Category Archives: Food

Fit for Spanish (The Bogotá Post)

As I mentioned in the last post, I’m still happily writing a Spanish language column for The Bogotá Post, which is published about every three weeks. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share the posts that have come out since I put down my keyboard back in January and let the blog take a breath, interspersing them with new posts.

This column came out in January, I think, when we were still ringing in the new year and initiating our resolutions with vim and vigor. If you too set goals to eat healthier and get in better shape, this column will help you with the related vocabulary in Spanish. Feel free to share your progress in the comments. I’ve been working on toning my arms, and I’m also trying to make a Colombian equivalent of “an apple a day…” and eat a mango a day, or at least just increase my consumption of all the local delicious fruit in general!

Happy New Year! Did you make any New Year’s resolutions? Maybe to improve your Spanish? Maybe to lose weight? I thought we could kill two birds with one stone by talking about one goal that’s very common (losing weight), and teaching you some related useful Spanish de paso.

First of all, a goal in this context is un propósito. If your goal is to lose weight, you’d say: Mi propósito para este año es bajar de peso. If it’s to get in shape: Mi propósito para este año es ponerme en forma. Another way of saying to lose weight is adelgazar; you can see its connection to the word for thin, delgado. Use the preposition para to express a deadline: Quiero bajar cinco kilos para junio. I want to lose five kilos by June.

Maybe you just want to tone up, either in general or a certain body part. To tone is tonificar. Quiero tonificar mis brazos – I want to tone my arms. Maybe you want to eat healthy: Quiero comer sano/sanamente. To go on a diet is hacer una dieta; to tell someone that you’re on a diet, you say, Estoy a dieta.

diet and exercise

If you want to join a gym, you’ll say, Quiero entrar al gimnasio. To work out is hacer ejercicio. Want the holy grail of gym rats, a six-pack? Locally, you call that a chocolatina because it looks like a chocolate bar with its various squares. Ironic, right?

Have a spare tire around your middle? That’s a michelín; yes, just like the brand of tires. A double chin? That’s called a papada. Rolls of fat in general are called gordos. Spanish even has a word for chubby cheeks! They’re cachetes.

You may have noticed that here in Colombia the words gordo and gorda frequently don’t carry the same stigma and insult that FAT carries in other cultures. There are husbands and wives that affectionately call each other gordo and gorda, as well as women who greet their female friends by calling them gorda. It’s all about the tonito. Gordito makes the label softer, obviously, and means chubby or plump.

What are some other ways of expressing that someone is heavy? Your doctor is most likely to say something tactful and technical like Usted tiene sobrepeso or Usted está pasado de peso. If your friends notice that you’re packing a few extra pounds than usual, or if you come back from vacation with your face a little rounder, they might say that you’re repuesto or repuestico. A little stronger than that would be rellenito. Rechoncho is a harsher way of saying that someone is chunky or hefty. One very local way of saying that someone is gaining weight is se ve que se toma la sopita. You can tell they’re eating all their soup! Soups of all kinds being, of course, a classic Bogotá staple for the traditionally cold weather. People even eat soup at breakfast! Speaking of Bogotá food, once I heard an overweight person jokingly called a buñuelo con patas. A walking buñuelo.

campbell's soup

What about when someone has a killer bod? ¡Qué cuerpazo! What a great body! A macancán is a guy who’s really ripped. Acuerpado also means buff or toned (though it can also just mean large), as does musculoso. Delgado is thin, of course, and esbelta (usually for women) means slender, svelte. Flaco carries more of the connotation of skinny, sometimes being underdeveloped and unattractively thin. Not always, though: ¡Flaca, tírame un hueso! is a famously humorous piropo for women. Hey, skinny Minnie, throw me a bone!

If someone’s skin and bones, you can say that they’re puro hueso or that they parece un palillothey’re as thin as a rail, er, toothpick.

