Sayaka & Anthony photo by Sayaka Matsuoka

The first time I brought my boyfriend to my parents’ home for dinner, he was surprised.

But it wasn’t the language barrier or the fact that he had to take off his shoes before he stepped on the hardwood floors — it was the layout of the dinner.

Growing up in a Japanese household, I am accustomed to eating a variety of foods at every meal. A typical assortment included a meat or fish dish, a bowl of rice, miso soup and at least two different sides. How the Japanese aren’t more portly, I will never understand. Thank god for our hyperactive metabolisms.

It wasn’t until my boyfriend came to dinner that I realized how different Japanese meals are, and that some of my favorite cuisines, from American to Italian, were flavorful but lacked variety. Often I was presented with one main protein and maybe one side. Sometimes there wasn’t a side. It occurred to me that the way meals are laid out varies greatly from culture to culture, and let me tell you, if you’ve never experienced the joy of eating one meal but feeling like it’s five, then you’ve been missing out. Take the Spanish for example. Their tapas restaurants thrive on the small-plate mentality. Eat a little bit of this, then a little bit of that. It makes for a colorful dining experience, one that won’t leave the diner bored after 10 bites. And the Triad could use some more of that.

Sure, Gia has been touted as the one tapas restaurant in the area besides Bistro B in Kernersville and others like 1618 Downtown and la Rue serve small plates, but there could still be more variety. And the ambiance plays a role as well. The rowdy, crowded and clustered feel of an authentic tapas restaurant is what elevates the experience past the assortment of food. Pairing each small dish with a drink just screams enjoyment. And it’s not just tapas. It could be a dim-sum joint with rolling carts and a-la-carte plates of dumplings and buns, or an izakaya, which is basically just a Japanese tapas place. Catered towards merry drinkers, these restaurants typically only serve small plates and a variety of alcohol.

We’re off to a good start with the opening of the new Crafted street-food restaurant in Greensboro, but it’d be nice to see more places that thrive on the idea of ordering a ton of different foods for fun.

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