My husband and I have a slightly unusual living arrangement compared to your typical European couple. Namely, for the past year and a half, we’ve lived in different cities for 50% of the time. And to be more precise, these cities are located in different countries, in different continents. In short, we live nearly 10,000 km apart!
Our life goes in 4 week cycles. My husband spends 4 week in England (at work) and then 4 weeks in Japan with us. When he is in England, I (and the kids) of course miss him and he misses us, and when he comes back to Japan, he spends a lot of time with the kids during the day, and in the evenings, he and I often go out for romantic, couply, husky-voice dinners to make up for the lack of romance during the periods when he is away.
My husband and I love Spanish food and we go to our favourite Spanish restaurant, Casa don Carlos, whenever we are back home in Brighton. And I’m not lying when I say that we love Spanish food; during our recent trip to England the Casa don Carlos chef had to break sweat five times (in three weeks) in delivering our usual hippo-size order that would have fed an army of matadors, their bulls and hungry grandmothers (you know, those stereotypical Spanish elderly ladies with moustaches and larger than average hips).
So, when I discovered a nice looking Spanish tapas place in Osaka my husband and I headed there for a romantic ‘haven’t-seen-you-in-four-weeks-dinner’ quicker than an angry bull shows an amateur matador who’s the boss (and so should the bull! -When it comes to bullfighting, my sympathy is completely with the bull!).
The decor of the restaurant was similar to what one might expect in a Spanish restaurant – dark wood, wine bottles on shelves here and there, candle-lit tables, and a big Spanish flag on one wall. I can’t recall having noticed the latter on the walls of any tapas places when on holiday in Spain, but, when not in Spain, it certainly helps to assure people that the restaurant has (at least some) connection to Spain.
We ordered wine, chorizo (Spanish salami), patatas bravas (chilli potatoes), calamari, olives, garlic mushrooms, and…erm… pizza. The fact that there was pizza on the menu in a tapas place maybe should have given us an indication as to what was coming. But since we cannot find pizza that often in Japan so we ordered it with your more traditional Spanish dishes.
As soon as they brought the food over we realized that our taste buds wouldn’t be getting the same experience as in Casa don Carlos: the word chorizo seems to translate into Japanese as a Frankfurter – or at least that’s what we got with our order. Patatas Bravas were not the usual (par)boiled and pan fried potatoes with chilli sauce and mayonnaise on the top. They were french fries. The mushrooms were Enokitake mushrooms, which are white, thin but tall, and rather rubbery Asian mushrooms with a nice taste but an unpleasant after effect (based on one’s toilet visits the following day – I won’t go into too much detail, I’ll only say that while sitting on the toilet, you might think you have worms). Even the pizza wasn’t pizza, it was puff pastry with tomato puree and some toppings. Come to think of it, even the wine might have been from Portugal! So it seems the flag on the wall was one of the few things in that Spanish restaurant that was Spanish (although it was probably made in China).
But the food wasn’t really a big issue given that my husband and I just wanted to spend some quality time together, without the kids (and our au pair), talk about the things we had done separately during the previous 4 weeks, and about matadors and their cruelty towards bulls. And on a positive note, the wine was good!
But it wasn’t only our tastebuds that were in for a peculiar time, given that all of a sudden mid-conversation (in husky voices about lonely nights in cold beds) the nearby speaker starts blasting the Heigh-Ho song from the Disney animation Snow White. A moment later three half-naked women appear on a stage and start belly dancing to a Disney compilation. Husky voices could not compete with Disney (or the bellydancers) – we were drawn to the bizarre Spanish-Middle-Eastern-Disney fusion with a German twist (a Frankfurter hanging from our open mouths while staring at the way that the bellydancers portrayed the seven dwarfs). (Please see a short clip of the show below)
I might come across as an uptight, extremely pedantic person focusing unnecessarily on minor detail, but belly dancers in a Spanish place? Really?! Belly dancing in a tapas bar is as strange as a geisha serving a Vindaloo in a Chinese restaurant. Having salsa or flamenco dancers might have salvaged some of the cultural misconceptions demonstrated in the restaurant. Although, in all fairness, the bellydancers had fans, which may have been an attempt to somehow make a link between the bellydancers and Spanish señoritas.
The ‘entertainment’ only very briefly distracted me from speaking in a husky voice (it took my husband slightly longer to stop focussing on the belly-dancers’ ‘bellies’), and all in all the slightly bizarre Spanish-German-Middlle-Eastern-Disney fusion night was not bad. But I think next time we’ll be choosing a Japanese or other Asian restaurant, whose cultural and foodie details are more familiar to Japanese restaurant managers.