Monday, March 15, 2010

New Orleans Old Sober - Yakamein Soup

Yak a Mein, New Orleans Old Sober Soup is most often made from beef, always includes boiled eggs, and is offered with condiments of soy sauce, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and ketchup.

Yakamein Soup

Known by a couple of different names and spellings, Yakamein (Ya Ka Mein) Soup, often just called "Yock," picked up the name "Old Sober" in New Orleans, for its alleged healing powers in warding off the after-effects and resulting hangover from late night French Quarter partying.

A popular soup in several areas of the United States, Yakamein, was sold mostly in neighborhood mom and pop bodegas of New Orleans in days past, but has all but become a lost recipe there now. Maybe the flooding of Hurricane Katrina contributed to that in New Orleans, but I hope that Yakamein falls back into favor at some point, because it is a mild, but flavorful soup for any day, hangover or not! By the way, should you be so inflicted at some point, swing by my hangover helpers for a few more ideas to help you out.

I had intended to get this post up during Carnival season, but it flew by and was over before I got to it. Too bad, since it is suppose to have such hangover curative powers, something that would certainly come in handy during Carnival. At least it will be here for the next party, which in The Deep South, is always only just around the corner.

If you know about this soup, you'll find some nostalgic memories in this post, since it has nearly become a lost recipe these days. If you have no idea about this, you may find this soup, well... let's just say unusual and leave it at that {and kindly don't feel a need to express your displeasure}.

There is some dispute over the origins of Old Sober in the New Orleans area - but I'm more prone to agree with those who say Yakamein was introduced to New Orleans cuisine when Chinese workers relocated there from south Louisiana plantations.  Chinese immigrants were brought in alongside African slaves to work the railroads in the mid-1800s, and later, when more immigrants arrived to work the sugar plantations in Louisiana following emancipation.

Finding the work unsuitable, the Chinese population relocated to the New Orleans area, and settled into a section of town on South Liberty, near a newly established Chinese Mission.  Soon, the emergence of shops, hand laundries, food markets and eateries catering to the Chinese population expanded from the Mission and into the 1100 block of Tulane, creating a geographical hub for the Chinese community and what would become known as New Orleans Chinatown. Yes, who knew?! New Orleans at one time had a Chinatown, though not nearly as large or well defined as those in New York City and San Francisco. Eventually attracted by the outer suburbs however, the population moved away from the city and New Orleans Chinatown faded away. It is believed that Yakamein grew out of this time in history.

While Yakamein is traditionally a beef broth based soup, you can substitute other meats, such as chicken or pork, and even sometimes, shrimp have been used as well. Other than that, it is served with spaghetti noodles, a whole or a halved hard boiled egg, a sprinkling of sliced green onion and a splash of soy and hot sauce, and on the street, typically comes ladled into a large Styrofoam cup.

Recipe: Yakamein Soup

©From the Kitchen of Deep South Dish
Prep time: 10 min |Cook time: 3 hours | Yield: About 6 to 8 servings

  • 1 (3 to 4 pound) stewing beef roast (chuck, chuck tender, round, rump)
  • 4 to 5 quarts of water
  • 2 tablespoons of beef base (like Better than Bouillon)
  • 1 teaspoon of seasoned salt (like Lawry's)
  • 2 teaspoons of Cajun seasoning (like Slap Ya Mama, or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon of onion powder
  • 4 tablespoons of canola or vegetable oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 1 pound of spaghetti noodles
  • 8 hard boiled eggs, peeled (or count one half egg per soup bowl)
  • 1 green onion, sliced
  • Soy sauce, hot sauce, to taste
  • Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, optional

Fill a stockpot halfway with water. Add the beef base, seasoning salt, Cajun seasoning, onion powder, oil, pinch of salt and couple turns of the pepper grinder to the pot and whisk to mix up. Place the meat in a stockpot - the water should cover the meat plus about an inch. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 2 to 3 hours, or until the meat is tender and begins to fall apart.  Remove the beef from the broth and using forks, pull it apart and return the shredded beef to the broth. Add salt and pepper, taste and adjust seasonings. Hold the soup over low until needed.

Meanwhile, boil the eggs, cool and peel them; set aside. Cook the spaghetti noodles according to package directions.

