Food

A Bodega Challenge With Smitten Kitchen

A Bodega Challenge With Smitten Kitchen

Oh, New York City bodegas. There are over 14,000 of these corner shops, where the narrow aisles are packed with everything from 40 ounce beers to cats. Bodegas are the best neighbor a city dweller could ask for — they are always there for you when you’re in a pinch. So, to conclude our month of lunches, we challenged Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen to show us what to grab from these institutions when you’re hungry and hurried…

A Bodega Challenge With Smitten Kitchen

“So, you are looking for a heartier meal than just ranch potato chips, you know, the kind with the blue and green flakes? The ones that I love, I mean, loved. Yes, definitely, just only when I was a kid. I have a few ideas…”

A Bodega Challenge With Smitten Kitchen

“First, grab Café Bustelo coffee, because it’s a bodega classic you can always count on — plus, you can store it at the office. Then find snacks that will keep you satisfied, like almonds or pistachios. And since you are in this situation in the first place, buy the delicious versions of these things. So look for the roasted and salted ones. Blue Diamond is a great brand for that.”

A Bodega Challenge With Smitten Kitchen

A Bodega Challenge With Smitten Kitchen

“Next, locate the cheese. Bodegas always have spread-y cheese. I love it. Some people have their Cheese Whiz or Velveeta, but I have my Laughing Cow. My favorite is the ‘Original Swiss,’ but this ‘French Onion’ flavor seems fun.”

A Bodega Challenge With Smitten Kitchen

“This is very important: the crackers you pair with the cheese. It’s crucial. I like Triscuits, but if you can find Finn Crisps in a red box, get those. They are grainy and good, and you can actually taste whatever you put on them. Snag a bag of kale chips, crumble those on top of your spread-y cheese crackers and there you go: a wholesome, well-balanced lunch.”

A Bodega Challenge With Smitten Kitchen

“Or pick up a can of Goya black beans. The skins aren’t falling off and the beans are never broken, like other brands. Heat them up in the microwave and top with jarred salsa (always surprisingly delicious), some sour cream and crushed tortilla chips. Finish with hot sauce.”

A Bodega Challenge With Smitten Kitchen

“Another bodega standard? Generic German chocolate bars. They’re probably only thirty cents in Germany (here they’re usually $3 to $4), but it’s so much better than the other choices. I always pick up Ritter Sport bars for my mom. I’m a Marzipan junkie, but the crunchy cornflake flavor is probably more of a crowd pleaser. If I were to recreate these chocolate bars in my kitchen, I would make sure the cornflakes were salty. Extra salty.”

“My friend makes a crazy popcorn snack. It’s three ingredients: popcorn, butter and a pouch of Maruchan ramen noodles. Melt the butter, mix in the ramen seasoning packet (save the noodles) and pour over fresh popcorn, tossing well. If you try this and hate it, blame my friend. If you try this and love it, give me all of the credit.”

A Bodega Challenge With Smitten Kitchen

“If all else fails, just buy a cheesy egg and bacon sandwich from the counter. They are geniuses back there. But, really, as long as you avoid the peeled clementines in plastic wrap, you’re set.”

Thanks so much, Deb! We love Smitten Kitchen. What deli hacks do you have? Any go-to snacks?

P.S. Deb’s lazy egg sandwich, and food experts’ go-to lunches.

(Photos by Christine Han for Cup of Jo, at a bodega in the East Village.)

  1. Megan says...

    The chocolate bars from Germany aren’t generic and they usually cost between .99 cents to 1.50 euros. But no biggie, they are good and they do cost less than Ritter Sport. Greetings from Munich! :-)

  2. Taash says...

    I live bodegas. Each one is slightly different from all its sisters and brothers, yet when you say “bodega”, everyone knows what you mean.

    One thing I used to be able to buy at local bodegas, that seems to be gone: coquitos. Little baby coconuts, out of the shell, that you couldn’t pop into your mouth whole: divine!

  3. Kathy Hopkins says...

    I love Deb and her Monday morning blog! I am putting a field trip to visit a bodega on my bucket list! Just cooked spinach and egg on toast. (from this morning’s email on EGGS!)