One false cognate you run into when talking about bodies is complexión. As someone once wrote, resist the urge to write “cleared up years ago!” when you see this on a form for you to fill out. No, it’s not referring to your skin complexion. Instead, complexión in Spanish refers to your build or body type.

All that really matters is that you’re happy and healthy, and we all know that thinness is not necessarily a guarantee of either. Whatever your size, hopefully 2015 will be a year of joy, success, and increased Spanish fluency!

Mercado report

I’ve been reading Eileen at Bearshapedsphere since I first came to Colombia in 2009 and developed a strange addiction to extranjera-in-Chile blogs. She’s one of the few who’s still blogging, and we’re very much linguistic kindred spirits (though her Spanish is oh-so-Chilean, and mine’s very Colombian). Here on the blog, I’m a writer, a teacher, a humorist, and a dramatist–I am not, alas, a storyteller. It’s just not my forte, and I don’t have the patience to work on it. Eileen, on the other hand, is a fantastic storyteller, and she has spun so many colorful and exquisitely textured yarns over the years–in Chile, in New Zealand, in Paraguay, in Suriname, and many other far-flung corners of the globe–that I’ve delighted in getting tangled up in. She was definitely one of my main inspirations for starting this blog, so I encourage you to check her out!

Anyway, one staple of her blog are her feria reports, where she regularly takes pictures of all the produce she bought at the market and reports prices. And I’ve always kind of wanted to do that, always wanted to show you how far your pesos can take you fruit and vegetable-wise in Bogotá. I buy all my produce at the plaza de mercado in my neighborhood, which is about five short blocks away, but it usually makes for one hell of a heavy lug home. Which I don’t really mind at all. I’m sure I could get things cheaper somewhere, but I’m not one to crisscross the city to save a few cents. I always buy from the very first seller, so, who knows? Maybe the guys at the back are where the best prices are at. And maybe I get charged a gringa tax–I don’t think so, but it’s definitely possible. Just putting all those caveats out there in the event that some other Bogotá dweller tells me that I’m paying a fortune for my fiddleheads, making me a real knucklehead. Go ahead–it’s not like it would be the first time or anything.


5 bananos (bananas) = 2000 COP = $0.85
2 pimentones (red peppers) = 1000 COP = $0.42
1 brócoli (head of broccoli) = 1000 COP = $0.42
2 zucchinis (1 zucchini, 1 squash) = 1500 COP = $0.64
13 papas criolla (creole potatoes) = 1500 COP = $0.64
3 tomates (tomatoes) = 1000 COP = $0.42
4 duraznos (peaches) = 1000 COP = $0.42
4 manzanas (apples) = 3000 COP = $1.27
3 naranjas (oranges) = 1000 COP = $0.42
1 granadilla = 500 COP = $0.21
2 aguacates (avocados) = 1000 COP = $0.42

+ 4 mandarinas (mandarin oranges) thrown in for free (ñapa)

14,500 COP = $6.16 (the dollar is at 2,353)

I’ve never had a head for prices, tracking them from week to week or country to country, but I’d say the prices are great. The peaches are small, and the broccoli’s bigger than it looks in the picture. I usually never buy apples (I decided a long time ago that why would I come all the way to Colombia to eat expensive imported apples when delicious tropical fruits abound?), but today gave in to whimsy. I realized that the only uniquely local produce in this haul is the granadilla and the papa criolla–most of the most eye-catching “exotic” (read, local) fruit here is best in juice, and I wasn’t planning on making any.

So, if you come to Bogotá and find yourself with just a little over six bucks in your pocket, know that at the very least you could buy yourself this much produce. Not too shabby, eh?

