The Original Ya-Ka-Mein - Ms. Linda's Recipe
It has a funny name, a mysterious past and you won’t find it at most restaurants. That’s what makes this legendary soup so sought-after on the streets of New Orleans.
New Orleans chef Linda Green remembers growing up watching her great-grandmother make a beef noodle soup with an aroma so enticing the neighbors would show up with empty bowls in their hands whenever she put a pot on the stove. That family recipe passed down through generations was eventually sold by her mother at Bean Brothers Corner and now – by Linda herself – at second lines and festivals around town. One of the city’s best-kept secrets, Ya-Ka-Mein has been a staple in the local African-American community for as long as anyone can remember. But its exact history is quite the mystery.
History of Ya-Ka-Mein
Often called “Old Sober” for its, um, restorative qualities, the soup consists of chopped beef (or sometimes pork or shrimp) with noodles, green onions, hard-cooked eggs and broth made from a unique blend of spices. As with many Creole dishes, most believe Ya-Ka-Mein resulted from the blending of many cultures.
Some say African-American soldiers returning home from war craved a similar dish they tasted in Asia, while others trace its origins further back to the 1800s when Chinese laborers came to New Orleans to build railroads.
Regardless of where it came from, it seems this classic comfort food is here to stay.
Today, Ya-Ka-Mein can still be found in corner stores throughout New Orleans and Linda sells her original recipe at festivals year-round. “It’s really about the juice,” explains Linda, now known around town as The Ya-Ka-Mein Lady. “Once you do all your other components, like your egg and your spaghetti and your green onion and your meat, you just put it in a bowl. But once you put that broth on top of it, it’s all over with!”
Ms. Linda’s Original New Orleans Ya-Ka-Mein Recipe
- 1 lb. boneless chuck roast
- 1 (5 oz.) pkg. Ms. Linda Green’s Ya-Ka-Mein Seasoning*
- 1 lb. spaghetti, cooked to package directions
- 2 bunches green onions, chopped
- 4 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and quartered
- soy sauce
- garnish, as desired: boiled shrimp, hot sauce, ketchup, boiled cauliflower, boiled broccoli, boiled carrots
Method of Preparation
- Place chuck roast in a large saucepot, cover with water and place over medium-high heat. Once it comes to a low boil, reduce heat to low and simmer until roast is cooked, about 15 minutes. Remove roast from cooking liquid and set aside. Reserve 8 cups of cooking liquid.
- In a large saucepot, stir together reserved cooking liquid and Ya-Ka-Mein Seasoning*. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Once seasoning mixture has dissolved, remove from heat but keep warm.
- Once beef is cool enough to handle, carefully chop into bite-size pieces, then set aside and keep warm.
- Divide cooked spaghetti among 8 large bowls, then top with beef, green onion and 2 egg quarters. Ladle 1 cup of broth mixture over each bowl and top with a dash of soy sauce. Garnish with boiled shrimp, hot sauce, ketchup or boiled vegetables, if desired.
*Ms. Linda Green’s Ya-Ka-Mein Seasoning is available at NewOrleansSoulFood.com. If unavailable, season cooking liquid with 1 tsp. Creole seasoning and 3 Tbsp. beef base, such as Better Than Bouillon Organic Beef Base. If using this method, be sure to taste and adjust the flavor as needed.
Learn more about the history of ya-ka-mein and Ms. Linda at Louisiana Cookin' along with other mouthwatering recipes.