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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
- 1 cup heavy cream, plus more for brushing
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- One 8-pack of Walkers Pure Butter Shortbread fingers, finely blitzed into crumbs (1 cup, packed)
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 9 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and chilled
- 4 ounces (1/2 regular pack) Philly cream cheese
- 7 broken Oreo cookies (about 1 cup)
If you're interested in getting involved, send your bodega recipe to [email protected]