As for the ñapa, yes, that always happens at these kinds of places; no, they’re not going to give you a ñapa at Éxito or Carulla. After the produce, I bought some things at the dry goods area inside the plaza, and the girl also gave me a ñapa–a bocadillo treat. Then I bought toilet paper from a lady at a household products stand, and she gave me a ñapa, too. No, not a few extra squares; a piece of chocolate. These are people I’ve been buying from for almost a year now, so I have a nice rapport with all of them. What I can’t find at the plaza, I begrudgingly get at the Éxito supermarket down the hill. And even if they were to throw in a ñapa (which they never would), the experience wouldn’t be even half as nice as shopping at the mercado! More mercado reports to come.

Last words

A relationship that meant a lot to me ceased to be yesterday morning, so I’m sad, reflective, and hoping with all of my being that there’s a minimum of pain on the other side. So, how to close the cycle before I let a new, beautiful one begin? Just like I did three years ago, I thought I’d write one last blog post, this time with words I took from that last night of conversation at this person’s house. I didn’t write any of them down, but I made mental notes and was able to recall most of them later on. Words have always been my most cherished gift anyway, so in lieu of any received letter or note I’ll see myself out with these phrases and hereby close this sweet chapter.

1. Se engrampaEngrampar apparently means to staple in Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, and a few other regions (with grampa instead of grapa for staple), but the word has a different meaning in Colombia. The best I can make out is something like to find yourself burdened with some undesirable object, location, or company. In a word, stuck. Or stuck in traffic. Ha, stapled in traffic. Readers?

2. En la quinta porra – This means in the middle of nowhere, in the boondocks/boonies, out in the sticks, in bum****. (Sorry, I self-censor for all moms and grandmothers out there.) A place that’s perceived as far away from the speaker and inconvenient to reach. Porra loosely translates as hell (mandar a alguien a la [quinta] porra is to tell them to go to hell), but this particular phrase isn’t offensive. This is the local variation of the traditional Spanish phrase en el quinto pino, and endless variations exist all over the Spanish-speaking world: en el quinto infierno, en los quintos infiernos, en el quinto carajo, en el quinto coño, en la quinta puñeta, en la quinta chingadaen la quinta hostia. Some of which are definitely not for polite company. Nobody really seems to know why quinto (fifth) is used this way, but it’s emphatic.

3. Ni por el chiras – no way, not a chance. El chiras is probably a name for the devil in Colombia–I actually learned this from a blog reader, edf, a while back. Other Colombian forms (of varying vulgarness) include ni por el berraconi por el forro, ni de fundasni de vainas, and ni por el putas (ni puel putas). It’s not gonna happen.

4. Cerciorarse de algo – to make sure of something, to assure yourself of something, to ensure, to check. It’s a fancier way of saying asegurarse de algo, but it’s a good word to know and definitely pops up in conversations. Universal.

5. ¡Rebulla, rebulla! – from rebullir, which means to stir a drink (to dissolve the sugar or mix in the milk) in Colombia.

6. Jincho/a – drunk, plastered, wasted in Colombia.

7. Bonachón, bonachona – good-natured, jolly. I always remember that the book The BFG by Roald Dahl (The Big Friendly Giant) was translated as El gran gigante bonachón in Spanish. Sometimes it can also have the negative connotation of someone who’s goofy or dopey. Like someone who always has a big dopey grin on their face and never has a clue. Or, they’re naïve and easily get taken in because they just can’t imagine the possibility of malice in others. The word is an augmentative of bueno, and it’s universal.

El gran gigante bonachón The BFG Roald Dahl

8. Se erizó – from erizarse, which is when you bristle and all your hairs stand on end, or, if you’re a dog, your ears prick up and you sit at attention, right before launching into a tireless tirade of barks. The dog in question is named Luna, and, oh! How I’m going to miss her. A hedgehog is called an erizo, and this must be because their quills are always standing on end. Similar to this word from a blog post of yore, both being used everywhere.

9. Un no tajante – an emphatic “no,” rejecting something out of hand, a categorical “no.” Tajar means to cut, slice, or chop. You give your “read my lips, I said N-O” and make a clean slice, a clean break.

