The Oldest Restaurants In the World By Country — and Their Signature Dishes
Restaurants have been both an integral part of our society and a cultural treasure for centuries. They represent culinary respites from our hectic everyday lives, with a person serving you for a change after doing what the rest of the world wants and needs all day long. They offer comfort with familiar fare that has been handed down through the generations — or an adventure with trendy dishes to excite your palate with a palette of unique ingredients and exotic flavors, resulting in interestingly new taste sensations to elevate the overall dining experience.
The Oldest Restaurants In the World By Country — and Their Signature Dishes
Most of all, restaurants offer the opportunity to break bread with members of your family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues — and even that romantic love interest, long-term partner, or spouse — although that has been severely tested of late due to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic, which has caused restaurants to close their dining rooms in many areas around the world within the past several months.
Many of the oldest businesses in the world are restaurants for the simple reason that delicious, familiar food never goes out of fashion. We dine around the world on variations of recipes which are centuries old, and are embedded in the places from which we originated and where we matured from children to adults. Restaurant culture helps to form how we identify ourselves, as it tells us who we are, where we have been, and where we are today.
To help celebrate the concept of restaurants and their contributions to our evolution as a society, a series of maps has been created; and this article from NetCredit contains the arguably definitive list of the oldest restaurants in almost every country in the world which are still currently in operation — as well as the signature dish of each restaurant. I have been given express written permission to use the images and the verbatim text from the aforementioned article in this article.
It’s no picnic keeping a restaurant in business across centuries of war, changing tastes, and economic turmoil. Restaurateurs and the descendants or investors who follow them need the right combo of location, kitchen wizardry, insight, and luck. These are the 10 of the world’s oldest restaurants still serving food today.
|Year founded||Country||Restaurant||Specialty dish|
|803||Austria||St. Peter Stifts Kulinarium||Tafelspitz — boiled beef with minced apple and horseradish.|
|1146||Germany||Wurtskuchl||Charcoal-grilled sausages and sauerkraut.|
|1147||Wales||The Old House||Old House Pie — Individually made pie served with chips and peas.|
|1153||China||Ma Yu Ching’s Bucket Chicken House||Bucket of chicken.|
|1198||Ireland||The Brazen Head||Bangers and Mash.|
|1273||Poland||Piwnica Świdnicka||Pierogi — filled Polish dumplings.|
|1345||France||La Couronne||Pressed duck, standing rib roast, and classic escargot.|
|1360||Scotland||The Sheep Heid Inn||Prime Steak with rustic chips, roasted mushroom, confit tomato and parsley butter.|
|1380||Liechtenstein||Hotel Gasthof Löwen||Sliced veal “Zurich style” with Rösti and vegetables.|
|1465||Japan||Honke Owariya||Soba with shiitake mushrooms, shredded thin omelet, sesame seeds, shrimp tempura, wasabi, nori, Japanese leeks and grated daikon.|
A local pirate named William Mayes established today’s oldest restaurant in North America in 1673. The White Horse Tavern in Newport, RI., became a meeting place for the Colony’s General Assembly and Criminal Court. Mayes’ son followed his father into both the piracy business and the hospitality game. Their extended family ran the restaurant for over 200 years.
Montreal’s Auberge Saint-Gabriel was the first tavern on the continent to receive a liquor license, in 1754. “In the middle of Old Montreal sits this massive, extremely old building,” writes one contemporary diner. “Dark, stone walls, fireplace, Cornish hens cooking on a spit.” The hen is the specialty, served with vin jaune and cep sauce and wood fire grilled vegetables.
St. Peter Stifts Kulinarium in Salzburg, Austria is Europe’s (arguably, the world’s) oldest restaurant. Its first trace is in a poem by Alcuin of York, in 803. It may also be the only restaurant to have served both Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Clint Eastwood. The Stifts Kulinarium opened as an inn within St. Peter’s Abbey and today offers ‘upscale’ cuisine amidst a celebration of Austrian tradition.
Sobrino de Botín in Madrid, Spain, claims to be Europe’s longest continuously running restaurant. French cook Jean Botín opened the restaurant in 1725, when restaurants were only permitted to prepare food the guests brought. Botín’s original wood oven is still in use today. The romantic painter Francisco Goya washed dishes here as a teenager.
Middle East and Central Asia
Aşçı Bacaksız has passed along generations of the same Turkish family in Afyonkarahisar since 1840. You can expect to be greeted by a member of the family before sitting in a chair that is 100 years old or more. The lamb kebab is famous in the region: it takes three days to prepare.
