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 the pot - 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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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.