How would you translate the Spanish word ‘papa’ into English? ‘Papas’ is one of those words which have a great power of communication: it tells us about many things of the culture it is part of. Linguistically speaking, it places us in a specific part of the big map of the Spanish language: outside the Spanish peninsula. Specifically, today we are travelling again to the Canary Islands, where people use ‘papa’ instead of ‘patata’, even though being part of Spain. In this region there is a very typical dish called papas arrugadas (‘wrinkled potatoes’), that are basically potatoes cooked in salty water. And here we arrive at the second cultural clue: they are cooked exactly the same way people can do everywhere, but using salty water because the Canary Islands are of course surrounded by sea, in particular the Atlantic Ocean, that is surrounded by naturally salty water.
So papas arrugadas are one of the most distinctive dishes in the Canary Islands, as well as one of the most delicious, i.e. versatile: cooked with the peel, you can eat them alone, hot or cold, with meat or fish; but one of the most famous ways to display it is with a soft fish called vieja together with mojo, the typical sauce made with olive oil, garlic and parsley.
In the Canary Islands, you can find different kinds of papas, many of them having their name in the register of protected designations of origin and protected geographical indications of the European Commission. Each of these potatoes has its own name, as the potatoes world has its own terminology: bonita, peluca, torrenta… or, maybe one of the most curious names, papa chinegua, which derives from King Edward, as this word was written on the boxes used to import those tubers. ‘Chinegua’ or ‘quinegua’ was the graphic adaptation of the name of this king, as in this region people tend to do a relaxed pronunciation of the sound /k/.
And talking of linguistics, we can find expressions using the term papa, for example “no tener papas en la boca” (‘not to have potatoes inside your mouth’) that means ‘to tell what we think without no qualms’, or “mándate una papa” (‘polish a potato off’), a colloquial expression used to say that somebody said or did something silly, as a way to put an end to the situation.
Finally, based on what we have just said, context is crucial when translating. So if you would just decide to translate papas as ‘popes’, somebody could tell you: “Mándate una papa”.
Written by Ana Bennasar
Terminology trainee at TermCoord