What’s the Difference Between a Deli and a Bodega?

If you’ve been in New York City for a hot minute, you’ve probably already had the terms bodega and deli creep into your vernacular… but do you know the difference? Often used interchangeably, these terms date back to the ethnic diversity of New York immigrants, and while the ownership of the stores may have changed over the years, there are still telltale signs that separate a deli from a bodega.

Bodega is Spanish for grocery, cellar, or warehouse, and in the early 1900s, many Spanish-speaking immigrants used this word to describe their local store, which sold packaged food, beverages, candy, cigarettes, produce, and flowers. Your typical bodega will have:

  • Red and yellow awnings
  • Numerous window ads
  • An ATM in the back
  • Dusty, sometimes random groceries and packaged goods
  • Locals shooting the breeze
  • A resident cat

Deli, on the other hand, comes from the German word Delikatessen, and refers to the food available in the store. Think Jewish or Kosher Delis with huge pastrami sandwiches, like Katz’s, Sarge’s, or Frankel’s. As the German-speaking population dispersed, the term spread and was adopted to mean anyplace that sold freshly made sandwiches. Your typical deli will have:

  • A long counter with people making sandwiches to order
  • A beverage case
  • Possibly a couple of tables

These days, the local bodega might sell sandwiches and the deli might stock newspapers, but if you want to be specific, now you can. By the way, you may have noticed these local gems disappearing. If you want them to stick around, get your dollar coffee in a paper bag from them instead of a $6 Starbucks.

Photo: lanqui doodle / flickr

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