I am lured to old cities by their stories. The monumental ones are captivating, yes, but it’s the little ones, the daily ones told day after day, that truly seduce me. Some may say it’s the history that draws me to old places, but I like to think that it’s the city’s stories that truly make me swoon.
Whenever I visit an old city, my mind often wanders to the stories of people who lived there in its past. I wonder what their lives were like, what they did and what they ate. But in Madrid, I didn’t have to use my imagination. Much of the city’s architecture has remained intact for hundreds of years, the same roads still taking people down the same paths, the same squares still the gathering places for festivities.
Just outside of one of those squares is the world’s oldest restaurant, Casa Botín, continuously serving Madrid since 1725. The ground-floor restaurant, opened by Jean Botín and his wife, served guests of the inn upstairs. Later the restaurant expanded to include all four floors of the inn and at the turn of the 20th Century the ownership transferred to the Gonzalez family, whose descendants still own it today.
Among the many survival stories surrounding Casa Botín is its oven. The 18th Century firewood oven still slowly roasts suckling pig from Segovia, the restaurant’s specialty for generations. The juicy meat remains tender while the skin is so crispy it cracks, almost like a crust. It’s so a novel-worthy dish, literally. Ernest Hemingway lamented about Casa Botín’s suckling pig in the closing lines of his book, The Sun Also Rises.
Casa Botín has had its share of famous diners over the course of its 289 year existence — Hemingway and the Spanish painter Goya are just a few — but as I sipped Sangria during lunch there, I wondered about the thousands of regular people who have dined there. It’s incredible to think of the generations of people that have eaten the same Castilian cuisine for centuries, from women in floor-length dresses to me in my jeans snapping photos of food with my iPhone.
Because of its impressive history, today Casa Botín is a bit touristy. Menus come in different languages, there are take-home postcards at the door. But the restaurant does a good job staying true to its roots, serving good food and providing excellent service. After all, it has quite the reputation to stand up to.
The story of Casa Botín is very much a part of Madrid’s story and the best part of eating at the charming restaurant is the feeling of adding to the city’s history just by having lunch.
Go to Casa Botín for :: a historic meal in the world’s oldest restaurant. Notes :: Both the lunch and dinner menus are identical. Reservations are recommended and can be made online here. Servers and staff all speak English and menus are in several languages.