I love empanadas. As I was eating one today, I guessed that "empanada" must mean something like "breaded". A quick web search made me feel inordinately proud of my guess. But I can't yet find a name for the thing that's been breaded. It must be a feminine, of course. "Torta" seems wrong.

Any thoughts? Thanks.

EDIT: This question may be a duplicate of this one. The suggestion there is that "carne" is the implied word.

  • 1
    It's a good question. Whatever it is, it must refer to the stuffing. "Torta" wouldn't fit that, as it is also made of cereal, and referring to the whole.
    – pHonta
    Commented May 17, 2014 at 22:54
  • What makes you think there is an implied noun? There is no implied noun in "enchilada", or "frito", which are all the same sorts of words. They translate literally to English as "En-chilied thing," "fried thing" or, in your case, "breaded thing."
    – Flimzy
    Commented May 18, 2014 at 2:46
  • I think there's an implied noun because "hand me that enchilied/fried/breaded" makes little sense out of context. Of course there is a context for the words now, but at some point in their history they were brand-new. At that time, to refer to "the breaded" would have been, uh, less clear. Also, the words you mention have different genders, which suggests that they have different referents. Anyway, if "empanada" translates literally into "breaded thing", then perhaps "thing" is the implied noun - la cosa empanada. It doesn't explain "frito", but it's something.
    – Tony
    Commented May 18, 2014 at 13:59
  • It's "carne". Carne empanada -> empanada.
    – angus
    Commented May 18, 2014 at 19:54
  • 1
    There are many kind of empanada. While the meat one is the most common in some countries it is not so for others.
    – Bruno9779
    Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 18:53

8 Answers 8


There is an implied action: empanar. It means, according to DRAE,

1. tr. Encerrar algo en masa o pan para cocerlo en el horno.

So there you are. Indeed the implied noun is (drums)... algo, i.e. whatever fits inside the bread. It could be meat. But there's no fixed implied known. But the fact that the bread should be stuffed leads to the participle of empanar, namely empanada.

  • I mean what is the thing that's being breaded. "Pan empanado" seems a bit much. :)
    – Tony
    Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 21:46

There is no implied noun, other than possibly the ambiguous "one" or "thing," as in:

Breaded one


Breaded thing

The exact same thing happens in English (and probably every other language) when we use an adjective form in the place of a noun to describe something by its primary characteristic.

Some obvious examples from Spanish, and their literal English translations, are:

  • Enchiladas -- En-chillied ones/things
  • Fritos -- Fried ones/things -- or "fries"
  • Helados -- Frozen ones/things -- Anything frozen (ice cream, popcicles)

Some obvious ones in English:

  • Fries -- Anything fried (often French Fried potatoes, but not always)
  • Sweets / Sweeties -- Anything sweet: candy, ice cream, etc
  • Sugaries -- Anything sugary: candy, cookies, deserts, etc
  • I don't know of "fries" being used for anything but potatoes, and I've never heard "sweetie" or "sugary" used at all. We use adjectives and participles for people all the time - only the lonely, we are the chosen - but it's pretty clear that the word "people" is implied there. But I think my main objection is that the Spanish participles-as-nouns that you mention have different genders. All of that said, you may be right. Can you point me to some other analyses that confirm your idea? Thanks.
    – Tony
    Commented May 19, 2014 at 13:56
  • @Tony: I'm not sure why "sweeties" came to mind first... "sweets" would be the more common word, and I have updated the answer accordingly.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 18:22
  • @Flimzy - I agree with you that there is no explicit noun being modified. It is too much of a leap, though, to say that there's no implicit noun being modified. Commented Feb 18, 2018 at 14:33

I support the answer by @c.p. but would like to clarify a couple things.

  1. What is an empanada? Naturally, there is regional variation! Here is one possible configuration:


    The empanada pictured is similar to what in English can be called a hand pie or half moon pie. (I'd add turnover to this list if turnovers weren't usually triangular shaped.)

    It might be sweet or savory (or conceivably a combination, e.g. empanada de queso).

    It is often made with wheat flour but other types of starch are also possible, e.g. plantain.

    It may be fried or baked.