  4. i loved this post! and deb!

  5. Julie says...

    Still trying to figure out exactly what a bodega is. None here in northern Ontario!
    And I’ll echo everyone else: I LOVE Deb and Smitten Kitchen!! I just bought her recipe book and everything I’ve tried has been fantastic!

    • Sarah says...

      They are like a corner store/mini-mart/deli/convenience store/a place for neighborhood gossip. You can find almost anything there, including umbrellas for less than $10 if you ask the cashier because they are usually hidden in the back. You could probably also purchase a boiled in the morning to go along with your steaming hot coffee (for which New Yorkers usually order, “light & sweet.”) There is also almost a cat as a deterrent for city vermin. It’s not a place you go to purchase groceries on purpose but to fill a need or to make up for the fact that you haven’t been able to go that week and aren’t willing to use services like, Fresh Direct. And although the grocery prices aren’t cheap, the deli portion is. In 2012, when I worked in SoHo, I used to be able to purchase a bacon, egg and cheese on a roll with a regular coffee for $2.75. That was in Manhattan for crying out loud! I miss me some terrible yet wonderful Bodega coffee. That or from the street cart in front of the Canal St. Station.

      There is also almost a cat as a deterrent for city vermin. It’s not a place you go to purchase groceries on purpose but to fill a need or to make up for the fact that you haven’t been able to go that week and aren’t willing to use services like, Fresh Direct. And although the grocery prices aren’t cheap, the deli portion is. In 2012, when I worked in SOHO, I used to be able to purchase a bacon, egg and cheese on a roll with a regular coffee for $2.75. That was in Manhattan for crying out loud! I miss me some terrible yet wonderful Bodega coffee. That or from the street cart in front of the Canal St. Station.

    • Sarah says...

      They are like a corner store/mini-mart/deli/convenience store/a place for neighborhood gossip. You can find almost anything there, including umbrellas for less than $10 if you ask the cashier because they are usually hidden in the back. You could probably also purchase a boiled in the morning to go along with your steaming hot coffee (for which New Yorkers usually order, “light & sweet.”) There is also almost a cat as a deterrent for city vermin. It’s not a place you go to purchase groceries on purpose but to fill a need or to make up for the fact that you haven’t been able to go that week and aren’t willing to use services like, Fresh Direct. And although the grocery prices aren’t cheap, the deli portion is. In 2012, when I worked in SoHo, I used to be able to purchase a bacon, egg and cheese on a roll with a regular coffee for $2.75. That was in Manhattan for crying out loud! I miss me some terrible yet wonderful Bodega coffee. That or from the street cart in front of the Canal St. Station.

    • This article I think does a good job of explaining it http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/05/25/the-bodega-a-brief-history-of-an-urban-institution/

      Also fun fact, it comes from the Spanish word for grocery -> la bodega and since they originally served mainly the Hispanic population in New York city, the name stuck. Also bodegas are apparently a thing in Spain, and further back in ancient Rome where they were a combo of storehouse/apothecary/restaurant.

  6. Love Smitten Kitchen, and what great photos.

  7. Daynna says...

    I just… I just love this and bodegas and the ideas and everything about her and cheesy bacon sandwiches and this. Definitely this.

  8. My two favorite blogs together!! <3 <3

  9. Teri says...

    Excellent post. Re: ramen. I used to LOVE ramen as a “go to” in desperate times but now that I’ve become aware of the dreaded palm oil vs habitat nightmare I can’t seem to find a brand that doesn’t use it. Any suggestions?

    • Aliisha says...

      Dr. Mcdouggal. ramen. And no msg

  10. Made me laugh so much! Great post!

    • Polly says...

      Hear, hear! I live in a small town, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find all this stuff! So fun!

  11. Deborah says...

    AKA- “How to eat cheap lunch while traveling in NYC.” !!! Or “How to have an impulsive and inexepensive picnic.”

