Botín in Literature
Botín is so deeply established in Madrid that it has given rise to a typical saying
“Ever since I was tiny and loved suckling pig
I longed to go to Botín to pig out”.
Three centuries of shared history between city and restaurant have now passed, two stories intertwined and convergingnot only in the collective imagination but also in literature.
They say that around 1620, the area of Cava de San Miguel and what today is Madrid’s Plaza Mayor was thronged with rabble-rousers engaged in various activities. It was surely in this atmosphere where Lope de Vega found the models for the sort of scoundrels who took centre stage in his plays.
And later, in the 19th century, this traditional neighbourhood of Madrid was also the stage for many of the novels by Benito Pérez Galdós, to the point of being given the sobriquet of Galdosian Madrid by historians.
Ever since, many authors have found in this district the perfect place for developing their characters and plots. And Casa Botín has the honour of forming part of these imaginary worlds by having set the stage for numerous literary works. Here is a compilation of writers and mentions:
Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)
The simplicity behind words and flavours
We start our literary overview with Ernest Hemingway for the special ties he enjoyed with Botín and its owners. In his travels around the peninsula, Hemingway would often head for Botín, where he became close friends with Emilio González, father and grandfather of the current owners..
Perhaps it was because, just like Hemingway did with his writings, González kept additives and rhetoric out of his dishes, cherishing simplicity and purity as qualities. No wordiness, no dissimulation; one of them, straight to the palate, the other straight to the reader’s soul. In that, they were alike.
Of Madrid he said: “It is the most Spanish city of all the cities in Spain”. Adding that: “When one can have the Prado at the same time with El Escorial not two hours to the north and Toledo to the south and a fine road to Ávila and a fine road to Segovia, which is no distance from La Granja, it makes you feel badly to know that you will die and never see it again”.
Curiously, it is worth mentioning his interest in learning to cook paella, although he was never as strong in the kitchen as he was with a typewriter.
The love this charismatic North American felt for Spain is well known to all. Few foreigners have felt and reflected our country’s beauty like he did. He needs just a few lines to evoke a landscape filled with all its scents, shifts of light and harmonies.
A fierce and passionate champion of bullfighting, in 1932 he published “Death in the Afternoon”, a veritable treatise on tauromachy in which he mentions Botín:
…but in the meantime I preferred to dine on suckling pig at Botín than sit and think about the accidents which my friends could suffer.
Botín also features in “The sun also rises”. For many years we have been gratified to observe the pilgrimage of American tourists who arrive in search of the dining room in which Hemingway sets the novel’s final scene:
We lunched upstairs at Botin’s. It is one of the best restaurants in the world.We had roast young suckling pig and drank rioja alta. Brett did not eat much. She never ate much. I ate a very big meal and drank three bottles of rioja alta.
Benito Pérez Galdós (1843-1920)
The flavour of the Spanish soul
Benito Pérez Galdós is recognized for his ability to delve into the Spanish soul and make it less translucent, more tangible, saving it from silence through his novels. It is thus an honour for Botín to make up a little piece of that soul in some of his works.
In 1886 Galdós wrote one of his most popular works “Fortunata y Jacinta”, a vast mural in which Madrid’s history, society and urban profile set the stage for a plot involving two young and very different women who are in love with the same man. In one of its pages Galdós writes:
Ten years later he again referred to Botín in another of his works: “Misericordia”, a novel which, together with “Nazarín”, displays some of the influences of Russia’s Dostoyevsky. In one of its chapters, the character Doña Francisca Juárez asks for food to be brought up to her from Botín:
¡About time, Good Lord! So many years of forced fasting sure make it worthwhile to sing the hallelujah of the resurrection. «Come on, Celedonia, put on your new skirt, you’re going to Botín. I’ll write down what I want on a little piece of paper so that you don’t get it wrong». No sooner said than done. Madam could not ask for less to get the juices flowing on such a splendid day than two roast hens, four fried fish and a good piece of fillet, with the help of some boiled ham, spun egg and as a side a dozen custard-filled fritters… Off I go!”
Ramón Gómez de la Serna (1888-1963)
The pen as an ever-accurate dart
Another paragon of Spanish literature, Ramón Gómez de la Serna, dedicated several of his famous “Greguerías” aphorisms to our restaurant. This charismatic writer, born in 1888 in Madrid, was a regular and a leading voice in the literary gatherings organized in the now-extinct Café de Pombo and also in Botín.
Gómez de la Serna, an illustrious character, was at the heart of some entertaining anecdotes, the result of his curious and somewhat eccentric sense of humour. On a certain occasion he delivered a conference while sitting on a circus trapeze and another day, having been invited to give a talk at the Academy of Jurisprudence, he personally read out a letter in which he apologized for not attending the function due to being ill.
Gómez de la Sernaused to wander around Madrid hunting for “Greguerías”, and when inspiration struck him he would head for the nearest of the four rooms he rented in different parts of Madrid, all of them well equipped with a desk, paper, pen and inkwells.
