The neighborhood bodega, a telltale measure of who is (and isn’t) an “authentic” New Yorker

A viral clip of JLo sharing her go-to order has prompted many to question whether the star is a "real" New Yorker

By Joy Saha

Staff Writer

Published April 5, 2024 2:31PM (EDT)

Jennifer Lopez | Bodega (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Jennifer Lopez | Bodega (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

For many New Yorkers, their local bodega holds a special place in their hearts. The bodega is more than just your average convenience store — or, god forbid, the tiny corner-store-sized Whole Foods Market Daily Shop. It’s a testament to the city’s vibrant immigrant communities, a cultural hub that’s steeped in rich history and filled with love from generations past. Where supermarkets are closed, the bodegas are open. Not to mention that these local stores are also home to some of New York’s most iconic dishes: chopped cheese, bacon-egg-and-cheese and chicken cutlets, just to name a few. Even amid a ruthless pandemic, the bodega persevered and continued to serve as the backbone of NYC. So it makes sense why bodega culture is such a big deal amongst city dwellers. Where you go and, most importantly, what you get matters.

In recent weeks, bodegas have been a major topic of discussion online thanks to Jennifer Lopez. The singer, actor and dancer is being ruthlessly ridiculed over what she claims is her go-to bodega order. Lopez quickly became a laughingstock on TikTok following the release of her musical film “This Is Me... Now: A Love Story,” which critics described as “confusing” and straight up ludicrous. The trolling intensified after a clip from her latest documentary “The Greatest Love Story Never Told” went viral for once again being straight up ludicrous. In it, Lopez, who appears to be at the gym, takes her hair down and says: “I like taking my hair out like this. It reminds me like, when I was 16 in The Bronx running up and down the block.” Cue the jokes, recreations and impersonations.

In an effort to be relatable and flaunt her New York upbringing, “Jenny From the Block” became a newfound meme. As if the mockery wasn’t already enough, a clip from Lopez’s 2022 interview for Vogue’s “73 Questions” series surfaced shortly after. Lopez is asked what her go-to bodega order is, to which she replies, “Ham and cheese on a roll, a small bag of chips and an orange drink. If you know, you know.”

Turns out, no one knows what Lopez is talking about. Fellow New Yorkers pointed to Lopez’s choice of sandwich, which they claimed was “basic” in comparison to other signature bodega offerings. “Anybody that’s really from New York — I’m from Brooklyn, she’s from the Bronx, whatever — knows that it’s not just a ham and cheese sandwich. It comes with a whole bunch of other stuff after it and it just rolls off the tongue,” explained TikTok creator WellWithTiffany. Many took issue with Lopez’s choice of beverage, which they said could be a multitude of things — Crush Orange Soda? SunnyD? Fanta Orange? Sunkist Orange Soda? Some even questioned whether she was actually from New York. “So she might not still be Jenny from the block,” wrote one user on Reddit.

Several individuals who also grew up in the city amid the 80s and 90s defended Lopez’s order, saying ham and cheese on a roll is actually really good. Same with the unnamed orange drink, which is apparently really sweet and “kind of like orange soda but without fizz.” Regardless, Lopez along with her order were still lambasted as peak cringe.

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Celebrities attempting to be relatable to us average folks isn’t anything uncommon. “Celebrities, they're just like us!" many will proclaim. Except they’re not because oftentimes, their efforts come across as out-of-touch and awkward. The same can be said for celebrities attempting to prove their nativism to a certain city (i.e. Hilaria Baldwin). New York, like many major cities, has its own smell-test of sorts. And the bodega is just one aspect of it — a gauge of who is (and isn’t) an “authentic” New Yorker.

Prior to Lopez, the internet questioned whether former Democratic presidential hopeful Andrew Yang was actually a New Yorker after he posted a video of himself shopping at what he described as a bodega. “Can you imagine a New York City without bodegas?” he said, after buying green tea and bananas. But the midtown shop, which the New Yorker's Michael Schulman wrote is a Yemeni-owned establishment, looked too sleek and spacious for some viewers, prompting many to accuse Yang of not knowing what a “real” bodega is.

The infamous incident, known as “bodega-gate,” subsequently pushed Yang to prove just how much of a New Yorker he truly is. Yang posted about sampling pickles on the Lower East Side and visiting a food pantry in Flushing. “I’m learning a lot about my city,” he tweeted at the time. He also rode a bicycle (“this is my commute,” he said).

Following his bodega flop, Yang responded to the roastings with a simple, “Haha I love New York” (alongside a smiley face). As for Lopez, she has yet to respond to the ridicule — and probably won’t do so anytime soon. Perhaps the most New Yorker thing about her is that she’s mastered the art of being unbothered.

By Joy Saha

Joy Saha is a staff writer at Salon. She writes about food news and trends and their intersection with culture. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park.


Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Andrew Yang Bodega Commentary Convenience Stores Corner Shop Food News Jennifer Lopez New York City