Planning a trip to Extremadura? Then start brushing up on your hard-earned Spanish before packing your bags. It’s not a region where you can get by easily with English only, after all.
To help you a little bit with vocabulary, I’m sharing 10 words for you to learn. They are all related to very extremeño things, and can serve as a (very humble) cultural introduction to Extremadura.
Enjoy the read.
The word alcornocal comes from alcornoque, which means ‘cork oak’. Therefore, an alcornocal is an area with lots of alcornoques – a cork oak forest. During the summer, cork forests are sheared of their bark, and the trees show a red brick colour. Harvesters go to a different area of alcornocales every year, giving cork nine years to fully grow back before debarking the same trees again.
The term brasero refers to a very particular type of heating element we put under a very particular type of table (mesa camilla). Traditional braseros were made of picón (charcoal, usually from holm oaks) although, nowadays, most of them are electric. You just plug them in to keep yourself warm while sitting at the table and covered with a long table cloth (faldilla).
To know more about the elements of a heated table and how picón is made, read this related article: Getting ready for winter: the heated table and the brasero
A berrueco (also barrueco) is a granitic rock of usually big proportions. They appear in the centre and west of Extremadura, with Alburquerque being a good example of a town full of berruecos. A good place to spot these rocks (and storks) is Los Barruecos Natural Park, just 18 km away from Cáceres.
Related article: The incredible little house with the rock inside
Chacinas refer to the cold meats prepared with pork marinated meat, such as chorizo and other types of sausages. Although the long-history tradition of matanzas (pig slaughtering) are rare at home these days, some people in rural areas still hang their chacinas over the fire to cure until ready to eat.
The term dehesa roughly translates as ‘pastureland’ and refers to the most quintessentially extremeño landscape that covers one third of the region. A Unesco-protected landscape, its two key elements are the holm oaks (encina) and the Iberian pigs producing the jamón ibérico Extremadura is famous for.
Related article: The ham fight – Serrano vs Ibérico
The word garganta means ‘throat’, and can also mean ‘gorge’. In Extremadura, we use the term garganta to refer to the small rivers and streams running down the mountains in the north of Cáceres province. Many gargantas create natural pools along their way down, which are great places to fight Extremadura’s unbelievably hot summers by having a refreshing swim.
Pilones are stone receptacles containing water for animals to drink (troughs) or for other purposes, such as fountains. In Extremadura, we use pilón to refer to the stone fountains with spouts that abound in Cáceres province.
You probably know ‘quesadilla’ as a Mexican dish, but, in Extremadura, ‘quesadilla’ is cheese. It’s made of raw cow (sometimes goat) milk and you won’t find it in regular supermarkets, but only in local shops in specific rural areas. It’s so fresh you need to eat it within a day or two, because it goes off very quickly.
A tinaja is a large earthenware jar, very wide in the middle, used to store oil or keep water cold in summer. Some of them can be quite big (my grandmother’s one is as big as a small fridge). You can find them in old kitchens, with a porcelain mug on top. The mug is used to refill earthenware pitchers (porrones) than can easily be carried around the house.
The word zaguán isn’t very much used outside Extremadura and Andalusia. It’s the room just inside the front entrance of a house. You could say it’s a ‘hall’, but the role of a zaguán isn’t just to lead you to the other rooms. It often is the main room of a house, a sort of all-purpose reception-dining-living area. My grandmother’s house, for instance, doesn’t have a living room. It only has a small zaguán with the classic heated table with brasero, and its faux leather wing chairs.