If you ask non New Yorkers to list some things New York is famous for, you'll probably hear about the Statue of Liberty, Broadway, Jewish Delis and a bustling fast-paced lifestyle. If you ask local New Yorkers, they'll probably tell you about bodegas. Depending on which New York City borough you visit, you can have a completely different experience. Most people know that it's similar to a convenience store, but it's so much more that that. This begs the question, "What is a bodega?" Let's explore the mysteries behind these infamous shops and our word of the day.
What's in a Name?
The word bodega is a Spanish word that literally translates to grocery store, storeroom, or wine cellar. The name is fitting since they sell a mishmash of items such as laundry detergent, ice cream, chips, and lottery tickets, to name a few. If you looked up the word bodega in a thesaurus, you would find the word apothecary, which both share their roots with the Latin apoth?"ca, meaning storehouse.
What Makes It a Bodega?
Bodegas originated in the 40's and 50's by Hispanic communities that wanted to bring a taste of home to New York. When they first started, most bodega owners were Puerto Rican, or Latin and Caribbean immigrants. Since 2010, about half of the owners are Yemeni American immigrants.
They wanted to bring the feeling and functionality of their local corner stores to New York. Almost all serve a purpose that small grocery stores cannot, since they're open 24/7. There's a definite charm to being able to buy cigarettes and a bar of soap at 4AM. They've become synonymous with NYC, with over 10,000 spread over the Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Queens.
Be Prepared Before You Go to a Local Bodega
An unusual staple of most bodegas are cats, as they are known for having a feline companion living in the shop. Affectionately referred to as a bodega cat, their purpose is more than being cute. The cat serves as free rodent protection, hunting and scaring away any rats or mice that may be hiding behind the deli counter.
Since many are a cash only business, make sure to have cash on hand, in case they don't accept credit cards.
Bodegas are as diverse as the people who own them. If you go to a Mexican bodega, you may find Mexican candies and treats. Regional bodegas may also serve up freshly made deli food. This can range from tacos, to hoagies, to bagels.
The next time you're in need of some late night snacks or just a friendly face, make sure to stop in and support your local bodega.