The person best known for keeping the yakamein tradition alive in New Orleans, Chef Linda Green, is such a big deal that she’s been on both No Reservations and Chopped. Yet the noodle soup rarely makes it onto menus impersonating New Orleans cuisine outside of the Bayou State. Called “Old Sober,” because of its restorative powers, yakamein is a melting pot dish that nods at NoLa’s port city culture.
When Chef Alex McCoy opened Tchoup’s Market, inspired by his favorite New Orleans mainstays, he had to have yakamein on the menu. “So many dishes in the city don’t get the credit they deserve,” McCoy says. “Yakamein has a cult following there. I love how surprised people are when they try it here.”
Here’s the breakdown of New Orleans’ best-kept secret.
Spaghetti: In the late 19th century, New Orleans was home to many Chinese rail workers who introduced Chinese noodle (or “mein”) dishes to the city. Chinese noodles were hard to come by and expensive, so yakamein calls for spaghetti instead.
Stock: McCoy says the stock should remind diners of the beef noodle soup at A&J Chinese restaurant in Rockville or Annandale. It’s packed with cinnamon and star anise, but also Cajun spices. Soy sauce gives the broth its salty, satisfying flavor.
Toppings: Yakamein always comes with a boiled egg, along with other toppings like green onions. Some choose to add ketchup for more body or hot sauce for heat. But the egg is a constant. With McCoy’s Southeast Asian cooking background, he’ll toss in a fermented duck egg instead if you ask.
Protein: No meat is off the table when it comes to adding protein to yakamein. At Tchoup’s, you can opt for beef-only ($10); beef, pork, and Andouille sausage ($12); or a third version that tacks on shrimp ($14). The pork belly McCoy uses sits in a Thai marinade before spending time in the smoker.