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Is Localization Important in the Culinary World?

As we saw in the post, “Translator Problems I: How to Translate Food,” translating the language of food is one the many difficulties faced by translators. But this difficulty isn’t limited only to the translation. Rather, when publishing a recipe, it is important to be aware of in what country it will be used, since in many cases, a cooking enthusiast in Venezuela, for example, might have a hard time preparing a dish while following the instructions of a recipe written in another Latin American country, and not due to a lack of cooking skills.

In general, speakers of different variants of Spanish do not have too much difficulty understanding each other, especially with regard to literary language, and even standard Spanish, although comprehension problems may still arise, due to misunderstandings or interpreting each other incorrectly. However, ingredients can pose a huge challenge when localizing culinary texts. In this post we will look at a few of the many examples in Latin America.

In order to prepare a succulent stew, in Venezuela you’ll need “caraotas,” in Cuba, “frijoles negros,” and in Puerto Rico, “habichuelas negras” (different terms used to refer to black beans). That same stew, in Bolivia might contain “camote,” in Colombia, “batata” and in Uruguay, “boniato” (different terms to refer to sweet potatoes.” A Puerto Rican might be confused when coming across the term “elote” instead of “maíz” on a recipe written in Mexico, and a Chilean might be confused as to why his or her favorite recipe doesn’t call for “piña de millo” (different terms used to refer to corn). As to dessert, the list doesn’t get much shorter. The delicious “maracuyá” in El Salvador can be found being sold in markets in Puerto Rico as “parcha” and as “chinola” in the Dominican Republic (different terms used to refer to passion fruit). The sweet “melocotón” in Guatemala is sold as “nectarina” in Ecuador and as “pelón” in Argentina (different terms used to refer to a nectarine)

In general language, it is most likely that speakers will be able to understand each other, but even so, as stated by one of the leading experts on Latin American Spanish, Ángel Rosenblat, “It’s evident that fluency in common language is not enough to avoid conflict, confusion and misunderstandings.” There are many examples of the importance of localization in the culinary world. Can you think of any more examples?