Edmond Barakat opened a staff cafeteria for an automobile company in 1953, and it soon became a popular destination for the general public. The restaurant’s name changed from “Alghanim Mess” (as in ‘mess hall’) to Mais Alghanim in 1987. Today, Barakat’s children and grandchildren run Mais Alghanim as Kuwait’s oldest restaurant. The umm ali (sweet pastry) comes highly recommended.
La Puerta Falsa is situated in an old colonial house in Bogota. Just 20 diners can fit in the bar area and discreet wooden mezzanine. Colombia’s longest-serving restaurant opened in 1816 as a hole-in-the-wall to serve street food – such as its famous tamales – to passers-by.
Argentina’s oldest is El Imparcial in Buenos Aires. It was named “The Impartial” in the hope that nobody would spoil the atmosphere with talk about politics or religion. El Imparcial opened in 1860, with signs promising “Boiled chicken stew with carlón wine.” The restaurant thrives as a reliable local eating place, with paella that always satisfies.
The oldest restaurant we could identify in Africa is Tunisia’s El M’Rabet. Ali Thabit — a minister for the bey of Tunis — founded it as part of Zaytouna Mosque around 1630. El M’Rabet boasts ‘sublime’ views of the bustling, historic Jemâa Ezzitouna marketplace.
A British colonist, Thomas Hartley, opened the Bathurst Inn in South Africa in 1832. The Bathurst flourished thanks to the hospitality of Hartley’s wife, Sarah, who took charge after her husband’s death. A Royal Air Force unit homesick for their local UK pub later renamed it Pig & Whistle Inn. Today’s menu of pies and roasts is inspired by traditional British pub food.
Rest of Asia and Oceania
Ma Yu Ching opened China’s oldest business, a restaurant in Nanjing, China, in 1153. His descendent, Ma Youren, brought Ma’s traditional sauce back to the family’s ancestral home of Kaifeng in 1864, re-opening as Ma Yu Ching’s Bucket Chicken House.
Honke Owariya opened as a confectionary shop in Kyoto, Japan, in 1465, and branched out into soba noodles from around 1700. Previously, only Zen monks produced noodles, but Owariya stepped in when the temples couldn’t keep up with demand. The restaurant was later designated “purveyor of soba noodles to the Imperial Palace.”
Everybody knows that the best food in the world is “Mama’s cooking.” But these long standing restaurants show that we are the sum of generations of mamas and papas in the kitchens of the world’s meeting places. Familiar yet special, the food served by the oldest restaurants on Earth is nothing less than a map of our cultural past.
Methodology and Sources
To create these maps, the term “oldest restaurant in [country]” was used to begin the search. If no result could be found, the capital city of that country was searched. Other cities within the country were also searched to ensure that all avenues were explored. If still nothing came up, comments on TripAdvisor and other similar Internet web sites were searched to find information from people discussing about historic restaurants. If trustworthy information could not be found, the country was marked with “no data”.
The oldest cafe or bar was also searched, and translated words were used in the relevant language for the country being searching. In some cases, the business owner was contacted to find out when they were founded to double check the information.
To search for specialty dishes, the Internet web site of each restaurant was searched to see if any signature or specialty dishes were listed. If the restaurant did not list any signature or specialty dishes, the term “[restaurant] signature dish” was used to see if any new articles about the restaurant could be found. If that did not produce results, comments on TripAdvisor were searched to find the most popular dish.
I was taken to task by some readers of The Gate for my mistakenly claiming that I dined at the oldest restaurant in the world — and rightfully so — when I imparted my dining experience at Sobrino de Botín in Madrid: “Sorry, That doesn’t even come close to the Skiftskeller in Salzburg” is what scot posted. “Established in 803. Dined there right after breaking arm in Salzburg.”
You were indeed correct, scot. In fact, Sobrino de Botín did not even place in the top ten oldest restaurants in the world.
New Cactus restaurant may be the oldest restaurant in Rwanda — but having been established in the year 2000, it appears to be the newest restaurant on the list of oldest restaurants in the world.
If you enjoyed this article, you might be interested in these articles which have been posted here at The Gate over the years:
- The Oldest Building in Each of the Top 100 Cities in the United States
- The Oldest Town in Each State in the United States
- Reykjanesviti: The Oldest Lighthouse in Iceland
- Dining at the Oldest Restaurant in Florida: Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City
- The Oldest Restaurants in Each State of the United States?
- I Dined at The Oldest Restaurant in the World For Lunch
Sobrino de Botín in Madrid claims to be the longest continuously running restaurant in Europe. Please click here to read about my experience at Sobrino de Botín. All photographs ©2014 by Brian Cohen.