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! Our waiter 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’. The waiter 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!’,” he tells us. We decide we have to try the tomato salad after this tantalising description, along with the patatas bravas and artichoke paté.
He 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 the waiter. 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 his 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 the waiter and also co-owner, Manuel Sanmiguel, while others enjoy a quick drink and tapa before heading on their way. Sanmiguel opened El Botijo fourteen 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. The waiter adds: “Valencia has changed a lot over the last 5 to 6 years due to tourists. 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 staff who sometimes come to the bar on days off to chat with them. The waiter: “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.
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!
Report by Anna Hart
Article and photo copyright Anna Hart / ‘24/7 Valencia’
TASCA EL BOTIJO
Carrer de Sant Miquel, 14, 46003 València