will steer you toward the choices with least risk you won't like them, which are not the most interesting items on the menu. You earn respect not by having perfect command of the pluperfect subjunctive (not that that doesn't help, of course) but by knowing that tagliatelle con rag├╣ is Emilian and tortellini should be in brodo and that carbonara on Lake Garda is aimed at German tourists.

                              1. re: mbfant

                                Good to hear. I will read up a bit more in my Fred Plotkin book about the local specialties. I am feeling pretty confident on my ER (I knew the first 2 dishes no problem), didn't know about the carbonara on LG (good tip!).

                                1. re: cleopatra999

                                  Cleo. Plotkin's book is very heavy! We take only the section of Plotkin that pertains to the areas we will be visiting on that trip. Don't worry about destroying the book, they are available used for very little $. Also be aware that even with the latest revision, 2010, there are many places that are no longer in business. We found at least 6 shops, bars and trattorias in Padova alone that were gone when we were in The Veneto last month.

                                  1. re: ospreycove

                                    I did consider ripping out the pages of the book that we will need, seems so sad. But I agree by the time we go again it will be grossly out of date.

                                    1. re: cleopatra999

                                      its easy enough to copy the pages, no need to rip them out. - we have wound up travelling with a sheaf of papers which we throw out as we go along. Or you can always pdf the pages you need and put in whatever device you are carrying.

                            2. re: ekc


                              I realize this is a very old post of yours, but I just discovered it and wondered if the cooking show chef was going on and on about how he loved to make and eat -- not caponata -- but capponada:


                  2. A friend, an American living in Italy, swears by her iphone app "Oxford Paravia."

                    It's NOT a food dictionary but a regular one. It might very well help though!

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: ambra

                      Also Google translate is very good; repeats back correct pronunciation, phrases, alternate definitions etc.
                      There is a mobile App too.

                      1. re: ospreycove

                        We love google translate and have even been using it to help with communication to some restaurants in Italy. However it is not available offline and we will not have data connections on our phones (far too expensive).

                        1. re: cleopatra999

                          the first time we went to Italy we had nothing but a phrase book, a Michelin Red Guide and some guidebook recommendations. We ate very well with much less information overload. Concentrate on knowing some basic interpersonal interaction and food terms (especially the words for types of meat) and you will really do fine. I am a compulsive planner and preparer for trips too, but sometimes it gets in the way of just relaxing in the place - its a vacation after all and you will soon get into the groove. Even travelling with mobile devices has its limitations in a country like Italy, with its thick stone building walls, and wifi is not very freely available except if you are in a hotel that offers it.

                          1. re: jen kalb

                            Thanks Jen, I know I will relax once I am there, I love to do the planning beforehand, the anticipation is part of the fun. I also like to have everything at my fingertips when I am on a short trip. I appreciate all the advice from fellow Chowhounders in Italia! It has been a lot of years since I have been anywhere non-English, I always feel a little nervous before and at first, but chill out once I settle in to the culture.

                          2. re: cleopatra999

                   are correct, for our last trip I bought tne "Intl." Data pack from ATT it was $199.00 and I went over the usage limit!!!!!

                      2. The best meals I had were those where I patted the waiter on his shoulder and showed a dish on the next table or a dish that he was carrying. Also, I had a lovely conversation with a granddad running a small trattoria in the middle of Tuscan hills where he did not speak a word of English and me the same for Italian. It took about 15 minutes and ended with him sharing his personal bottle of wine with us :-) Don't worry and enjoy Italy and use your eyes, hands and smiles to communicate. You'll be successful and everybody will be happy.

                        1. Sorry to have found this so late, but, for historical purposes and in case anyone else reads this...

                          Our friends Dana facaros and Michael Pauls of Cadogan Guide fame have just in the last few minths published their "Italian Menu Decoder." Search for it in iTunes!

                          6,000 entries; their usual impeccable collection of facts so basic **and** obscure you'll be rolling in it. Hundreds and hunderds of fun photos. (It so beats the PDF glossary I compiled with the Slow Travellers' help!)

                          Note it's not **exactly** just a "menu" glossary. It's that, but contains all kinds of food facts that are both fundamental to and way beyond menus per se: where things come from, their history, all kinds of stuff.

                          The app works very well; has categories, etc. On your iPhone/iPad, offline.

                          Hello, Maureen!

                          Bucky Edgett

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: BuckyE

                            sounds nice - what about android???

                            1. re: jen kalb

                              Yes, i've got it on google play. Highly recommend

                            2. re: BuckyE

                              Hiya Bucky

                              My initial despondency that they had beat us to it has been tempered by my delight at the number of misspellings and other mistakes my first cursory scan of the app turned up. But it is by far the best around so far. Howard and I are still at it, however.

                              1. re: BuckyE

                                Thanks for the tip! I now have this app, google translate and word lens (which I am finding difficult to operate, but I am a bit of a philistine, technologically). So hopefully I have the field covered! Plus I have read Fred, digested Fred, know a smattering of (bad) Italian, and survived 2 weeks in ER and always got what I wanted from the menu, so my month in Rome in September should be great :)