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What is yaka mein, and why is it popular in New Orleans?

What is yaka mein, and why is it popular in New Orleans?

Yaka mein is a festival stapleYaka mein is a festival staple — Photo courtesy of NewOrleans.com

Hangovers aren’t a rare malady in New Orleans, where drinks are ordered to go and self-restraint is an endangered species. Thank goodness that yaka mein, also known as yaka meat or Old Sober, is this town’s tried and true hangover cure, best slurped late at night or when you’re rolling out of bed the next morning looking for hefty chow.

A staple at second lines (sort of like a mobile musical party that you can join as it passes by) and city festivals, this crossbreed of Asian and African American culinary traditions is most commonly found at corner groceries and takeout shops.

During parades, it’s not unusual to see street vendors ladling it up from the tailgate of pickup trucks. Traditionally made from a combination of beef, hard-boiled eggs, green onions and noodles swimming in a spicy, salty meat-powered broth, the addition of soy sauce gives this soulful brew an Asian twist.

Although it’s not highbrow like the trout amandine or turtle soup dished at the grand dame Creole palaces like Galatoire’s and Antoine’s, yaka mein is a distinctly New Orleans dish with origins as murky as the boldly flavored stew itself. One explanation is that the tangy soup is tied to Black soldiers who fought in the Korean War and got a taste of Asian flavors which they brought back to New Orleans, where their sweethearts, mothers and grandmothers made the recipe their own.

Another thought is that Chinese immigrants who came to Louisiana to work on sugar plantations and railroads shared their love of noodle soup with their local co-workers.

Pronounced ‘YAH-kah-main,’ you may never have heard of this dish if you’re not from here. But once you taste it, and it works its magic, it’s tough to live without. Although some chefs have fancied it up – John Bel from the much-missed Meauxbar, for one – the gold standard is served at smaller, local joints. It’s a brown, salty, noodle-filled bowl of goodness topped with green onions. Here are some spots sure to satisfy.

Chef Linda Green, the Ya-ka-Mein Lady

Miss Linda the Yaka Mein LadyMiss Linda the Yaka Mein Lady — Photo courtesy of NewOrleans.com

Chef Linda Green is a regular at second lines and serves her specialty at festivals including French Quarter Fest and Jazz Fest. She has appeared on Food Network’s “Chopped” and numerous other cooking competitions.

One taste of her famous yaka mein – a noodle dish served in a spicy soy-spiked beef broth along with a hard-cooked egg – will explain why her version of this dish is so lauded. Check her Instagram for pop-ups as the festival season starts to roll out, and check her website for catering and other events.


Most folks head to Manchu, the low-slung purple building at the corner of Claiborne and Esplanade, for fried chicken wings, which are worth trying after navigating the crazy parking situation there. But this family-owned eatery also dishes Chinese food, po’ boys and egg rolls in numbers meant for tailgating. The yaka mein is made to order and it’s so good.

Bywater Bakery

Bywater Bakery's yaka mein is a big hit on weekendsBywater Bakery’s yaka mein is a big hit on weekends — Photo courtesy of Chaya Conrad

Bywater Bakery is beloved for so many things, why not add yaka mein to the list? Chaya Conrad’s spunky little neighborhood spot serves her version of hearty Old Sober, which is especially popular on the weekends. Her staff loves it, too.

John & Mary’s

Yaka mein at John and Mary's on OrleansYaka mein at John and Mary’s on Orleans — Photo courtesy of Beth D’Addono

John & Mary’s at 3238 Orleans Avenue (almost to Moss Street) is a mom-and-pop that sells beer and cigs, but walk to the back when you’re hungry. On offer are multiple sandwiches, red beans, boiled turkey necks and a fine yaka mein.

The Orange Store

Just steps from the quiet end of the French Quarter at 1700 N. Rampart, The Orange Store looks like a little house awash in shades of sunset orange. But go inside and discover why it’s renowned for its belly-busting shrimp po’ boys – enough to feed two – as well as Chinese plates, and beef and chicken yaka mein. Great little hole in the wall for cheap eats to go.

Red Rooster

Yaka mein at Red Rooster UptownYaka mein at Red Rooster Uptown — Photo courtesy of Beth D’Addono

Central City’s Red Rooster has been feeding the neighborhood since 1977, first as a seasonal snowball business, then with expanding menu offerings from po’ boys to specialty nachos and sweets.

Then there’s the yet-ca-mein section of the menu – don’t be fooled, it’s yaka mein by an inexplicable other name. And it’s great – get chicken or beef, or a combo. Extra meat, shrimp, egg and green onions are available for a few more bucks.

Eat Well Food Mart

The Eat Well Food Mart at 2700 Canal is a gem, with super Vietnamese options that include their version of the pho-rito –think burrito stuffed with pho fixings with broth for dipping on the side. Banh mi, oyster buns and po’ boys are all good as is their yaka mein, which is served with chicken, shrimp or tofu, or better yet, a combo of all three.

Get the fresh spring rolls, too.

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