Culture

Join Us in Celebrating Bodegas (& The People Who Run Them)

February 17, 2017

The day after more than 1000 of New York City’s grocers, delis, and small, independent businesses shut down in protest of Donald Trump’s Executive Order on immigration, I sat at my desk, procrastinating, and had an idea. Maybe I just really didn't want to write whatever copy I was supposed to be writing, or maybe I was that convinced of my scheme. Whatever the reason, I reached out to a few other local food writers, editors, and friends to see if there was anything in it. Here’s the email:

Hello New-Yorker food writer-editor types or otherwise!

I've come to recruit you to be imaginative and have fun cooking and not spend a lot of money and share your recipes, with purpose.

Photo by Liz Clayman

I've been inspired by the local Yemeni-American bodega owners who went on strike to protest the anti-Muslim Executive Order on immigration. What most moved me about it was more than the just solidarity and size of that strike; it was so many people willing to lose a day of business to make that statement.

A bodega in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn. Photo by Liz Clayman

I began to think what I could do, as a food person and a native New Yorker, to support them—to support our bodegas in general, which are mostly immigrant-owned and run, and to pay tribute to those who turned out in front of Borough Hall on Thursday. How, I wondered, could I get some people to spend some money in and celebrate bodegas, and get other people to do the same?

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“And why not Rice Krispie squares made with the popped amaranth at the Latin bodega? ❤”
— Sandy B.
Comment

By cooking. Specifically, by cooking with ingredients I bought from my bodega, and only from my bodega. Then I got excited because what kinds of recipes would you come up with if you were to walk into your bodega right now and be like, I gotta make something...? So, I thought, why not get a bunch of like-minded people together who also want to support the bodegas of New York City?

Photo by Liz Clayman

The response from my food-focused, big-hearted community was enthusiastic; people were up for the challenge and raring to go. Some people have asked what, exactly, a bodega is. The dictionary has some pretty cool info on that, but it's limited. Bodegas are no longer places where you can buy wine, and have owners from cultures all over the world. Depending on which neighborhood you live in, your bodegas can be wildly different. Some bodegas have griddles—and that's where tons of New Yorkers get their B.E.C.s (bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches). Some make specialties from the countries or regions of their owners. Some have ingredients specific to the foods of those locales. Some sell flowers bundled into plastic. And some have limited inventories, trafficking in dry and canned goods, and basic household supplies. Those in posher neighborhoods will have some nicer ingredients, or my favorite, the random ingredients—the ones where you ask, why tamarind paste but not light brown sugar or what is this new broccoli chip, and what happened to the Dipsy Doodles?

No two bodegas are alike. What they have in common is that they're small businesses; they're not fancy or flush. Bodegas are idiosyncratic and that's what we love about them. Let that guide you when you walk in and start imagining what you might cook.

The dried chile selection at a bodega in Jackson Heights, Queens. Photo by Liz Clayman

Here’s what we asked of willing participants—and we’re hoping you’ll want to contribute, too:

If you'd like to participate, all you have to do is cook something using bodega-bought ingredients (no cheating), write up the recipe, and turn it in with a nice headnote to tell us what it is or what inspired it. If you could snap a photo of the finished dish, that would also be great. And if, as a bonus, you want to take a picture of your bodega, RAD.

You can choose whichever bodega you feel most attached to. The overall impetus, of course, was the strike, but different neighborhoods have bodegas of varying ownership and related products, which is what makes them cool and often endears us to them in the first place. Please don't get all cheffy! This is really a home-cooking sorta thing. But, if you send in a recipe for Rice Krispies treat, you gotta know it's not gonna fly (sorry).

What we're hoping is that this inspires lots of people to join in, whether they're in NYC or elsewhere, with their bodega equivalents.

We’ll be sharing the recipes and photographs over the next few weeks, or as long as contributors—and that includes you—continue to post your recipes for bodega cuisine.