  12. I love shopping at Wal-Mart, the food is so fresh! It’s also kind of expensive, but I like my food fancy. Boom!

  13. Total genius. I love the cheese and crackers with kale chips on top! And the black beans with salsa, totally brilliant. Gotta remember these ideas. So perfect.

  14. Nikki says...

    I love Deb! Always the best!

  15. Oh I love this so much! Deb’s writing is so warm and funny, it feels like chatting with an old friend to read her blog. And her recipes are tip top. Great feature!

  16. I’ve only ever visited NYC, so it’s fun to learn about the cultural nuances through your blog. Makes me feel like I won’t be such a stranger next time I’m in town :) PS: these little corner stores can be found in Mexico, too. They’re life-savers in a pinch – but also give huge cities (like Guadalajara) almost a small town feel. Fun post, thanks!

  17. Stef says...

    Ritter Sport is like…a euro or 2 in Germany :) Depending where you buy them and which size (small, normal, or GIANT). There is a Ritter Sport factory museum thing where you can make your own flavors…those are like 6-7 euros.

  18. june2 says...

    I had the BEST apple of my life at a NYC bodega. That apple ruined all apples ever after for me, so far! It was a GIANT, old fashioned, red delicious. But fully ripe, juicy and crisp like I never knew was possible. I still think of that apple, 30 years later! {{sob!}} Why oh why can’t ALL the fruit just be sold ripe instead of gassing green fruit to ‘look’ ripe? I would happily pay extra for that. Sigh…

  19. Maggie says...

    YES! I adore Smitten Kitchen. What a fun post!

  20. How is it that every recipe I’ve tried of Smitten Kitchen’s has turned out perfectly. Seriously the best food / recipe blog going around. Love the idea for Ramen Seasoning Popcorn – I’m going to try it!

    • Alternately you could try furikake :) they’re Japanese rice seasoning that you can sprinkle on top of sushi rice and come in little sachets. Love them with melted butter & popcorn!

  21. oh man, I love deb! Thanks for the post. Really interesting.

  22. Loved this!

  23. Nicole says...

    Like many others, this a lovely favorites colliding moment. Also, this post greatly shortened my hungry, aimless, late evening walk through the store after a long day at work (you know the kind??). Can of black beans and a Ritter of dark chocolate later and I am a happy lady! Thanks Deb :)

  24. Danielle K says...

    Deb is the best!!!! Also, have to agree about those peeled clementines in the saran wrap. They’re a mistake you only have to make once :( V wise words from Deb and such a fun post!

  25. Amy says...

    I love Smitten Kitchen and I love Deb. One of my all time favorite blogs!

  26. Trish O says...

    We do not have these types of stores in Peoria and I had no idea they had a special name in NYC. I guess we Called them the White Hen in chicago and in Peoria the best comparison would be Casey’s (food mart, gas station, pizza).

    • bean613 says...

      CASEY’S. YAAAAASSSS.

      The best pizza.

  27. Chloe says...

    Omg love her ❤️❤️❤️

  28. Laura G. says...

    oh man, i love deb! and i especially love that, despite having read smitten kitchen for quite some time, this post has given me an all new love of deb! i’ll be honest, i never want to live in NYC, but i still love these insights into your NYC lives!

  29. Flor Barajas tena says...

    I love Smitten Kitchen but the Maruchan spice packet has msg- no thanks!

  30. I grew up with doing this even now when im back in NYC I run and I always pick up Cafe Bustelo . It is a name that I will never forget. When I am in chinatown or in queens I can run in and pick up more asian type noodles and things. I also pet the cats and buy my cat a treat.

  31. Jamie says...

    Good ideas. I live in the midwest so no bodegas but sometimes I find myself in a convenience or grocery store and want to grab something quick and easy that’s not a frozen meal.

  32. Erin Chapman says...

    So nice to see my friend Deb on this post! Okay, we’re not really *friends* but I pretty much worship her and love her blog/cookbooks. It’s fun to see my favorite online forces (Smitten Kitchen+COJ) together on here.

  33. This is so fun! Yay to laughing cow!

  34. Michelle says...

    This was fun! Please do more of these! Love Smitten Kitchen too :)

  35. valentina says...

