The Bodega Goes Gourmet: How to Make the Most of Deli Food
When I first moved to New York, I remember walking to the nearest deli in search of butter or anything resembling butter that I could find on my block. Hidden behind crumbling Dominican wedding cakes and varieties of beef jerky I hadn’t even heard of ( a rare thing indeed), was a lonely tub of Parkay, encased under locked glass. Not to be all WhiteyMcTuesday about it, but I had never really considered Margarine to be display case worthy. Sure, batteries, fancy disposable razors and knockoff CK One, but not spreadable fat. Call it culture shock, or just a lack of food choices on an underdeveloped block, but I was getting to know my local food choices pretty fast. I’m not one to piss and moan about a lack of chains. I don’t really need my local deli charging $5 for milk just because it has a smiling cow on the front whose udders are “organic”, I just wanted to supplement by entirely toast-based diet of my early 20’s.
Now New York is not the only place where deli’s, bodegas and local marts resign supreme. Sure I was spoiled by Wawa’s touch-screens and go-go taquitos, but is that considered real nutrition? While you can always schlep food home from another location with greater variety, sometimes it’s nice to be able to throw on an un-ironic Wildwood T-shirt and get yourself some dinna.
The dietary staple of college students and stoners alike, cup of soup has gotten me through many of winter nights and late night cravings. While its taste is roughly akin to wet cardboard and chicken bouillon, it’s easy to make the experience more enjoyable. The obvious trick is spice. I find that curry powder works wonders to turn these soggy noodles into something vaguely flavorful. Salt and butter also help, but curry can transform any boring food (see hotdogs) into a spicy treat. For vegetarians also try it with chickpeas. Now if only it could prevent the third degree burns on the roof of my mouth after eating a cup-o-noodle, I would be very much obliged.
There’s a reason why broke-ass people swear by two basic foodstuffs: rice and beans. They’re both filling, high in protein (in the beans case), cheap, and can be prepared an endless amount of ways. Even if your bodega or corner store isn’t exactly a “grocery store”, you can count on there being a variety of Goya products to choose from. You could eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but I don’t recommend it unless you want to scare away the entire population of the opposite sex. Huevos Rancheros being the easiest to prepare, just add some eggs, chopped tomato (or salsa if there’s no produce at the store) and you’re good to go. Lime juice is always a plus, same can be said for onions and garlic. If you have the time, you can make a big soup and be set for the next few days.
Tuna is great if you’re not one of those “Save the Dolphins” or “I don’t want to get Mercury Poisoning” kind of people. But considering I’ve been eating it since I was 6 and haven’t gone Mad Hatter crazy yet, it’s safe to say, you can eat it reguarly. Everyone has the brand they like, personally I’m a Bumble Bee kind of girl, and now they even have those fancy vacuum sealed packets that come with exotic seasonings like lemon and olive oil. Either way, you can put this stuff on anything and call it a meal. Plus it’s probably the only deli food that actually has some nutritional value. Tuna melts are my guilty pleasure and the easiest to make. Another good combo, tuna pasta salad, or if you’re feeling Betty-Crocker-ish: Tuna Casserole is the way to go. There’s a lot of recipes listed for it but all you really need are some egg noodles or macaroni, butter, cheese, frozen veggies, and whatever spices you have lying around (Old Bay is a good stand-by). And the best part is, you get to eat it all yourself instead of feeding your depression-era family.
Frozen Veggies have long gotten a bad rap. But as it turns out, they’re almost as healthy if not more so, than fresh produce. Their benefits are many: they last longer than fresh produce so you’re not throwing away lettuce you forgot about in the bottom drawer, they’re cheap, and they’re already cut up so you’re cooking time is cut in half. It’s a win win for everyone. They’re also supremely easy to prepare. You can throw a bunch in a pan and make stir-fry, blend them all into a soup, or roast them in the oven and keep your apartment heated at the same time.
For those of you who’s local bodega only contains malt liquor and plantain chips, look no further than this helpful video for a complete guide to the bodega food pyramid.