##Located in the historic centre of Valencia in barrio El Carmen, ‘Tasca El Botijo’ is a charming little tapas spot with the most welcoming staff a customer could hope for! Waiter, Raúl Fernández, oozes enthusiasm and warmth, taking time to talk with the bar-goers as they enjoy the delicious tapas and drinks served here. He brings my friend and I a cold drink each as we sit on the breezy terrace perusing the menu.
Deciding which tapas to choose is a difficult task due to the wide selection of tasty dishes on offer at ‘El Botijo’, which Fernández says is actually half of what the bar served pre-Covid. He recommends the Valencian tomato salad (Ensalada de Tomate Valenciano con Ajo y Acite de Oliva Virgen): three chunky slices of tomato drizzled with olive oil, garlic and salt. “Customers always say: ‘Wow, I’ve never tasted a tomato like that!’,” says Fernández. We decide we have to try the tomato salad after this tantalising description, along with the patatas bravas and artichoke paté.
Fernández tells us that the patatas bravas here are different to most you’ll find around the city, as they’re healthier and tastier. At El Botijo, they boil baby potatoes, instead of frying, and use two different kinds of paprika from Spain – one sweet and one spicy – instead of a tomatoey bravas sauce. The menu is inspired by culinary traditions from across Spain, with a range of cheeses, Ibérico ham, chorizo, tostas and Spanish wines, always including one white and one tinto (red) from Valencia.
“Whatever you like, we’ll find a wine for you,” says Fernández. He often brings samples to customers’ tables to make sure they like the wine before ordering a glass or bottle, as he wants everyone to enjoy their dining experience at El Botijo. “You come here to enjoy. To enjoy the food, the wine, the service and everything. You don’t think about anything; just enjoy time with your family and friends,” he says.
And enjoy we do! The food definitely does not disappoint; it certainly lives up to Fernández’s description. The bravas are refreshingly different to others we’ve tried around Valencia, with the paprika adding the perfect amount of spice to the dish. As for the Valencian tomato salad, you will have never seen a bigger tomato in your life! Very filling and extremely tasty, this simple dish is my favourite; the tomato itself is so flavoursome, it didn’t need anything fancy to make it a memorable and mouth-watering tapa. My friend, Serena, enjoys the creamy artichoke paté the most, so much so that she wants to ask for the recipe! The subtle taste of artichoke makes the paté just the right amount of moreish that you don’t want to reach the end of the bowl.
As we enjoy our tapas on the terrace, many customers come and go; some stay longer to chat with Fernández and co-owner, Manuel Sanmiguel, while others enjoy a quick drink and tapa before heading on their way. Sanmiguel opened El Botijo thirteen years ago to serve the local people at a time when there were only two tapas bars in El Carmen. Since tourism to Valencia has increased over the last several years, this historic barrio has become steadily busier. “Valencia has changed a lot over the last 5 to 6 years due to tourists,” says Fernández. “Nobody used to know Valencia but now they do. El Carmen was too busy for the people from here. When you know the city, you look for somewhere calmer, not busy places a lot.”
That’s where El Botijo comes in. This charming tapas bar has so many regular customers that they have become friends with the waiters and Fernández often comes to the bar on his days off to chat with them. Originally a customer himself, Fernández has worked at El Botijo for two years and is close friends with all the other staff, including the manager, Manuel Sanmiguel. “I have paella with Manuel and his family on Sundays sometimes and we all go to visit one of the waiters in their small village at the weekends sometimes too. It’s like a family. This place feels like a home,” he says. It’s not hard to see why.
Fernández says he misses talking to tourists from all over the world, who have stopped coming to Valencia since Covid hit. Resident in Manchester for several years, he says he likes to practice his English with visitors. Covid has also reduced the number of customers El Botijo can take, which used to have 12 tables inside and 9 inside but now, with social distancing measures, has just 6 outside and 4 inside. “For now, we’re doing okay,” says Fernández. “We take it day by day.” One of the lucky ones, El Botijo is continuing to do business this autumn, albeit on a smaller scale than before.
Amongst the uncertainty for bars at this time, one thing is for sure: if you want good food and good conversation, El Botijo is the place to be!
Article & Photos by Anna Hart
Copyright ‘24/7 Valencia’
TASCA EL BOTIJO
Carrer de Sant Miquel, 14, 46003 València