    Love this! I love to pick up an everything bagel, a tomato, an avocado, and some hard boiled eggs. I guess it’s basically a glorified avocado toast, now that I think about it, but it’s easily one of my favorite go-to’s in a pinch.

  36. My go-to snack: Nissin Cup Noodles!

  37. Alice says...

    Ah, my two favourite blogs!! Swoooooon. Make it regular, make it regular!!!

    Love Deb: her writing is spot on and her recipes are keepers, memorised forever keepers. If you do nothing else before it gets Spring warm, make her chocolate stout cake. It is truly magnificent.

    Tinned sardines on toast. And I have endless love for cheese puffs. But tomorrow is reserved for jazzy popcorn.

  38. I’m glad I haven’t seen these cats yet. Kinda gross!

    -Kirsten

    • t says...

      the cats are 100% necessary to keep the rats/mice away. gross but way better than the alternative.

    • Amy says...

      Not nearly as gross as the mice and rats that would be there if the cats weren’t!

    • Andrea says...

      Bodega cats are very lovely and a well-loved part of NYC. There is even an instagram account of them.

  39. Libby says...

    Totally did a double take when I saw Smitten Kitchen on here today! I wish the west coast had better options in their bodegas… fried chicken and candy is about as good as it gets. Although I must admit that I subject myself to the quick lunch with the caveat of being vegan. Hummus, olives, pita if you can find it or chips or tortillas, some fruit and chocolate if you’re lucky to find it without dairy are always the best bet in my book. Oh and nuts! Yes! Lots of fatty delicious nuts. Any NYC vegans out there have ideas?

  40. Christine says...

    Love the combo of my two favorite blogs!! Not surprised there is a big overlap in your readership. As always, great ideas from Deb!

    • Ann says...

      Second!

  41. Kelly says...

    This post saved me today. I don’t work or live near bodegas–I live in San Antonio, TX and there is a strip center close to my workplace where I like to shop during the lunch hour. I didn’t pack my lunch today so I grabbed a can of Goya black beans, a small package of shredded cheddar cheese, and a jar of salsa from the nearby Dollar Tree store after running a few lunchtime errands. I’m eating this at my desk right this very moment. So much better than grabbing fast food! Thank you for these tips!

  42. Julia says...

    Just thought I’d let you know that here in Germany, we pay about 1,20$ for RitterSport… your investment is well worth it though!

    • s says...

      also would like to add: sure, RitterSport isn’t the fanciest chocolate, but I wouldn’t call it generic either :-)

    • Leni says...

      I agree with S, with all those different kinds of RitterSport out there, I would not call it generic ;-) my favourite one is white chocolate with corn flakes or milk chocolate with salted almonds. There is even a RitterSport shop in Berlin where you can create your own RitterSport chocolate.

    • Franziska says...

      And they have vegan Ritter Sport now in Germany! That brand is the bomb!

  43. Celeste says...

    This is the best! Thanks, Deb and COJ team.

  44. Lucy says...

    Tuna (easiest if they have the pouches so you don’t have to keep a can opener in your desk), mayo packet, crackers or a loaf of the most grainy bread you can find, and some cheddar cheese to slice over the top. Bonus points if you have a toaster oven in the office so you can make a tuna melt. But even without the bread and cheese, tuna salad on its own is pretty hearty and with a peice of fruit, will keep you going for a while.

    • Brianna says...

      Sometimes I’ve seen the canned tuna with the pop top (not very often, though).

  45. Rachael says...

    Deb, to make you feel better ritter sport is a little more than 30cents here in Germany, but usually not more than a euro ;)

  46. Mara says...

    Thank you! More Deb/Smitten Kitchen puhleeeaase….

  47. Ruth says...

    Deb is THE BEST! Thanks for a fun, great post.

  48. Jane says...

    Great article! Love the Cup of Jo and Smitten Kitchen collaboration. These are two of my must-read blogs too!

