Among the flashing lights, Broadway shows, bottomless brunches, and sky-high buildings, there’s a less famous staple of New York life: the bodega.
You may not know them by that name, but rather you call them corner stores, delis, or grocery stores. The definition of a bodega is rather fluid, a term coined years ago that has evolved over time, just like the city. According to New York City Government, a bodega is a store that has no more than two cash registers and primarily sells food (but does not specialize in a single item) and milk. Colloquially, a bodega might just be “one of those stores with a cat in it.” Whatever your definition, people know what they are because they sprinkle every block in New York City.
However, it is difficult to determine the number of bodegas in the five arrondissements, especially since not all of them identify as one. Some might have a faded awning saying “Deli”; others may have a neon sign buzzing with “Grocery,” and so on. Reports like this by Grub Street estimated the number to be around 8,000, although it’s hard to say when the criteria are so contradictory.
There is a deep-rooted Latinx influence to the birth of businesses that you can see just steps from New York City, whether they are covered in the word “bodega” or not. To understand the influence of these storefronts – offering everything from ATMs and sour candy to a single roll of toilet paper and a light bulb at all odd hours of the day – we have to go back to the 1920s.
A book by Carlos Sinabria entitled La Bodega: a cornerstone of Puerto Rican barrios explains how the original bodegas were entrepreneurial businesses from the first influx of Puerto Ricans to come to the continent in the 20th century. Many left the island of Puerto Rico for the island of Manhattan and other boroughs after World War II and bodegas began to appear as these Latinx communities.
“Puerto Ricans obtained American citizenship with the passage of the Jones Act in 1917, which allowed greater access to American jobs, social and political opportunities, including the establishment of these bodegas to connect them to the island. “said Carlos Figueroa, who has a Ph. D in political science and historical studies and teaches at Ithaca College. “Bodegas proliferated after World War II as first generation Puerto Rican businesses established by migrants (sometimes ex-combatants) in search of better economic and social opportunities on the continent.”
As the Puerto Rican community grew, the demand for places selling the ingredients used in cultural cuisines increased, giving rise to the bodega, which conflicts with the official definition approved by the New York government which exclude specialized grocery store.
These specialty grocery stores are a mainstay of life, especially for people who identify with BIPOC, including the Latinx community. Figueroa noted using the term “Latinx” can remove the nuance needed from different disparate populations. Under this term there are Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Mexicans, Cubans and more, with each group using different ingredients to prepare their most popular meals, therefore needing stores that sell these items. The demand for bodegas and their offerings is not surprising given the interweaving of food with culture.
“Genetically, we are inclined to accept certain tastes because we have evolved as descendants of our ancestors,” says Dr Amy Lee, head of nutrition at Nucific. “For better or for worse, he [food] is ingrained and dictates our behavior. Behaviors like striving to find the same branded seasoning used in your grandma’s rice or the particular ripeness of the plantains to make the parfait tostones, those nostalgic foods that are sometimes only found in small-scale bodegas, which makes them such a beloved part of big city life.
While traditional grocery chains may have specific aisles dedicated to cultural foods, these sections are often small and may include Americanized versions of these ingredients. It is this gap that local bodegas, grocery stores and delicatessens can fill, particularly in New York, which consistently ranks in the top five most culturally diverse cities in the world with Queens known as the most diverse borough.
It’s not just specialty grocery stores and scarce food items that keep customers coming back to their neighborhood bodegas, it’s the camaraderie that exists within these small businesses. “Bodegas were and sometimes still are the center of a neighborhood. Literally, they often serve as a common place, one’s own public square, where people go to look for information about apartments, jobs, parties and furniture, ”says Figueroa.
This is why New Yorkers, whether native or transplanted, feel a deep connection to “their” local stores. The place where they can drop their keys for a friend to pick them up, the last stop before heading home after a night out to pick up a hot sub that they’ll likely finish the next morning, a reliable place to get a lottery ticket when they’re feeling lucky. Behind it all were people who lacked home, their islands, and wanted to make comfort food from scratch while trying their hand at entrepreneurship on the continent that had so much promise.
Regardless of the historical background of the bodegas in big cities like New York and other areas affected by Puerto Rican migrants in the 1920s like New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, the corner store has been a meeting place. for people from all walks of life. familiar ingredients or to pick up essentials after hopping on a train. As I write these lines, I can think of at least five bodegas that I could access in less than 35 strides. And I know for a fact that at least one of them wears the same beans my mom uses on her Christmas Eve arroz con gandules.
Now more than ever, it’s important to buy local as we continue to navigate the ongoing pandemic and its effects on small businesses. Below are some local New York bodega and deli recommendations, whether Latinx-owned or not, from the Delish team for authentic Latin cuisine, hot sandwiches and more.
Sunny & Annie’s – 94 avenue B New York, NY 10003
Liberty charcuterie – 908 avenue Saint-Nicolas, New York, NY 10032
Coffee G – 634 W 207th St, New York, NY 10034
Hana food – 534 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211
La Esquina del Camaron Mexicano – 80-02 Roosevelt Ave, Queens, NY 11372
Mr. Moe’s – 2001 3e Avenue 1924 2e Avenue New York, NY 10029
Nenes Deli Taqueria – 14 Starr St, Brooklyn, NY 11237
Regalo De Juquila – 1209 Myrtle Ave Brooklyn, NY 11221
Tehuitzingo – 695 10th Ave, New York, NY 10036
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported to this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and other similar content on piano.io