Yaka mein

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“Ya-Ka-Mein Lady” at second line in Uptown New Orleans, 2010

Yaka mein (Ya-Ka-Mein, often pronounced Yakamee) is a type of beef noodle soup (牛肉麵, Cantonese: ngaw4-yuk4 min6) found in many Creole and Chinese restaurants in New Orleans.

The soup consists of stewed beef (such as brisket) in beef-based broth served on top of noodles and garnished with half a hard-boiled egg and chopped green onions.[1] Cajun or Creole seasoning and chili powder are often added to the broth.

Culture and variations

Yaka mein is sometimes referred to as “Old Sober”, as it is commonly prescribed by locals as a cure for hangovers.[2] Vendors are common at New Orleans second lines. (The dish is also now offered in a more commercial setting at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, along with many other Creole and Cajun specialties.[1]) The soup is well loved by locals but not well known outside of the city and its surrounding region.[3]

Yat Gaw Mein is also found in Norfolk, Virginia; Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Bellevue, Pennsylvania carry out restaurants. Some versions of Yat Gaw Mein consists of thick wheat noodles (similar to udon) in a ketchup-based sauce or brown gravy, accompanied by thickly sliced onions, a hard-boiled egg, and fried noodles.[4][self-published source?] Roast pork (char siu), chicken, and seafood can be added, with some restaurants including the option of pigs’ feet.[5]

Etymology

The phonetics of yaka mein is similar to the Cantonese pronunciation for “one order of noodles” (一個麵, Cantonese: jat1 go3 min6), a phrase commonly said by small restaurant waitstaffs to their kitchen to prepare an order of the restaurant’s house noodle dish. However it is unclear if this is the origin of the name.

The dish is spelled in innumerable ways, all with phonetic similarities. A non-comprehensive list of these spellings includes:

  • Yakamein[6]
  • Yaca mein
  • Ya ka mein
  • Yatka mein
  • Yock a mein
  • Yetka mein
  • Yet ca mein
  • Yet gaw mein
  • Yat gaw mein
  • Jakemein
  • Yaka may
  • Yakameat
  • Yakama
  • Yakamee

Origins

The origins of yaka mein are uncertain, and there are at least two propositions:[1] Some sources, including the late New Orleans chef Leah Chase, have claimed that yaka mein originated in New Orleans’s now extinct Chinatown that was established by Chinese immigrants brought from California during the mid-19th century to build the railroads between Houston and New Orleans[1] and work in the sugar plantations of the American South. It was during this period that the Chinese noodle soup adapted to local Creole and Chinese clientele.[7]

In the movie, Whipsaw, from 1935, starring Myrna Loy, a character in New Orleans, places a phone order with a Chinese restaurant, for, among other things, Yaka mein. This mention supports the origin story cited by Leah Chase.

However, some believe it was introduced to the US by African American troops who fought in the Korean War and returned with a taste for some of the noodle soup dishes they had in Korea. (This theory appeared on the cooking show Chopped, Season 1 Episode 2: Pride of New Orleans.) However, since the dish was mentioned by name in the 1935 film “Whipsaw” this origin story cannot be completely accurate, as the Korean War was fought almost two decades after that movie was released.

See also

References


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