Thursday, March 10, 2011

Snow-balls and Ya Ka Mein

We were strolling down Magazine Street in New Orleans' Touro neighborhood, just uptown from the Garden District, and passed the Magazine Deli Snow-ball stand, at Magazine and Aline Streets.

Later, after lunch, we stopped by and it was open. Snow-balls are a purely New Orleans variation on the typical American Snow-cone, made with shaved ice flavored with syrup. There is an amazing variety of flavors and combinations. You can read Ed Branley's essay about Snow-balls here.

We were so full from lunch that we only had room for a kid-size snow-ball each. Mine was pina colada.

[The Man I Love] had half and half raspberry and cherry. It made his tongue purple.

What was more intriguing than the icy treats, though, was the other items on menu. The stand advertises hot tamales, meat pies, crawfish pies and something called Ya-Ka-Mein.

What's Ya-Ka-Mein? we asked.

The counter man told us it was a Chinese-style noodle soup made with beef. "It's real good," he said.

After we got home to Los Angeles, I looked it up. Now I'm sorry we didn't take a chance and try it then and there. Like Snow-balls, Ya-Ka-Mein is another one of New Orleans' unique food traditions.

Also called Yakameen, Jackameen, Yackamee, sometimes shortened to Yocka, it's served in bars, corner stores and small street stands like the Magazine Deli, traditional in the black community. It's a beef soup made with spaghetti noodles, meat - usually beef - onions and a halved hard-boiled egg. The soup is seasoned with soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce, and garnished with chopped scallions. You can customize it with a bit of hot sauce, a dash of Cajun spices, or even ketchup. You eat it on the street with a plastic fork or spork.
Some say it was brought back to New Orleans from veterans of the Korean war, adapting an Asian recipe to American ingredients. But others point to a little known aspect of New Orleans history, when during the 19th century Chinese railroad workers settled in the city near the Chinese Mission at Tulane and Rampart Streets, creating a Chinatown community of shops, laundries, restaurants and markets.

Like menudo, chicken noodle soup, Japanese ramen, and Vietnamese pho, it's one of humankind's infinite variations on warm, flavorful liquid nourishment that soothes the ailing, settles the stomach, and calms the aching head. Ya-Ka-Mein is claimed to cure hangovers, and is also called Ole Sober.

It's one more thing on the list of reasons I have to go back to New Orleans.

And how about those crawfish pies?


Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

And how about those crawfish pies?

They're something to sing about!

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Ya-Ka-Mien sounds delicious. And I am now craving coconut shave ice, which I had in Hawaii in 1986 while driving along the North Shore in an open Jeep. (See, you took me from NOLA to Hawaii in one blog post!)

Alexia said...

This sounds absolutely delicious. I am going to try to create it, using your description. Yummo!

21 Wits said...

I seem to remember a really great steak house on Magazine Street, and that it had a lot of second hand and antique shops!

lynn said...

so funny to find this blog post - we walked past this place today in NOLA (and are now headed back to LA!)

Anonymous said...

My grandfather had a Japanese restaurant that served yock-o-mein. Tokyo Restaurant in Portsmouth VA. This was in the 1930s, maybe even the 20s. So it predates the K war for sure. It's still eaten in that area of VA.

There's proof on flickr, where I have a photo of the restaurant.