We should mention that he always used red ink, since he believed that this way “the transfusion onto paper is more sincere, I fill my pens with my own blood”. About Botín he wrote:
Botín is the great restaurant where they roast new things in old casseroles.
It feels like Botín has always existed and that Adam and Eve ate there the first fried pork ever cooked in the world.
In old Botín on old calle Cuchilleros, there is also suckling pig, the poignant suckling pig, before which we could cry as if it was one of our own children, because we feel that it might even be about to say: Baptized, so many pesetas, and unbaptized so many fewer.
Graham Greene (1904-1991)
Regaling oneself with a good lunch
Let’s start with Graham Greene, a British novelist born in the early 20th century whose work reflects the spiritual conflicts of a world in decadence.
After the Second World War he travelled widely around the world and also stopped off in Spain. Among his last works is “Monseñor Quijote” (1982), a novel which confronts Marxism and Catholicism in a moderate tone. One of its chapters reads:
…I suggest that before we buy purple socks we regale ourselves with a good lunch at Botín…
James A. Michener (1907-1997)
Obsessions with a country
It is always surprising for a native to rediscover their country through the eyes of a foreigner, especially if those eyes belonged to Michener. Of our country he said: “Some travellers, and I am one of them, also find it inevitable to delve into Spanish history, and when this happens to us we are lost, because then we become obsessed with Spain, just like our predecessors Georges Bizet, Henry de Montherlant, George Borrow and Ernest Hemingway became obsessed.
Indalecio Prieto (1883-1962)
On memories and scenes of the Madrid of yesteryear
Arturo Barea (1897-1957)
From Lavapiés to Great Britain, stopping off at Botín
Arturo Barea, too, a native of Extremadura but English by adoption, devotes a space to Botín in what is his pinnacle work, “The Forging of a Rebel”. This trilogy is a perfect Costumbrist sketch of Madrid, captured through the daily vicissitudes of a humble family (the author’s own) from the start of the century up until the Civil War. In one of its paragraphs Barea says:
Carlos Arniches (1866-1943)
The word of a cocky chulapo with a traditional spirit
Carlos Arniches, the author of farces and comedies, also captured in his work the traditional flavour of Madrid’s neighbourhoods. He mentions Botín in “La Fiesta de San Antón”(The San Antón Festivity), using that smug, tough-guy tone adopted by Madrid’s inhabitants of the time and which he took to the very limits of the stereotype:
Mariano de Cávia (1855-1920)
Madrid and Botín, among the ‘Daily Specials’
The prestigious journalist and writer Mariano de Cávia, originally from Aragón, was also seduced by the centuries-old charm of Botín. He mentioned the restaurant in some of the pieces from his “Platos del Día” (Daily Specials) series, which he wrote for “El Liberal”, in which he wrote on politics, customs, society and more.
He also remembered the restaurant in an article published in “El Sol”, which makes delightful reading:
Antonio de Obregón (1911-1985)
‘Up-to-date Madrid’ and other chronicles from the capital
The writer and journalist Antonio de Obregón, a dear friend of our House, acquired prominence, among other fields, in his chronicles of the capital, with which he was well acquainted.
For years he wrote his ‘Up-to-date Madrid’ section and dedicated the following words to our restaurant:
Alfonso Reyes (1889-1959)
The renowned Mexican author Alfonso Reyes also mentioned Botín in 1953 in his book “Minuta , Memorias de cocina y bodega” (Minutes, Memories of Kitchen and Cellar):
El Conde de Sert (1940)
A greedy and nostalgic overview of the 19th century
The Count of Sert, a gastronomic sage and devotee of avant-garde cuisine… but with some nuances: “If your wish is to enjoy good food, then do as I do: throw a nostalgic glance back to the 19th century, for it was a great century for cuisine”, he recognized in an interview.
Botín is so deeply established in Madrid that it has given rise to a typical saying:
In his book “The Greedy, a European History of Good Food” he describes an official dinner offered by Alfonso XII to Edward VII on the occasion of that monarch’s visit to Spain. The menu preserved from that event mentions that one of the desserts was “Custard-filled Bartolillos Botín-style”.
María Dueñas (1964)
Maria Dueñas, a dear friend with whom we maintain a very special relationship, mentions us in her bestseller “El Tiempo entre costuras “ (The Time in Between). In this book, an encounter between some of her characters is set in Botín:
I call him my friend Guillermo, in Spanish; he speaks our language very well, he lived in Chile for a time. A few days ago we met for lunch at Botín, he adores the suckling pig…
Also in “Mission Forgetfulness“ (2012) she gives us a friendly nod:
I already told my daughter-in-law that I’m going to her house early this afternoon and will roast a suckling pig they are bringing me from my village that will turn out at least as delicious as the ones they make in Casa Botín.
