Current location: Lisboa, Portugal
Story location: Valencia, Spain
On our last night in Valencia, Andre and I went in search of a place for dinner. We had spent the afternoon at the Science museum and our tummies growled, alerting us that we forgot to eat lunch. We crossed the street and found a place in the Centro Commercial (mall) and snacked on pinchos (as they say in Valencia, aka tapas) before catching the bus back to our neighborhood where we were staying. The bus dropped us further away than other lines we had taken and enjoyed the warm summer evening as we took the long route home, also giving us an opportunity to find delicious dining options. We were surprised to only find fast food or bars and we continued our search towards downtown, assuming there would be plenty of restaurants open at 10pm, the perfect dining hour in Spain, despite it being a Sunday night.
We passed by a side street with a few spots but they seemed strange without many folks so we continued on, both feeling tired and ready to plant ourselves and fuel our bodies. The next side street had a lone restaurant: Chinese food. There were tables outside with a group of young men and woman dining and chatting and a lonely elder man sipping wine. I saw they offered Menu del Noche and only 7.50 euro. A bargain! I was sold. Say what? They have Menu del noche and on a Sunday night?! Living in Roquetas, I was used to Menu only being offered Monday- Friday, only for lunch and typically 10-12 euros.
Andre and I looked at each other and said, “Why not?” and told the waitress we (in Spanish, of course) wanted to sit outside and enjoy the warm summer evening versus sitting inside the deserted restaurant. She grabbed menus and repeated our choice as if it was questionable. We commented to each other about it but we brushed it off as language difference and confusion. Andre and I sat down and browsed the menu, excited for all the food possibilities. I felt like it was Chinese lunch menu in California! Yes, I get excited about things like this.
She set our table and brought out a linen table cloth for the metal table and we ordered our 3 course meal with wine, included. An elder man sat down and the Chinese waiter confirmed his order, “Agua sin gas.” I thought it strange to be a regular with your known beverage of choice to be water, drink being water but everyone has there favorite places, right? Andre and I people watched around the restaurant and nearby patrons while we waited for our food.
There was a guy from Senegal dressed in jeans and a black shirt playing on his phone one table over and when a scantily clad lady approached, he got up and followed her inside. They sat down in the deserted restaurant and chatted. I wondered what their deal was. Then a few minutes later, a noisy woman dressed in tights, a skirt barely covering her ass and wearing a cowboy hat, starts talking loudly as she approached the restaurant. She seemed to own the place. She left and 20 minutes later, comes back shouting and catch her saying, I need the keys. Clearly, the restaurant owners had a side business, offering rooms for the women to satisfy the men they could pick up. All the staff, including grandma and grandpa, young waitress and young waiter and chef in the back seemed indifferent. Normal, you know.
Andre and I look at each other and we soon put the pieces together. The waitress had tried to clue us in by double checking our decision to sit outside and realizing she was implying, eating inside would be a better choice. We were the only “real” couple there. The group nearby us slowly made sense too. They were ladies of the night enjoying beers with potential men.
Then an older man likely in his seventies sits down with a woman in her forties or fifties and they order drinks. I glance over and see him pull out a list of numbers on a napkin and discuss them. I realize there discussing what he owes her for the pleasures he purchased. Not too far away is an older Chinese man pushing a stroller with a cute baby whose not ready for sleep at 11:30 at night. He pushes the stroller around goes into the restaurant, leaves and makes a circle outside. The young waitress coos and caws at the little chubby baby and then the grandfather continues his walk. We wonder, whose baby is this? Whose who? We imagine this is all family owned.
Andre and I spend most of our dinner chatting about how we ended up this place, what we witness and laugh at our luck. Here is one “underground charm” of Valencia. Ready or not, we stumbled across it. We wonder how many others have been like us, unsuspecting customers. The food was delicious and I’d go back if it didn’t have this interesting side business. I question why they served us dinner when they seemed so indifferent to us. They brought us our food, never questioned if we needed anything and when we finished and it was time for desert (included), we took our cue and left. Money is money but it seemed so obvious what was going on. Do they actually profit from being a restaurant or is it just a front?
I wanted to take a photo of this place- neon lights flashing around the restaurant name. Classic place you’d imagine in a film or something that clearly wasn’t obvious until we sat down and ordered. Andre wouldn’t let me take a photo. I just wanted an innocent photo to capture the place and for this lovely blog but he was right when he said, “You don’t know what they may do, there are too many people around and who have an association here.” He was right. We didn’t need anyone following us the few blocks to our apartment. So this place remains a memory, and now a story shared with you.
Have you found yourself in an unexpected or interesting situation like this before?