Today's Bodega Recipe: Cookies n' Cream Scones

For a long time, I always went to the bodega on West 9th Street, a few feet off of Avenue of the Americas. It’s Korean-owned, and a prim, unsmiling woman ruled the roost. I saw her give a few customers the business, especially the louder, rowdy types. The day I said I’d like to purchase a lighter, she looked at me disdainfully; surely I was up to no good. She’d often burst into song—Christian hymns, always—while I was browsing the aisles in search of Fig Newtons, which I get a particular hankering for twice a year, or standing on tiptoes to reach the paper towel NO ONE COULD POSSIBLY REACH but how could you interrupt the religious moment? Every once in a while, I’d get her to crack a smile—just barely. One day, she disappeared. Seems she retired. Her colleague who ran the bodega a few blocks away and would stop by to visit sometimes for a chat took her place at the counter. I stopped going to that bodega—there’s a larger one closer to my apartment that consistently has things I realize I’m missing in the middle of recipe-testing, so it’s become my go-to (it has a better selection of bodega flowers too). But I decided to return to my first West Village bodega for these scones.

If you're interested in getting involved, send your bodega recipe to [email protected]

18 Comments

Azora Z. February 19, 2017
love this!!!!
 
thechewinn-nova.com February 18, 2017
PS---also a traditional Filipino recipe!
 
Author Comment
chardrucks February 19, 2017
I look forward to seeing what you make!
 
thechewinn-nova.com February 18, 2017
There are no bodegas in Metro DC area since Verizon Center went up and there practically Chinatown in DC is gone but in Northern VA (NoVA) has a big Koreantown and Vietnamese town in separate cities. I would love to make use of these immigrant stores to create a dish from these stores, no Bibimbap a recipe I have submitted earlier for leftover turkey and Pho, those are everywhere. Hope to see a lot of immigrant inspired recipes!
 
mcs3000 February 18, 2017
Love this!
 
Sheila February 18, 2017
I live in a suburb with a large Hispanic, Indian and Asia population. Since the end of January, I have made most of my recipes with Mexican influences including Vegetarian Taco Salad, Chili, Black Bean Croquettes. It's been a delicious month!
 
Sandy B. February 18, 2017
Great article about bodegas. I'm in Eugene, Oregon, and I don't think we have bodegas, but lots of food carts and more every day. We do have 2-3 Asian markets, an Indian market and a Latin market, so to play along with this immigrant support action, I will take them as my "bodegas." I love this idea--it is a perfect combination of creative, political and practical.<br /><br />And why not Rice Krispie squares made with the popped amaranth at the Latin bodega? ❤
 
Author Comment
chardrucks February 18, 2017
I'm down with your revisited Rice Krispies squares, Sandy!
 
Chocolate B. February 18, 2017
From my house I can walk to: 4 different pho places, three Mexican restaurants, two tapas bars, three Italian restaurants, a Korean barbecue, five Thai places.... The list goes on and on. Thanks to immigrants, Americans have available to them the most varied and interesting food scene in the world. Thanks and kudos to Food52 and chardrucks for this article!
 
Susan February 18, 2017
I live way out in the countryside in a very conservative state and have never seen a bodega, never mind shopped and cooked from one, so bring it on!! I'm ready to celebrate vicariously bodegas and the immigrants behind them. America is a nation of immigrants, to say otherwise is to deny reality and history.
 
Leigh S. February 17, 2017
I love everything about this. What a fantastic way to support the local bodegas and those scones looks amazing!
 
Kristen M. February 17, 2017
OK, at first I thought these were going to be melted cookies & cream ice cream-based scones, which also might be okay, but these sound SO much better. You are a genius. And this project is wonderful. Thank you.
 
Author Comment
chardrucks February 17, 2017
Kristen! THANK YOU. You know I like to work ice cream into anything, so that was a completely reasonable guess. I love these scones. It disturbs me how much I love them. Please, please make them and send feedback. I worry I was just really hopped up on enthusiasm and Oreos when I made them (I hadn't bought Oreos in years, so I was kind of having a bit of a moment there). xoxo
 
Mackenzie S. February 17, 2017
This is wonderful! Please do more stuff like this!
 
Mike S. February 17, 2017
So thrilled to see you publish this, Food52! Well done!!
 
alberta_waingort February 17, 2017
Grilled kimcheese!!!! <br />Any bread buttered, shredded Cabot cheese (I prefer extra sharp white) thinly sliced green apple and alot of kimchi! Weigh it down with a heavy pan over medium heat till the cheese is nice and melty!
 
Kenzi W. February 17, 2017
Oooh. Have you ever had a kimchi + peanut butter sandwich? Kind of great.
 
Author Comment
chardrucks February 17, 2017
that sounds really good.