Market Special

Johnny Air Mart isn't your average bodega

As New Yorkers, we have a fierce loyalty to our neighborhood bodega. The local corner store is an integral part of city living, and we would never attempt to sever the ties that bind you to your own personal 24-hour larder.

However, the East Village's Johnny Air Mart is no ordinary corner store.

When we first looked around, the strange juxtaposition of ingredients had us raising an eyebrow: Cheez Whiz and tortilla chips live across the aisle from Maggi sauces, cellophane noodles and a freezer filled with Chinese sausage, milkfish and spring rolls. But on closer inspection, this mash-up makes sense: The store caters to the tastes of its Filipino customers, whose cuisine has strong Chinese and Spanish influences.

The market's intriguing selection of prepared foods deserves special attention. Cases contain an array of stews, fried fish, breads and desserts imported from the Philippine Bread House in New Jersey.

For a take-out meal that offers top home-cooked quality, try the bone-in hacked chicken legs in a thick, sweet soy sauce or spicy vegetable curry, in which green beans, yams and potatoes bob in a coconut-milk broth (and don't forget to pick up some rice to serve on the side). Finish with sapin-sapin: sweet, chewy, coconut-flavored rice cakes that come stacked in layers of purple, orange and white.

What your bodega doesn't know can't hurt it.

Johnny Air Mart, 214 Avenue A (between 13th and 14th sts.)