10. Con eso me limpio el . . . – this is an example of ellipsis, when a word isn’t provided but the listener is assumed to be able to fill in the blank. That blank would be “culo.” So, the complete phrase is con eso me limpio el culo. I wipe my ass with that, literally, or this is as worthless as toilet paper for me, but probably best translated as something like, um . . . I can’t think of a good equivalent phrase. Maybe you couldn’t tell from this blog, but I rarely use profanity. Basically, you’re expressing your disdain and disgust for something. I don’t know, maybe, what a worthless bunch of crap, or, what a load of bull. We might even have a phrase just like this in English, but I wouldn’t know. The person who used this phrase was just quoting someone else, a mom who was jokingly expressing her contempt for her kids’ reports cards that showed various failed subjects.

11. Plátano hartón – a kind of plantain. A titillating discussion began on the names of the different kinds of bananas and plantains after a bowl of dreary, gray, sludge-like plantain soup that I foisted on my partner at the time. I tuned out because I don’t currently care about adding more nuances to my banana/plantain repertoire, but somehow this one reached me in my indifference. You can also just say hartón.

12. Croquis – a police sketch. I’d read the word in newspapers, but this was the first time I’d heard it in real life. The person was saying that after being hit by a hit-and-run driver, he was unable to give the license plate number or a facial composite of the driver to police because it all happened so fast. Isn’t this word cool? It makes me think of croquet and Iroquois. It’s also used for a general diagram, outline, or sketch. In some places, it’s used for an informal, imprecise map that you might draw on the back of an envelope for a friend. Apparently, the word also exists in English (coming from French): a quick and sketch-like drawing of a live model, or a quick figure sketch in fashion design.

Croquis police sketch

13. De sopetón – all at once, suddenly, unexpectedly, just like that. A sopetón can also be a punch. So, the adverbial phrase conveys the shock and suddenness of a sucker punch.

Not to worry; I won’t be breaking up with Colombian Spanish this time or any such nonsense. Nor are a bunch of despecho posts in the works. Life goes on, Vocabat, of course, will go on, and I’ll keep speaking better and living better, one word and relationship at a time. How grateful I am for this and every other person who passes through my life, even when briefly. Here’s to the very, very best for both of us.


I’ll come out with it already: I’m off-the-charts affectionate. Touchy-feely, besucona, cursi, you name it. No, I can’t and won’t keep my hands to myself, not if I’m in a relationship with you, anyway. I definitely come from a family of huggers and kissers and everything else, and I thought I was living in a country of affectionate, warm-blooded, demonstrative, passionate people. Emphasis on thought, there. Hitherto but not henceforth. That is, I was under the impression I was finally living amongst people who, in theory, get me! And who would reciprocate and celebrate my tactile nature.


But take a look at today’s two illuminating phrases:

No coman pan delante de los pobres.

No cuenten dinero delante de los pobres.

No coman pan delante de los pobres means don’t eat bread in front of the poor, and No cuenten dinero delante de los pobres means don’t count your money in front of the poor. That is, don’t flaunt the fact that you have a partner for the whole world to see. Don’t rub it in peoples’ faces, don’t run around smothering everyone with your lovey-doveyness. ‘Cause a lot of people (partnered or not) don’t have that, and you might make them pine for what they don’t have. I heard the first phrase a few months ago; I was tsk-tsked with the second phrase this weekend. Sorry! (Not sorry.) I like the first phrase a lot more; it makes me think of Marie Antoinette. Well, let them eat cake!

The only English equivalent I can think of is: Get a room! Or maybe something about PDA (public displays of affection). Though I feel like the intensity of the PDA has to be greater for someone to yell at them to get a room, whereas a mere crumb of third-party affection like a quick peck on the lips could feel like insensitive crowing for a “poor” person who wants bread. And, of course, the English phrase makes no reference to the person’s own condition: you can be happily coupled and still yell at someone to get a room. The same thing happens with these Spanish phrases, though–you don’t have to be single to say them. It’s interesting, though, that you have someone calling themselves poor. Do we ever do that in English?