    OP appears to want to know, also (judging by the comment below c.p.'s answers), what to call the theme of the particular empanada, i.e. how to refer to the filling. As @eSedano pointed out in a self-deleted answer, it would be called, at least in Mexico:


    But note that the theme ingredient of the empanada can be either a discrete filling, added during the shaping phase, or it can be incorporated into the short dough during the initial mixing of the dough.

  2. The empanada I am most familiar with (eastern central Mexico) is based on a short pastry or shortcrust pastry. It's no longer based, in this day and age, on bread or pan as we now use these terms. Oxford defines shortcrust pastry as "crumbly pastry made with flour, fat, and a little water, typically used for pies [...] and tarts."

    However, there are recipes in which the oil doesn't appear as an initial ingredient, and doesn't get incorporated into the empanada until the deep frying.


It can be very different pie depending on the country.

From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empanada

An empanada (Spanish pronunciation: [empaˈnaða]; also called pastel in Brazilian Portuguese and pate in Haitian Creole) is a stuffed bread or pastry baked or fried in many countries in Southern Europe, Latin America, the Southwestern United States, and parts of Southeast Asia. The name comes from the Galician, Portuguese, and Spanish verb empanar, meaning to wrap or coat in bread.

Empanadas are made by folding dough or bread around stuffing, which usually consists of a variety of meat, cheese, huitlacoche, vegetables or fruits, among others.


In this case we are in front of a word that can work as a noun and as an adjective.

carne empanada --> Here empanada is an adjective of carne

He hecho empanada, ¿de qué? empanada de carne --> Here empanada is a noun

Usually the genre of the word could confound people. If we use, for example "atún" with empanada we get:

atún empanado --> again working as an adjective, it gets the genre of the noun.

He hecho empanada, ¿de qué? empanada de atún --> Here is a noun, and it's genre stays the same

This is because empanada can be a noun, but empanado not, it's always an adjective.


There is no implied noun.

It is the same as "sandwich" in english:

I am going to buy a tuna sandwich

Me voy a comprar una empanada de jamon y queso

So, if a sandwich is "anything between two slices of bread" an empanada is "anything wrapped in dough and baked or fried"

Wikipedia states that empanadas descend from middle eastern samosas, but the oldest european empanadas, the galician ones, are pies, very much similar to the ones known in the anglo-saxon world

  • I would say it´s the same as "pasty" in english. A sandwich is "bocadillo" in a roll/stick loaf. Arouind the tourist areas you also find "sandwich" used when it is made with two slices of bread.
    – BrianA
    Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 6:34
  • 1
    You didn't get the comparison. It is on word uage, not meaning
    – Bruno9779
    Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 10:19
  • Sure there is a noun, pan.
    – Rafa
    Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 14:52
  • Rafa, you did not understand the question in the slightes it seems. The OP asks what breaded is referred to, as it does not make mush sense translated litteraly in English. So, the OP wants to know what is that is breaded, not not why the word is derived from bread
    – Bruno9779
    Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 14:54
  • Bruno - you´re right, I misread your post
    – BrianA
    Commented Jun 7, 2014 at 7:22

An old word for what there is inside the bread is companaje or compango.

But I've never heard it in the wild, so it is likely that even a native will not understand it.

  • Compango = companaje es Comida fiambre que se toma con pan, y a veces se reduce a queso o cebolla. - - que se toma con pan no necesariamente indica que esté entre dos panes,; puede ser que se toma acompañado con pan.
    – user19118
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 13:19

The word for breaded is empanizado or empanado

Meaning that the verbs empanizar and empanar each mean to bread

Whoever mentioned the translation breaded thing was the most accurate, because that's exactly what it is. The em- preffix suggests that something is inside.

However, Spanish and Latin American culture has two kinds of breads, de harina and de masa. If the bread you are using to empanar something is masa, then the verb goes from being to bread to to cook/bake inside bread

Rather, to cook inside pastry

But I can't yet find a name for the thing that's been breaded. It must be a feminine, of course.

I can't say that I know exactly what the subject of empanada is, but like you said, it is feminine, so it must either be masa, harina, or fruta that is the "implied subject".


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