The Oldest Restaurant in the World: How Madrid’s Sobrino de Botín Has Kept the Oven Hot Since 1725

“We lunched up-stairs at Bot­in’s,” writes Ernest Hem­ing­way near the end of The Sun Also Ris­es (1926). “It is one of the best restau­rants in the world. We had roast suck­ling pig and drank rio­ja alta.” You can do the very same thing today, a cen­tu­ry after the peri­od of that nov­el — and indeed, you also could’ve done it two cen­turies before the peri­od of that nov­el, for Bot­in’s was estab­lished in 1725, and now stands as the old­est restau­rant in con­tin­u­ous oper­a­tion. Found­ed as Casa Botín by a French­man named Jean Botin, it passed in 1753 into the hands of one of his nephews, who re-chris­tened it Sobri­no de Botín. What­ev­er the place has been called over this whole time, its oven has nev­er once gone cold.


“It is our jew­el, our crown jew­el,” Botín’s deputy man­ag­er Javier Sanchéz Álvarez says of that oven in the Great Big Sto­ry video above. “It needs to keep hot at night and be ready to roast in the morn­ing.” What it has to roast is, of course, the restau­ran­t’s sig­na­ture cochinil­lo, or suck­ling pig, about which you can learn more from the Food Insid­er video just above.

“It’s exact­ly the same recipe and tra­di­tion,” says Sanchéz Álvarez. “Absolute­ly every­thing is done in the exact same way as in the old days,” down to the appli­ca­tion of the spices, but­ter, wine, and salt to the raw pork before it enters the his­toric oven bel­ly-up. “It’s very impor­tant that the skin of the cochinil­lo is very crunchy,” he adds. “If the skin isn’t crunchy, it’s not good.”

Need­less to say, Botín is poor­ly placed to win the favor of the world’s veg­e­tar­i­ans. But it does robust busi­ness nev­er­the­less, hav­ing pulled through the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic (with, at the very least, its oven still lit), and more recent­ly received a vis­it from super­star food vlog­ger Mark Wiens. Its endur­ing suc­cess sure­ly owes to its more-than-proven abil­i­ty to deliv­er on a sim­ple promise: “We will serve you a hearty suck­ling pick with some good pota­toes and a serv­ing of good Span­ish ham,” as Sanchéz Álvarez puts it. Work­ing at the restau­rant for more than 40 of its 298 years has made it “like home to me,” he says, employ­ing the com­mon Span­ish expres­sion of feel­ing como un pez en el agua — though, giv­en the nature of Botín’s menu, a more ter­res­tri­al metaphor is sure­ly in order.

via Men­tal Floss

Relat­ed con­tent:

Free Doc­u­men­taries from Spain Let You Watch the Tra­di­tion­al Mak­ing of Wine, Cheese, Chur­ros, Hon­ey & More

The Incred­i­ble Engi­neer­ing of Anto­nio Gaudí’s Sagra­da Famil­ia, the World’s Old­est Con­struc­tion Project

The Span­ish Earth: Ernest Hemingway’s 1937 Film on The Span­ish Civ­il War

His­toric Spain in Time Lapse Film

A Vis­it to the World’s Old­est Hotel, Japan’s Nishiya­ma Onsen Keiunkan, Estab­lished in 705 AD

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Benjamin Geer says:

    In _The Inven­tion of the Restaurant_, Rebec­ca Spang argues that restau­rants were invent­ed in Paris in the 1860s. Restau­rants that claim to be old­er than that may have orig­i­nal­ly been cafés rather than restau­rants. Any such claims should at least be tak­en with a grain of salt until you’ve seen his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments to prove it.

  • Benjamin Geer says:

    Accord­ing to the source: “Botín didn’t serve meat or wine ear­ly in its his­to­ry because it was cus­tom­ary for inns to only pre­pare ingre­di­ents the guests them­selves pro­vid­ed.” So it was an inn, some­thing very dif­fer­ent from a restau­rant.

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