    I have to point out that the word ‘infamous’ is a negative term, and I don’t think you intended a negative tone here. I find that this word often gets used in the same way as ‘ubiquitous,’ but really the meaning is something closer to, say, ‘notorious.’ I hate being one of those fussy people who points out this sort of thing to strangers online- it’s largely because I once embarrassed myself by mis-using this word in a very intimate grad school English class, of all places. Feel free to not publish this comment. :)

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Thank you so much for your note, Jane! I totally agree with — I just updated the piece. xo

    • Mallory says...

      I misuse infamous all the time! Thank you for the free lesson :) – one of the many reasons I love this blog. Could the readers be any more awesome?

    • Kay-loo says...

      I learned something new! :) Thank you

    • Lisa says...

      See, for the longest time I thought that “infamous” meant more than famous, like really famous.
      Martin Short, Steve Martin and Chevy Chase in The Three Amigos are entirely to blame for that one.

    • Lizzie says...

      Haha good point. See also: nonplussed. I’ve seen it misused in multiple national publications. I think it’s because the actual meaning (bewildered ) is the opposite of what it sounds like.

    • Ker says...

      Excellent to know Jane, thanks! I love this nerdy stuff. I will now begin using notorious instead. Thanks COJ for posting her comment and editing the piece. It’s refreshing to read a blog that is so well written.

  49. t says...

    we have a favorite bodega pasta salad we make: its basically small pasta (orzo or whatever you can find at your bodega), canned olives, canned artichokes, tomatoes, onions, salty cheese (feta preferred), olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, salt pepper and basically anything else that sounds good from your corner store. Trust me you can make some mean pasta salads from most bodegas as I have discovered living all over NYC.

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Love this, T! Thanks for sharing.

    • Brianna says...

      That sounds so good, minus the olives. This might be my new go-to lunch. Inexpensive (relatively) and filling.

  50. Molly G. says...

    Ah! I love when my favorite blogs collide :)

    • Laura says...

      Me too!

  51. Chelsey says...

    The two best blogs together at last! How wonderful! I would love to see a beauty uniform or a week of outfits from Deb! She’s soooooooo cute!

    • Carrie says...

      Agreed, contagious smile and luminous beauty.

    • Laura says...

      Agreed! We want more Smitten!

    • Mallory says...

      Yes! Please Deb!

    • Christine says...

      Agree!

    • Sabrina says...

      AGREE 100%!

  52. Wow, this was so much fun! Deb sounds like the sweetest woman to hang out with and I loved her creative ideas with witty commentary. Please, please: more posts from Deb! Maybe a monthly series with her?

    • You totally need to check out Deb’s blog, Smitten Kitchen! Delicious recipes with witty commentary and funny stories. And two of the cutest kids!

  53. I can’t wait to try that popcorn hack.

  54. Kate says...

    I love Deb’s sweet expression in all of these pictures. Great post!

  55. jenn says...

    bodegas in my area (jersey city) are often owned by Korean families, so sometimes we get a nice mix of Korean/Japanese snacks (the BEST for when you’re in the mood to eat junk food)…. and also I should note that one of the best things about bodegas is that because they are often family-owned, they sometimes get to know their customers pretty well. I’m 39 weeks pregnant and they are all on pins and needles waiting for me to have my baby!! also sometimes I find myself running back for that 1 tomato or 1 onion that I forgot the first 2 times I was there earlier in the day, and they just laugh and refuse to let me pay… seriously, how can you get that much love at one of those giant grocery store chains!?!?

    • Court says...

      So sweet! I know exactly the feeling. In my old neighborhood in San Francisco, my local bodega (I think we just call them corner stores here) is also run by the nicest Korean family. Yes to the Korean snacks, the German candy, and Mexican paletas. The owner would gift me a mini reese’s peanut butter cup every time I came in and bought something. Since I moved out of that neighborhood I don’t go there as often, but last time I stopped in, the owner was so happy to see me, and we hugged, and I almost cried. Love that family! <3

    • kathy says...

      ha! i had this relationship with the nice korean woman who owned our dry cleaner when we lived in sf. she was so concerned about the fact that i was living with my boyfriend. when we got engaged, i was so excited to tell her and she was so, so relieved for me. ;)

    • Lisa says...

