An April article in The New York Times dubbed the bacon, egg and cheese (on a roll) the “hero among sandwiches, although it is not the one called a hero.” This greasy combination is often the only thing able to get me out of bed on a rainy Saturday morning when I’ve signed up to work at 9:00 a.m. for overtime pay but had still gone out for drinks the night before. Bleary-eyed, I somehow stumble across the street to the corner store, where the Arab guys behind the counter raise my spirits by calling me sweetheart and tease me about being late for work. If that bodega is too crowded, I go to the one closer to school—the one where I go when I forget to pack a lunch. The owner of this bodega just moved his son Abdul to Brooklyn because “there was too much fighting where he used to live.” When I asked Abdul’s dad where that was, suspecting a rougher neighborhood of the city, he replied, “Yemen” and gave me the change from my chicken cutlet with pepperjack on a hero. Abdul is in my ELA class and doesn’t speak a lick of English.
If Taylor Swift didn’t already teach you, you can’t live in New York without knowing your local bodegas. (And no, I don’t like Taylor Swift explaining what a bodega is any more than you do.) There are bodegas that don’t have produce. There are bodegas that have cat food stacked as high as the ceiling and floors that haven’t seen a mop in months. It doesn’t matter. Bodegas are judged by their sandwiches.
I consider myself lucky to be accustomed to the bodega sandwich life because even in the suburbs I was right down the street from Playland Market, which one always appreciates after walking there on Christmas morning in three feet of snow because you already know that they are open and ready to sell you a carton of half & half even if you happen to be fifty cents short.
Because I now live in the quickly-becoming-gentrified Crown Heights, Brooklyn, among the standard corner stores are plenty of more upscale bodegas that sell freshly squeezed juices and organic, gluten-free, no sugar added macaroons. These bodegas have trendy names like “Brooklyn Born,” “Bob & Betty’s” and, I kid you not, “Natural Organic Land.” A few of these have the standard sandwich counter, but trust me, this is not where you want to go for your turkey and provolone on wheat. In fact, if you know the name of the deli, you almost certainly don’t want to go there. I’ve been living across the street from a bodega since September, but we refer to it as “the guys across the street.” The kids at school refer to the local corner stores by their owners’ names, and I’m starting to think bodega owners are the true heroes of New York.
One weekend morning, when waking up close to noon to my roommate Eliza crawling into my bed with a blue Gatorade and a headache, I realized we could order breakfast sandwiches to our door. Thank you, Seamless. In our apartment, Seamless is almost exclusively used for late-night Chinese food orders, so we got a good laugh when we mistakenly left the delivery instructions as “Please bring chopsticks and fortune cookies.” Despite how confused our local bodega owners might have been when receiving the order, our sandwiches arrived in about twenty minutes in all their greasy glory, and we consumed them in bed, feeling nourished and revived by these three major food groups.
For the month of March, my roommates and I tried the paleo diet, a challenge we all undertook to spend a month eating only meat, veggies and fruits, nuts and seeds. While we sometimes admitted we missed macaroni and cheese, or treating ourselves to a few spoonfuls of Ben and Jerry’s from the freezer, we mostly missed bread. My roommate Brandon struggled without his daily roast beef and swiss on a roll. His preferred sandwich meat is ham, but ham isn’t halal, so your chances of finding it are slim. The fact that these delis that don’t sell ham do sell bacon and beer is a mystery. His girlfriend, who is currently in Tampa for work, called him this morning, upset. She couldn’t find a bodega there to get her bacon, egg, and cheese with hot-sauce.
Caroline Higgins (’11) lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she spends the vast majority of her time teaching English Language Arts. You may also find her at barre exercise classes or playing (and losing) at bar trivia. She continues to be inspired by the energy and diversity of New York City and the beauty of that certain slant of light.