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Eatymology: Yakamein

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Eatymology: Yakamein
Written by Emily Storrow | Photos by Chris Granger

Yakamein

[ya-kə-mān]

n: a rich, meaty noodle soup known to revive fading revelers

In many ways yakamein typifies New Orleans, a place where the wacky and wonderful converge in enchanting ways. The beef and spaghetti noodle soup topped with egg, scallion, and hot sauce is often served piping hot in Styrofoam cups and eaten on the go. It’s a dish of many names—yakamein, ya-ka-mein, ya-ka-meat, yak e mein—and stories of its origin abound. Was it Chinese rail workers who brought it to the Crescent City in the nineteenth century, or black veterans who returned home from World War II or the Korean War and attempted to recreate the noodles they ate abroad?

The storied Southern soup even has its own modern-day folk hero: Linda Green. Known as the Ya Ka-Mein Lady, Green ladles it up for festivalgoers and the late-night bar crowd on the streets of New Orleans—certain restorative qualities have earned yakamein the nickname Old Sober. “It helps soak up the booze after a long day and night of drinking,” says Jacqueline Blanchard, a South-Louisiana-born chef who cooked for the likes of Thomas Keller before returning to her home state to open cutlery shop Coutelier NOLA. Blanchard makes a vat of yakamein every year for the Runaway Boucherie in Grand Couteau, Louisiana. “It’s perfect late-night fare when you’re camping out in the cold,” she says.

“I love its simplicity and how dirty-good it is.” It doesn’t get much more comforting than that.

Jacqueline Blanchard’s Yakamein