      In London they’re called “corner shops”, and when the one in my old neighbourhood (called “the Corner Shop”) burned down, all the neighbours left messages for the family, and flowers. It was a pretty devastating time (it was the same week it was announced that Toblerones were going to contain less chocolate thanks to inflation, and Trump got elected)

  56. Megan says...

    SUPER RELEVANT TO TODAY. Thank you!

  57. michelle says...

    I know you can make a cake out of cookies from the cornerstore – like Mandy Moore in “This is Us”. A bodega ice cream cake would be awesome. But so would an ice box cake.

    Here’s one:
    http://www.irishboutique.com/blog/2016/12/5/a-sweet-welcome-chocolate-biscuit-cake

    Once, when we were in college, my brother made an entire Thanksgiving dinner (for three people) from the bodega. I have no idea how he did it but I remember it being great.

  58. Amanda says...

    Love love love–thank you!

  59. julie says...

    Two favorite blogs collaborating = heart bursting, even though I live nowhere near a bodega. Woot!

    • Kate says...

      Same!!

  60. Lauren P. says...

    I love this! Thanks for sharing, Deb!

  61. I work all the way over on 11th Avenue – a food wasteland. Yesterday I didn’t have time to pack lunch and discovered all you can buy at CVS! I got dates, pistachios, yogurt, string cheese, and a Naked juice. And tampons!

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Hahaha, yes! Dates and string cheese = the best.

  62. Hello! Thank you for this post :) Joanna and Deb are my favorite bloggers and this post as the perfect timing! I’m from Portugal and next week I will be in New York for the first time, can’t wait! I will certainly look for this suggestions, love from Portugal :) Teresa

  63. yael steren says...

    Such a cute article. Is it just me or do the bodegas in other countries always seem so much more exciting and nice? I’m always in awe when I travel! xx yael

    http://www.yaelsteren.com/blog/

  64. I love Smitten Kitchen! What a fun post! Thanks, Deb and COJ :)

  65. Lauren says...

    Love when two of my favorite blogs collide! Love Smitten Kitchen :)

  66. Nisha says...

    My worlds collide! Have loved Deb and SK for nine years now. She is the BEST (and so are you guys, for knowing her and having her on CoJ!).

  67. Sarah King says...

    My two favorite blogs!!! This post is everything.

  68. Cali says...

    So fun! I love seeing Deb show up on Cup of Jo!

  69. Tess says...

    Oh my god!! That is the bodega on my corner!! LOVE Smitten Kitchen, it is the only other site (along with Cup of Jo) that I check every single day! My bodega and my two favorite blogs all colliding- what a morning!
    Also- what a cute idea for a lunch post!

  70. there are smitten kitchen recipes that i will make for the rest of my life! love deb! and makes me miss my NYC life…and the time our local bodega owner tried to sell me her cat for $5!!

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Rachel, that is the funniest thing! Laughing so much.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, i’m laughing out loud.

  71. Julie says...

    You got Deb! Love her and this post. Bustelo is the real deal.

  72. Lily says...

    This feels like the greatest cross-over episode! Deb, if you can get a hold of the Ritter chocolate’s Tortilla Chip flavor, you will love it: legit salty.

  73. Lynn says...

    My favorite bloggers, colliding!

    • d says...

      I thought the same thing! This must be what heaven is like. =)

  74. Rebecca says...

    Omg love this! Love Deb!!

  75. Jules says...

    this is the best, realest article and makes me miss new york so much!! <3

  76. Jackie says...

    Love her recipes! She just posted on Insta an amazing recipe for a Chicken Tikka Sheet Pan dish. Love her!

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Yum, Jackie! Thanks for the heads-up. Deb really is the best.

    • Ruth says...

      We make that all the time. Big hit!

    • eg says...

      Oh, I’ve made that one! So good!

    • Kylee says...

      I make that all the time too!! It made my three year olds eat cauliflower :)