“It’s all about the juice,” says Linda Green. The chef is referring to the fragrant, savory broth that is the secret ingredient of her famous ya-ka-mein. And she should know. The 60-year-old proprietor of Ms. Linda’s Soul Food is so synonymous with the classic New Orleans soup that she’s endearingly known as “The Ya-Ka-Mein Lady.”
Ya-ka-mein isn’t well-known outside the Crescent City, and it’s not as prevalent here as, say, po-boys, or gumbo, or any number of other dishes associated with southern Louisiana cuisine. Its claim-to-fame is its restorative quality, long-touted by locals, even before Green’s booth became a fixture along second-line routes. Though it resembles Vietnamese pho, its ingredients are rooted in Chinese and African-American cooking: traditionally, a beef-based broth infused with soy sauce and a blend of Creole spices, containing chunks of beef, spaghetti noodles, hard-boiled eggs, and chopped green onions. The resulting taste is hot, spicy, and savory. And unquestionably soothing.