We get it. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) was playing to her audience when she appeared on “Desus & Mero,” Showtime’s late-night show featuring comedians Desus Nice and the Kid Mero. On a visit back to the Bronx, where she was born and lived until age 5, AOC went into a neighborhood bodega with the show’s hosts to savor a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich, her go-to bite.
As they waited on their orders, Desus asked Ocasio-Cortez, “Is it hard to get a good bacon, egg and cheese in D.C.?”
“Impossible!” said AOC in her unmistakable AOC style, a cross between passion and swagger, the very tone that has poked more GOP elephants than an animal trainer at the circus.
“There’s no bodegas anywhere,” she continued. “I don’t how anybody eats in Washington, D.C., which probably explains why everyone’s fighting all the time.”
The predictable backlash came from the predictable sources.
To her credit, Ocasio-Cortez walked back her Bronx homerism in a single tweet.
Like so many things on the socials, this was a tempest in a teapot. There are numerous places where you can get a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich every bit as good as the corner bodega in the Bronx: First among equals is the Shyne at Call Your Mother, the Jew-ish deli in Park View. There’s also the Best Sandwich Place on I Street NW (underrated in my book), Tony’s Breakfast on H Street NE, Jetties on the weekend with its Sankaty sandwich, Buffalo & Bergen at Union Market or Capitol Hill. The list, as you can imagine, is almost endless.
But Ocasio-Cortez is not just talking about getting a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich on a kaiser roll, right? She’s talking about nostalgia. She’s talking New York City bodega culture. She’s talking about a time before America — and her life as a public servant — was ripped apart by political strife.
“The bodega, it’s more than a grocery store,” Ocasio-Cortez said, lost in her affection for the corner shops. “It’s like the circle of life.” A bodega, she tells viewers, is a grocery store. It’s a department store. It’s a hardware shop. It’s a therapist’s office.
“One thing that is distinct is the bodega bacon, egg and cheese,” said David Chang, a Northern Virginia-born chef and restaurateur who knows a little about New York and D.C. cultures. “I’m not saying that D.C. doesn’t have a good bacon, egg and cheese, but I think what she’s asking for is the nostalgia of the unadorned, $2.25 bacon, egg and cheese.”
Washington does not have a bodega culture because (do we have to make this point again?) Washington is not New York. We don’t have the population density to support a large network of mom-and-pop bodegas. The 7-Eleven is our bodega (which reminds me: When’s the last time you had one of those taquitos lolling around on the heated rollers? Love those things!).
No, what the Washington area has is real estate, and lots of it. Just as New York is more than Manhattan, Washington is more than the District proper. I would suggest that Ocasio-Cortez take an afternoon and explore the mega-Asian supermarkets in the Virginia and Maryland suburbs. Places like Great Wall Supermarket, H Mart or Lotte Plaza. These places have everything: fresh seafood, nonstick woks, rice makers, humidifiers, coffee makers, fresh pastries, baguettes, sesame paste, Pocky sticks, wine, beer, lotus root, air fryers, Chinese broccoli, Goya juices, frozen durian and on and on. You can lose yourself in the aisles for days.
These supermarkets also have food courts, offering some of the finest meals available anywhere in the metro area. These places are the polar opposite of New York bodegas: sprawling, impersonal and accessible mostly by car. They are a major part of the culture in metro Washington.
“Every Asian supermarket is unbelievable, and you have good restaurants within those supermarkets,” Chang told me during a telephone interview. It’s one of the trade-offs between the District and NYC, he adds. New York has the bodegas, Washington has Asian supermarkets.
But then Chang sighed. He knows these arguments will fall largely on deaf ears.
“I don’t think this is ever going to stop,” he said. “People are just going to get mad all the time.”
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