We humans can cry for many reasons – out of happiness, sadness, anger and frustration. But for someone who hails from the northwestern Spanish region of Galicia, there’s something else that can easily bring tears: morriña, which basically means homesickness, similar to the Portuguese concept of saudade.
So it’s no surprise that Galician bars and restaurants abroad often have names related to this pining for home. Bar Bágoa (“bágoa” means tear) in Barcelona is no exception. This humble Galician bar has made something of its homesickness, continuing to thrive among the fancy restaurants and gastro-pubs on Carrer d’Enric Granados in the Left Eixample neighborhood.
Jesús, a Galician guy from the small city of Verín, opened Bar Bágoa in 1974; he later turned it over to Ramón Maceira Grande, another Galician, this time from Chantada. Fermín, the current owner, got his start working with Ramón Maceira in Bar Bágoa’s kitchen, eventually taking over the reins.
Fermín prides himself on building a close bond with his customers, creating a homey neighborhood atmosphere that draws in repeat customers – “Some of our clients today are the grandchildren of the bar’s first clients; they keep coming for generations,” he explains – as well as a newer and younger clientele, who congregate in the bar late into the night. “In other places you don’t find this type of relationship. I try to give this agarimo [‘care’ in Galician] and the waiters too, I don’t even have to tell them about it,” Fermín continues.
“In any case, the recipe [for the Canarian ham] is exactly the same as it was the first day.”
But what really makes this Galician bar stand out is its specialty known as jamón canario (Canarian ham), a roasted ham that is more generally part of the Spanish cuisine, but is very traditional in both Galicia, where it is known as xamón asado (roasted ham), and the Canary Islands, where it is know as pata asada (roasted leg) or pata canaria (Canarian leg) and sometimes made from their unique local pig breed, cerdo negro canario (black Canarian pig). The roasted ham is a common bar snack on the islands, whereas it’s rare to find bars in Spain that serve it.
The recipes are quite similar, always a whole ham marinated in garlic, olive oil and various herbs and spices depending on the recipe (parsley, rosemary, thyme, oregano, bay leaf, black pepper, clove, paprika and more), then slowly roasted and finally finished with some wine or brandy.
In any case, why and how this house specialty became known as jamón canario despite being made by a Galician is today a mystery that Fermín can’t explain. “Maybe Jesús went one day to the Canary Islands and saw it there, I’ll never knew,” he says. It sounds plausible – perhaps Jesús at some point connected the Canarian custom of offering this delicious dish in bars with his own Galician culinary heritage and decided to offer it in his own bar.
“In any case, the recipe is exactly the same as it was the first day [Jesús made it],” says Fermín, who personally cooks this prized Canarian ham each day. In the morning, the fresh Iberian ham arrives fresh from the slaughterhouse, and Fermín roasts two or three pieces at a time following a recipe that he prefers to keep in secret, although he does admit that he “tried it at home and the result is not the same – [using] a large oven is very important as it affects the flavor.”
In truth, this roasted ham is incredible tasty – we have found ourselves craving it constantly these past few weeks. You can order it in a baguette sandwich (bocadillo), where the bread absorbs all the juices from the sauce, or in tapa or portion, to eat it directly, maybe with some bread on the side and combined with other tapas and a cold glass of beer.
The bar’s other meat products are just as luscious and high quality as the Canarian ham, like the Iberian cold cuts, including jamón ibérico de bellota, made from acorn-fed pigs, but also Iberian chorizo and salchichón (a cured hard sausage). Another indulgent Spanish cold cut served at the bar is cecina de León, paprika-seasoned beef that has been dried and cured.
Their tortillas, large, rounded omelets stuffed with various fillings, are another alternative, or complement, to their star dish, with vegetable options that change every day. On our most recent visit, the options were tender garlic, asparagus or artichokes; there were also omelets featuring cod, potatoes and chorizo or morcilla (blood sausage). Their pinchos morunos (pork skewers) are completely homemade, even the seasoning, and the sauce for patatas bravas is also made in-house.
But nothing beats their incredible roasted ham – it had us crying tears of culinary happiness.