Reggaeton singer (and new father) J Balvin loves food and loves to eat. The hitmaker was born José Balvín in Medellín, Colombia, and spent time in Oklahoma as a student before moving to New York to pursue music. He found success in the U.S. (along with amazing Colombian food), and still remains humble despite winning a Latin Grammy, working with Cardi B and Beyoncé, and meeting Jay-Z.
We caught up with the “I Like It” star on the heels of his latest collab with Miller Lite, a bodega-inspired line of merch called BodegaWear that includes jackets, bucket hats, socks, slides, and joggers. The collab will help support corner stores and Latino-owned businesses: Miller Lite is donating all proceeds of BodegaWear sales to Accion Opportunity Fund, a financial support system for small businesses. It’s a timely initiative that has a lot of importance for the singer. We chatted on the phone about our favorite bodega items, his love of Colombian food, and the not-so-surprising place he finds it Stateside.
CA: When you’re in the United States, what Colombian food do you miss the most?
JB: Arepas! Breakfast, lunch, dinner — arepas are really our thing in Colombia. I really miss arepas… absolutely. When we’re in New York, we go to Queens. I’ve tasted arepas in Queens that I’ve never tasted in Colombia — and the taste is better! And I know why! When things were bad back in Colombia years ago, they came to New York and to Queens. I’m not saying the arepas in Colombia are bad, but the ones in Queens are really great.
Queens is the best borough for dining — you can’t beat the mix of ethnic cuisines.
Queen is so cool: the Dominican flavors, the Colombian flavor, the cool Italian restaurants. A cool mix — but it’s not fancy! Which is really cool! It makes you feel more real, like, you’re in the streets. Everything makes sense [in Queens].
When you’re touring, how do you eat? Do you travel with a chef?
If it were up to me, I’d eat everything that’s around. Everything! I love food! I love all the good things that are bad for our body [laughs] like fries and hamburgers. I should refrain, but I can’t [laughs]. I have a chef — which is new — and they fly with me. I have a strict diet and sometimes it’s not easy to find a healthy way to keep my body going. But every Sunday, I have a cheat day.
What’s involved in a José cheat day?
For example, I’ll have ice cream for breakfast. I eat whatever! I’ll have an arepa in the morning, and jump to Italian for lunch (I’ll have some penne or some rigatoni), and then jump to having a hot dog on the street near Madison Square Garden. Then we’ll jump from there to eat pizza or get some sushi to lighten up the night. Then dessert: cookies, ice cream. I go really really, really, really, really, really hard on Sundays. Really.
And the rest of the week, you’re restrained? I mean, I eat ice cream every day in the summer.
Oh my god! I’m so jealous! That would be a dream! I would eat it all the time, all year-round.
You’re partnering with Miller Lite on a line of bodega-inspired merch. What’s your bodega go-to when you’re home in NYC?
We’re always flying around but when I’m in NYC, I always look for Snickers ice cream bars. I go right up to the fridge and look for them. They’re amazing! I look around the corner: cashews, popcorn, and — oh! — ramen! I LOVE chicken noodle soup. Those $3 soups — that’s my thing!
Cup of noodles?
Yes! If you ask me if I want to go to a restaurant or get $3 ramen, I get the $3 ramen. I love a fancy dinner, but the priority is eating the chicken noodle ramen — then we go to the restaurant.
Do you hack it or add anything to your ramen?
No, I keep it a hundred [laughs]. I don’t want to touch the art of the chicken noodle soup. It’s like touching the Mona Lisa. It’s perfect! If you wanna try something different, start cooking from scratch.
Fair enough! You’ve got lots of famous friends. If you were to turn them on to a food you love, what would you bring to, say, Jay-Z and Beyonce to try?
I’d bring them arepas! Absolutely! This is our thing, try it. The beautiful thing about New York is you can find something [new] on every corner. Sometimes I’ll just walk around; a couple of months ago, we were walking in Chinatown, just walking, not checking our phones, and we found a restaurant. Home cooking… It was great! The food was delicious!
Back to the bodegas, what part of this BodgeaWear collection do you like the most?
The varsity jacket is my favorite piece. When you do a collab, it has to have your essence. But the cool thing about this one, we’re actually helping the Latinx corner store owners, the bodega owners.
Would you ever consider owning a bodega?
It’s a tough business! You gotta be there all the time. That’s why you always see the same guy working there and you make friends with them. For me, I can’t be there — but I could help someone who owns one and I can say, let’s go!
Yeah, you get your free Snickers ice cream bars!
[laughs] Yeah and chicken noodle ramen soup!
I’m borrowing this from the Bodega Boys, Desus and Mero (who split up this week): What would you name your bodega, if you had one?
They broke up?! What?! [pauses to react to the news] I’d call it Cositas de Colombia.
Cositas de Colombia — love it. Last question: How do you feel about bodega cats?
The cat? I’d love to have a bodega dog [laughs]. I have nothing against cats, but I have more love for dogs.
Shop the collection at www.esjosetime.com/bodegawear beginning today, July 26, 2022, while supplies last.
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