Counting your money in front of a poor person (in front of anyone, really) is outright bragging and of really poor taste, but I find it intriguing that in Spanish simply eating bread is also considered to be a show of ostentation. If you were stuffing your face with bread, OK. But you’d think the phrase would be with caviar or filet mignon. I guess, though, that only a middle-class striver who was always looking over their shoulder to see what the Joneses were eating would be rankled by luxury items such as these: when you’re truly hungry, food is food, and bread is probably one of the most filling, satisfying, and easily acquired items. So, self-absorbedly eating bread in front of a poor person without even breaking off a piece for them would be downright cruel and selfish. But, how do you share your physical affection with a starving person? And like someone’s really going to go discreetly eat bread in a windowless room.


Whatever, the phrase is mainly used to tease and give happy couples a hard time. Still, I always want to be sensitive and considerate–heavens knows I’ve spent enough time being “poor” myself. And poverty could be just around the corner for me again. So, all the more reason to eat up now, right? And to rejoicingly count my (potentially dwindling) money over and over, regardless of the onlookers around me. I’m conflicted . . . so I suppose I’ll just keep being my overly and openly affectionate self in the meantime! I know at least one person is breathing a sigh of relief right now.

The phrases are also said with enfrente de and frente a: no coman pan enfrente de los pobres/no coman pan frente a los pobres, and no cuenten dinero enfrente de los pobres/no cuenten dinero frente a los pobres.

Uy, ¿quién pidió pollo?

The list of so-called Colombian phrases goes on, and today’s entry is one I find particularly fun and with a fascinating backstory. Not to be read on an empty stomach!

4. Uy, ¿quién pidió pollo? (Knew it. Uniquely Colombian.)

Literal translation: Ooh, who ordered chicken?
Translation: How did we get so lucky to have this attractive person grace us with their presence?
Meaning: What a babe! Ooh, sexy! What a stud! What a hunk!

¿Quién pidió pollo? is said when a really attractive person walks into a room. Ooh, who ordered chicken? Why chicken and not chorizo? Why meat and not asparagus? Why are we comparing people to food at all? It’s kind of a long story.

So, chicken used to be a luxury food for Colombia’s middle-class city dwellers. Sure, it was frequent fare in the countryside, but its high price (due to high production costs and inefficient production methods) made it a treat for special occasions city-side. Chicken was for the well-off, and to be able to eat chicken regularly meant you had elite status. Elite families could splurge on chicken on Sundays, and non-elites had to wait until the December holidays to savor the delicacy.

As chicken was so expensive, it became common for a diner in a restaurant to jokingly screech Y eso, ¿pero quién pidió pollo? when the check arrived, indicating their faux shock at the high price, one that could only be explained by someone at the table having ordered the opulent dish. Either to identify the prodigal person and stare them down, or to ironically point out that as no one had ordered chicken, there was no justification for such a sky-high bill. But, really it was just a joke, a meaningless line to gripe about having to fork over the payment and to elicit a chuckle or two. Basically, good grief! You’ve got to be kidding me! Though maybe funny at first, the line is now considered by many to be the height of tastelessness and low-class behavior, eliciting only groans. Dude, you ate the food; just pay what you owe and don’t be stingy. No need to be a drama queen about it. Oh, and the eighties called; they want their joke back.

Sometimes the phrase is used to express that a bill for anything is expensive, not necessarily chicken. It’s when you do a double take when the bill comes, incredulously asking yourself, how can that be?

Recién llegado a Colombia, me comí unos patacones con pollo y queso en un restaurante del centro comercial Santafé. Allí me cobraron la módica suma de U$ 12. ¿Cómo? ¿Quién pidió pollo? Bueno, yo pedí pollo, pero me pareció costoso.