Michael Aaron Rockland (1935)
Recently, in 2011, Michael Aaron Rockland, a former cultural attaché at the American Embassy in Madrid, in his work “An American Diplomat in Franco Spain”, mentions his dinner at Botín with Martin Luther King shortly before his assassination:
…The ambassador’s limousine and chauffeur waited for us in the street and with great pomp we headed for Botín Restaurant, located on calle Cuchilleros, just outside Plaza Mayor. I knew it was the most frequented site by tourists ever since Hemingway chose it for the ending of his novel The Sun Also Rises…
Frederick Forsyth (1938)
Intrigue in our cellars washed down with Marqués de Riscal
Three nights later the two men arrive separately in a narrow street of Madrid’s old quarter, calle Cuchilleros. Halfway along what is merely an alleyway there is an old boarded door that opens on to a basement after descending a few steps. The basement has brick vaults and is an old cellar dating from the Middle Ages. For many years, it has served typically Spanish food under the name of Sobrinos de Botín. The old arches divide the space into compartments with a table at the centre, and Monk and his guest had one for themselves.
The food was good. Monk ordered a Marqués de Riscal…
Nieves Herrero (1957)
Movie love and flavours
Also, in 2015, the journalist and writer Nieves Herrero published “Cómo si no hubiera un mañana” (As If there was No Tomorrow), a novel narrating the passionate love affair between the famous North American actress Ava Gardner and the Spanish bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominguín.
In one of the book’s passages Botín serves as the stage for a meal between Dominguín and his friend, the prestigious psychiatrist Juan Antonio Vallejo-Nágera.
It happens in one of our dining rooms and several references are made to the restaurant, its history, its famous clients, its wood-fired oven and its dishes. The diners actually demolish the croquettes, the blood pudding, a quarter-hour soup and a suckling pig.
… Luis Miguel went for a meal with his friend Juan Antonio Vallejo-Nágera at Casa Botín, on calle Cuchilleros.
Soledad Galán (1952)
Hendecasyllables on the palate
In 2015, the writer Soledad Galán published “El diablo en el cuerpo” (The Devil in the Body), a fictional autobiography of queen Isabel II of Spain, filled with humour, eroticism and historical events.
In the pages of her book, Soledad, a great friend of the house, was kind enough to include several references to Botín. Not for nothing has Botín’s antiquity turned it into the silent witness of numerous historical events since it was founded in 1725:
…I told Francisco that we were going to swig a few glasses of red and some lambs roasted in the wood-fired oven at Casa Botín…
…They say that Botín’s roast lamb composes hendecasyllables on the palate…
Antonio Gómez Rufo (1954)
Antonio Gómez Rufo, a Madrid writer with a law degree who has always combined the practice of law with collaborations in the world of culture in general and literature in particular, published in 2016, “Madrid. La Novela”(Madrid. The Novel), an exciting tale involving three family sagas (from 1565 to the present day) set in the city of Madrid.
In this novel, Botín is proud to make an appearance as part of the city’s history. This is all thanks to Jean Botin, a Frenchman who arrived in Madrid with the only aim of being a good cook, never imagining that his inn would go down in history to become, over time, the world’s oldest restaurant:
…What will you call your inn?
–Botín. The name of the father of my good friend Pierre.
And when in the 20th century the business was taken over by the González family, the family enterprise of Amparo Martín, Emilio González and their sons Antonio and José was still a small business comprised of seven employees who lived on the third floor of the building.
…And when the war ended the family’s sons, Antonio and José, took their undertaking forward, as did their sons Antonio, José and Carlos: an inn still infused with the soul of someone who, in 1725, paid eternal homage to a Frenchman, Jean Botin, who arrived in Madrid wanting to be a cook and, unwittingly, sowed the seed of a corner of Madrid that has continued to hover over the city’s history.
…I suggest that before buying the purple socks we regale ourselves with a good lunch at Botín…
Almudena de Arteaga (1967)
On the ‘vagaries’ of History
Manuel (Godoy), whom I reluctantly knew so well, was a man of deep-rooted routines who, whenever he was in Madrid, followed the same route: he left the Palace to wander around the lanes of the Cava Alta on the way there and the Cava Baja on the way back, crossing Plaza Mayor, which he left through the Arco de Cuchilleros to end up at the Botín hostelry, where invariably a jug of hot chocolate with doughnuts awaited him. With a well-filled belly, he mounted again and descended along Cuesta de la Vega…
Lorenzo Díaz (1948)
The gourmet and profound connoisseur of Madrid, Lorenzo Díaz, also mentions Botín in his erudite works on Madrid’s cuisine, such as in “Madrid. Bodegas, Mesones, Fondas y Restaurantes” (Madrid. Wine Cellars, Taverns, Inns and Restaurants) and in others of his books.
In a letter written in Latin to Messrs. Bonilla and Canseco by D. Ismael Calvo, magistrate, he accepts their invitation to dine at Casa Botín, around 1917. “Ismael, viris illustribus doctissimis antecesoribus Bonilla et Canseco L.P.D. Dilectissimi amici: grata fuit mihi epistola vostra, quam ego accepi, instantissimam consumere prandium apud Botinum. Decimo Calendas Maii mihi conveniens est, …