To assemble the soup, place a serving of spaghetti noodles in the bottom of a bowl. Use a slotted spoon to extract a serving of the shredded beef and add that on top of the noodles. Add a boiled egg, either whole, halved lengthwise or cut into chunks.  Spoon about 1-1/2 cups of the beef broth on top and sprinkle with sliced green onion.  Add a few dashes of soy sauce, hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Some folks also like to also add a bit of ketchup to theirs.

Can also prepare the meat in the crockpot - a good idea if you want to put this on before bedtime in the wee hours of post-Mardi Gras morning!   Put the roast and seasonings in the crockpot, cover and cook on high for 1 hour, then on low for 6 to 8 hours longer, or, cook on low for up to 10 hours, until meat is falling apart.  Boil the noodles, eggs and assemble as above.

Cooks Notes: Shortcut this by substituting about 1 pound of cooked, leftover shredded beef, chicken or pork roast, reducing the remaining ingredients by half.


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©Deep South Dish
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Posted by on March 15, 2010

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Mrs. Leah Chase pictured in the video, is the owner of Dooky Chase's Restaurant located on Orleans Avenue, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Dooky's is a historic restaurant that was established by musician Edgar "Dooky" Chase in the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans back in the late 1940s. Later expanded by his son Dooky, and his daughter in law Leah, who brought with her the experiences of French Quarter cooking, the restaurant soon became the premiere fine dining establishment for people of color. It was frequented by famous entertainers and politicians, such as Ray Charles, Louie Armstrong, Thurgood Marshall, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a constant flow of local dignitaries, and more recently, President Obama.  Hurricane Katrina put a hurting on Dooky's, so it was slow coming back, but thanks to a generous grant from Starbuck's and a wide range of various other private donations, Dooky's now operates with a lunch buffet and take out services only, but is on the mend. If you go to New Orleans, you should experience it - be sure to try the fried chicken.

Historical Source: Geography of New Orleans: Urban Fabrics Before the Storm, Center for Louisiana Studies, by Richard Campanella, Ph.D.

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  1. That's very interesting. I loved seeing the video and the afterward in regards to the history of Dooky Chase's. I would never have even thought about the chinese having an impact on the cooking. Great looking soup, hangover or not!

  2. I love the research you have done, my country is very influenced by the Chinese also and I love it, fusion cooking has always been part of my upbringing and I am talking about that in my post tomorrow: Tasty Tuesday.
    Thank you for sharing, always love to stop by! xxx

  3. That looks delish!!!!!!! My dad said he needed his Preparation H because his lips were burning. I know it still doesn't make sense.

  4. I think this looks just wonderful...hung over or not. What a fun and interesting blend of flavors. Love this history lesson here too. Thank you.

  5. Very interesting post Mary. I have never heard of this dish before, but I'll try any dish that contains roast! It looks yummy!

  6. When I was in Greece there are entire establishments that make nothing but patsa which is a soup that is supposed to be good for hangovers. Now it is made from sheep intestines so Old Sober is something more likely to be eaten with gusto.

  7. I really have to try this. The history alone would have made me curious, but I was really sold when I saw your ingredient list. That is an awesome lady, by the way. I loved the video.

  8. Haha, I took one look at the picture and thought 'Yum, beef noodle soup!'. I'm Malaysian and we have a thriving Chinese community with several versions of this soup. It's made with different types of noodles, sometimes spicy, sometimes mild, scallions(!), and really tender beef. SO yummy. This post is making me homesick.

  9. WHAT A GREAT POST... I love these stories. Sad what Katrina took away that doesn't show up as easy... so much history

  10. I'm so excited!! We had this all the time growing up. With pork.
    We called it "Chinese Noodles".
    How fun.... we never knew the history before.
    great post.

  11. WOW! this is a great dish. It's different but your history of it's origination and simple instructions I couldn't wait to try it. It's is delightful. THank you.

  12. Chris - I approved your comment to post but have no idea where it went. Anyway, where to find Yak in New Orleans...

    Generally speaking it is served in the off the wall spots, bars/restaurants, where you'll see a sign that says Chinese food and plate lunches served.

    Don't hold me to any of this... but I did a quick search and saw a mention that Manchu on North Claiborne might have it, and Mama's Famous Foods uptown. Try Danny's and Monica's Chinese Food on Magazine too. Good luck!