I’d just gotten to Colombia, and I ordered some patacones with chicken and cheese at a restaurant in the Santafé mall. The bill came for the totally reasonable amount of a whopping $12 USD. Excuse me? But, who ordered chicken? OK, I ordered chicken, but it still seemed crazy expensive to me.

Times have changed, though, and chicken is now the cheapest meat in Colombia. Whereas before chicken would have been unreachable for the lowest strata, it’s now a food for the masses. To be pertinent today, the phrase would have to be: Who ordered beef? Or, who ordered pork? Not to mention who ordered lobster, Waygu beef, or caviar. The phrase lost its punch and has largely disappeared from Colombia’s lexical landscape, after its peak during the 50s and 60s. Well, with this meaning anyway. ¿Quién pidió pollo? is still alive and kicking, after being reborn in an entirely different environment. From being used to describe a luxury food, it’s now used to describe a luxury person. That is, when an attractive man or woman walks into a room, catching people off guard.

How to reconcile this new usage with the old one? This gringa‘s guess is that the “chicken” (the luxury item) has arrived, luscious and mouth-watering, and now people want to know what they did to deserve such over-the-top eye candy. Like, people walk in and out of a room or an office constantly, and they’re just rice and beans or a plate of lentils. Filling but nothing to get excited about. But, chicken? And nobody even ordered it? It just walks in to freely bestow us with such attractiveness? Yessiree, count me in. It’s a phrase of admiration. The question also seems redundant to me–it’s not really asking who does this “dish” belong to? It’s more like, um, nobody here ordered such a gourmet dish, but we’ll take her/him! I’d love to hear the perspectives of others–like I said, these are just my speculations.

Some people think the phrase is used because an attractive woman is similar to a chicken: legs, bronzed skin, and what have you. I don’t really buy it, though. And, as noted, the phrase is also used for men.

So, you might hear this when someone (or even you, you stunner you!) attractive walks into a room, or you might just hear it used as a piropo when someone who’s a looker passes someone on the street. It’s like, would ya look at that . . ?

Eh ave maría, ¿quién pidió pollo?

This was bizarrely enough one of the first Colombian phrases I learned when I arrived five years ago. Family members of the people I first stayed with put on some clips of Antonio Sanint’s classic standup comedy routine, ¿Quién pidió pollo?, going on and on about how it was the funniest thing ever, oblivious, I guess, to how iffy my Spanish was. Yeah, funniest thing ever, I’m sure, except when you only catch or understand every tenth word. So, that was a bomb, but I listened to the routine on Youtube years later while working a boring desk job. Much, much funnier that time around. I listened to the routine again last night while making dinner for, um, research. Here’s the part about the phrase, and Sanint touches on both meanings and uses of ¿Quién pidió pollo?

Pero la reina de todas las frases, las que no podemos evitar decir, es cuando uno está en un restaurante y le llega la cuenta y uno mira a los amigos y aunque no se les hace cara, uno dice, uyyyyy, ¿quién pidió pollo? Yo me imagino que en algún momento fue chistoso . . . cuando el pollo era caro, creo. Pero ya no, entonces esa frase ha, ya ha montado, ya ni siquiera es con la comida, sino, uy, ¿quien pidió pollo? Con esa pierna, ¿pa’ que la otra? Así me la recetó el médico, ¿sí o qué?

But the king of all the phrases, those ones that we can’t help saying, is when you’re in a restaurant and you get the check, and you look at your friends, and even though they don’t even think it’s expensive, you say, oooooh, but who ordered chicken? I imagine that was funny once . . . back when chicken was expensive, I guess. But it’s not anymore, so that phrase has, it’s taken on, now we don’t even use it with food, but, oooooh, check her/him out! With a leg like that, what do I need two of them for? Just like the doctor ordered–am I right?

chicken lady

I’m pretty sure this phrase is as Colombian as it gets. For better or worse, you’ve just stared right into the Colombian psyche. Food, money, sex, culture: this slice of language encapsulates all of them. What else needs to be said?