• 2018.10.01
  • Patata Means Potato in Japanese
The potato that was cultivated in the Andes of South America made its way to Spain in the 16th century and spread to the world from Europe. It arrived in Japan in the 17th century. The potato is a beloved vegetable in many countries that sometimes takes the leading role in dishes, and in many cases takes an indispensable supporting role. Here in Spain it also plays a huge part. At Madrid’s central wholesale market, Mercamadrid, there is even an area specializing only in potatoes.

The 3 major potato dishes in Japan are French fries, potato salad and nikujaga (a simmered meat and potato dish). Generally, for nikujaga beef is used and the dish is flavored with soy sauce, but there is also a version that uses pork and a salt-based flavor that is called jagabu.

The 3 best potato dishes in Spain are patatas fritas (French fries), which is an overwhelmingly popular side dish, ensaladilla rusa (potato salad) and tortilla de patatas (potato omelet), the soul food of every Spaniard. If there is a Spanish bar, you can find tortilla throughout the Iberian Peninsula, even in a remote, deserted village of 50 residents. The proper name is tortilla española. In other words, the Spanish omelet bears the name of the country.

The ingredients are extremely simple and can likely be found anywhere in the world. You only need potatoes, eggs, oil and salt. The recipe is also simple. Potatoes are sliced into rounds and salted, then fried in plenty of oil as if being boiled. After draining the oil, the potato is mixed with beaten eggs and shaped. That’s it. Naturally, it’s delicious freshly made, but also when cooled, so when placed between bread it turns into the ultimate standard packed lunch, just like rice balls in Japan. It becomes a bocadillo de tortilla (omelet sandwich). Plus, it’s frequently served as tapa (an appetizer) in Spanish bars. It’s also great with mayonnaise, if you prefer.

A tortilla tapa; this one includes a little onion

A whole tortilla made with 8 eggs

Another firm favorite is Russian salad, or what Japanese call potato salad. In Spanish, it’s called ensaladilla rusa. Its origins date from the end of the 19th century to the start of the 20th when it was created by the head chef, Olivier of the high-class French restaurant “Hermitage” in the capital of Russia, Moscow. It is also known as Olivier salad, Russian salad, and capital salad.

Perhaps it reflects the splendor of the old days when Imperial Russia was coming to an end. The ingredients can be called extravagant or chaotic and random. The inclusion of snow grouse, partridge, duck, bear, deer, beef tongue, smoked sturgeon, crayfish, aspic (jellied meat broth), caviar, caper, potatoes, boiled egg, pickled cucumbers, European truffles, Worcestershire sauce, mustard and mayonnaise present the insanity of the chef. However, maybe there was the hidden agenda of using up all the ingredients before they spoiled, or it could be that he was ahead of the times and was highly aware of the problem of food waste.

This jumble is a chaotic dish that gives the impression of a hodgepodge stew made from ingredients brought by party guests, which was said* to have been talked about by the author, Lao She who took his own life during the height of the Cultural Revolution in the neighboring country of China.
*From Tama, Kudakeru by Takeshi Kaiko

However, the Spanish version of the Russian salad is nothing like the original Russian one. Its simplicity is its appeal. The national potato recipe has spread to every nook and cranny in the country. The decidedly easy dish is made of potatoes, carrots, onions, red peppers, olives, canned tuna and mayonnaise. That’s all you need for a Russian salad that is Russian only in name.

A Russian salad served at a Spanish bar

Another fine tapa

This dish uses a large amount of mayonnaise. If you look back at the origins of mayonnaise, you see that the sauce was created in the port town of Mahón on Menorca Island, part of the Balearic Islands in Spain in the Mediterranean Sea. What is today known as mayonnaise was called mahonnaise, or mayonesa in Spanish. Does this mean that Russian salad, which uses mayonnaise originally from Spain, is more like a returnee from overseas than a foreign dish?

Shelves of mayonnaise at a small supermarket in the neighborhood

Around 80% of potatoes in Japan are apparently produced in Hokkaido. I would like to express my sincerest sympathies to the people of Hokkaido who suffered serious damage due to the recent earthquake. I also pray for the return of the best potatoes in Japan.


  • Susumu Yamada
  • JobSpanish and Japanese Translation

It’s been almost 37 years since I received a residence permit and work permit from the Spanish government and paid my first tax and social insurance premiums. Now that I’m at that age where I will soon go and register at the senior human resources center, I’m grateful to have this opportunity to introduce you all to this country that has taken care of me these many years.

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