  13. I LOVE YAKAMEIN ... There's a late night hole-in-the-wall on the corner of Basin and N. Villere in New Orleans named Berthas. She has some of the best. Though Bertha's kitchen, located in an adjacent take-out joint, is only open during late weekend nights, it's worth the wait.
    It'a a true New Orleans staple and this recipe comes surprisingly close to the real thing.

  14. Thanks Nikki - I tried to come as close as I possibly could!

  15. As a native New Orleanian, Ya-Ka Mein has always been one of my favorite dishes. My Dad would bring some home after partying all night. The bars would sell it in super-sized cups. When I was a kid, the adults believed in partying hard and going to church (I thought it odd too). I just remember people living and having fun. New Orleanians do still make this at home during the winter. If you are in town, you can find it at most corner po-boy shops. Bertha's Bar on Basin has a really good Ya-Ka Mein.

  16. Just had some from The Real Pie Man in Gretna, and it was fantastic!

  17. Thanks so much J. Brian! The list is growing. :) Glad to see it's back.

  18. where is ms linda the yakamein lady who serve the yakamein at the secondline and at jazz fest

  19. I love, love, love this site! I was so happy when I discovered it....just heavenly! Recently made your Southern Chicken & Dressing with gravy-the best recipe I've ever made for this. Thanks so much! :)

    Lori Roberson

  20. Don't know about Miss Linda - sorry!

    Welcome Lori - I appreicate that. Hope you enjoy the site!

  21. I just found your site last night, and love all the recipes! I was surprised to see the "yakamein" picture! I grew up in Tokyo, and this looks like a bowl of Chyashyu (in Japanese) or Char Siu (in Chinese)ramen! Only the meat in it is pork, and the noodles, when made with buckwheat instead of regular are called 'soba' noodles. The word "Yaki" in Japanese refers to a method of cooking, as in Yakitori (chicken grilled on a stick w/delicious sauce!) or Yakisoba (fried noodles). I'm sure that this recipe would look really different if you could take a snapshot of how it evolved each decade after it hit the streets in N.O. : ) Very interesting!! Thanks!

    1. Maybe "old sober" is a misinterpretation of "o-soba".

  22. I'm making this soup tonight. I so can't wait to se the outcome had this dish in the N.O. on vaction so now im going to cook it for my family tonight. Thanks fot posting this recipie.

  23. The story I learned is that African American soldiers from New Orleans serving in Japan and Korea in the mid-20th century brought the soup home with them and put a local spin on it.

    I'm a fan of Miss Linda's family recipe. Look for her out at the second lines.

    1. That can't be right. My grandfather sold yock in Virginia in the 1930s.

  24. Wish I had tried this when I was in New Orleans in Oct. Watching Anthony Bourdain eat it right now. Thanks for a great recipe and post.

  25. Hi Lizzy - you're welcome! Thanks so much for stopping by and saying hello!!

  26. hey, You c'mon over to treme... There's more yakamein than you can shake a stick at. I'm eating some for lunch now!

  27. Thanks Brady - good to know that! Where's the best at these days?

  28. Yakamein was used by black soldiers during the Korean war. Was used for hangovers and stamina. I was stationed in Korea during the early 90's and this dish was everywhere, with variations as well. I was in a tank battalion and even during training battles, there would be a family, usually led by an old woman set up wth makeshift field kitchens serving this among other favorites. I would have the rice that kind of cooked hard at the bottom of the pot along with the bowl of heaven! Good times. Thanks for this awesome post!

    1. Thanks for sharing this bit of history!

    2. Korea has u-dong, which is their version of udon, which is thick wheat noodles, broth, boiled egg, onions and meat.

  29. We go to jazz fest every year and We love yakamein! Its awesome and it really is the BEST hangover cure!

  30. I'm a native of New Orleans and I remember my mom aunties and uncles would work at bars/restaurants as bartenders hostess or something for extra money to take care of us would sometimes bring this dish home wow what sweet memories

  31. Mary, I'm getting ready to cook this tomorrow, so I doubt my question will be answered in time. You mention cooking the roast in the crockpot overnight, putting the roast in and adding the seasonings. Do you add everything else (water and Better than Bouillion) to the crockpot to cook all night?

    1. Yes! Just add everything to the slow cooker - well except for the noodles & garnishes of course - and let it go!

  32. Red rooster's on Washington and Clara has da best yaki meat!!!


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