Sunday, July 27, 2008

Ya Ka Mein in New Orleans

Further Signs of Life in the Gumbo Republic
Notes on possible topics for this month:
1.Tenants rights in New Orleans: Forget it, there are none.
2. Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters: Patronizing the local economy
3. Lucky Dogs and Englishmen: Wagon the Dog
4. The four families that own the French Quarter: Better not.
5. Concierges and kickbacks: Whoops, did I say that?
6. Controversial stoop sitting: The last Black family in the Quarter.
7. Holding up the cab drivers: Who owns all the Taxi licenses?
8. Big Business Behemoths: The death of the small shops.
9. Trading paradise for a prophylactic: Trashing our treasures.
10. Would you buy a used car from this man? Big Brother is Alive and Well:
Forget it! Let’s discuss something serious, this is, after all, the Restaurant Guide. Let’s talk about Ya-Ka Mein.
Ya-ka Mein is not a restaurant, at least, not that I’m aware of. Ya-ka Mein is a something to eat that very well may be of local origin. I’ve never seen it anywhere else, so, who knows?
It’s not a snobs dish, it’s not for the ‘Upper Crust’ or the Hoy Polloy. It’s a working person’s affair, a culinary adventurer’s adventure, a true foodie’s food. Tom Fitzmorris disses it. Sara Roahen adores it. Mathew at the N.O. J&H Foundation calls it a ‘heritage thing’. Dudley at Zatarain’s described working on the river at Elysian Fields and ‘going in to the neighborhood’ for it at lunchtime. Brett Anderson was unavailable for comment at this time. Linda Green demonstrated it at Jazz Fest last year, bless her heart. Ya-ka Mein.
There are probably hundreds of places in New Orleans to get Ya-ka Mein, (spelled Yet-ka mein, Jakemein, Yakamay, Yatka-mein, Yet Gaw Mein, yakameat, Ya-ka Mein, Yakama or ‘Old Sober’) and, I haven’t been to them all…yet.
Legend has it that a hundred years ago New Orleans had a viable Chinatown around South Rampart St. near Tulane Ave. It butted up against a thriving African American living, shopping and entertainment district. Allegedly this is where a street kid, later known as Sachmo, cut his chops running errands for prostitutes, crossing the borders of these ‘hoods for little packages of…………. could it have been………….opium?
I like to think not. I like to think, though I’ve been wrong before, that he was getting take out, possibly Yakamay. {and to think, that nowadays, all that the musically gifted children have to look forward to is NOCCA— how the mighty have fallen} J
With the disolution of our neighborhoods (we also had Jewish, Irish, German, Italian and Greek ones that likewise evaporated) the dish was dispursed like the lost tribes, and only kept alive by the poor, the hung over, the corner markets run by Asians serving Blacks.
When I have guests in from out of town, you know, my peeps, I take them on eating tours (what else?) of our city. No, not to places that the average bo-hunk gets ripped at. I take them on street level tours. Items like Muffalettas at Louigi’s, meatloaf at the CafĂ© Reconcile, pickled pig lip ogling at Robert’s ($12.71 a gallon!), alligator sandwiches at Royal Street Gro, gumbo at the corner of Broad and Banks, Lucky Dogs, and Busch in a brown bag with a pack of Zapp’s. They’re all here for the taking, but not the breaking (of your pocketbook).
Ya-ka Mein is different. I kinda keep it to myself. Why? Because if word gets out, those hot shot Chefs with their high falutin’ ways are gonna ruin a good thing. I just know it. And to my way of thinking, we have enough variations as it is. Do I want to see “Duck confit and lobster Ya-Ka Mein with poached quail egg, foix gras and beluga caviar pasta….$24.95 I certainly do not!
But wait! What’s that you say? What is Ya-ka Mein? Listen Woddie, if you don’t know, you better ass somebody!
Oh, you’re assin’ me. Okay, here goes: Ya-ka Mein, whatever way you spell it is a noodle soup of oriental extraction containing a variety of dead animals (pork, chicken, beef , shrimp, etc.) seasoned according to the deviation tendencies of the perpetrator behind the stove, and invariably compoundly fractured (garnished) with a whole hard boiled egg. Y’erd me?
Sometimes it’s reeeeal garlicy, sometimes it’s reeeeal vegetably, the noodle may vary, the animals may change with the season. The prices are generally between three and four bucks for a one quart cup. Most times you get it at a place that caters to low income folks. You may come across it in a joint with a few, or many, tables; invariably you will be served a very hot broth with noodles, a hard cooked egg, spring onions and packets of soy sauce. Variations beyond these point are infinite.
Where do you get it? Usually the sign outside will say something like ‘Plate Lunches-Po Boys-Chinese Food-Fried Seafood Platters’ etc. That’s the call to go ‘check out’ a new source. Don’t worry, it’s cool, you’re on a mission from….. me.
As I sit here, I’m having a quart from Manchu.
Not a place for the faint of heart, Manchu is located at the corner of Claiborne and Esplanade, their Yakamein is first rate, with a great kick of cayenne. While there, check out the wine selection to see what the other half drinks.
If you’re a stranger to danger, hop on up to Broadview, a smooth Yakama is made with asian pork and is redolent with green onions. While there check out other menu items: gumbo, boiled crabs, crawfish, shrimp, turkey necks, corn,and pigs feet (eat in or take out).
Uptown try Mama’s Famous Foods, truly a garlic lovers version
John’s Grocery on Touro and N. Rampart has it in two sizes as does Danny’s on Valence at Magazine (although theirs is alittle salty for my taste).
D&D between Desire and Piety & St. Claude has a kick of black pepper. Monica’s on Milan is sold by a man named ‘Pops’, who keeps a bottle of Sriracha handy.
Chinatown on Canal and Kimmy’s in the CBD both have plethoras of fresh veggies but no egg (go figure) I just saw that the the Moon Wok in the Quarter has it, expensive ($5.95) but I gotta try it. Someone recently mentioned that there was one place in Chicago…………that one may take me awhile to check out.
What I’m saying is that Ya-ka Mein is like a cullinary mugging, waiting around the corner, not frequent in better parts of town, almost brutal in its honesty and straightforwardness. You may get it at a secondline from the back of a pick up, or whipped up at a poker game by a recent Angola graduate, it’s a little thing, a small pleasure.
But, hey, when this Clark Kent gets home (provided there’s no eviction notice on the door) after working (provided the friggin’ Daily Planet doesn’t lay anyone else off) plus fighting for truth and justice (compared to what?) and looks in the mirror (as long as I remembered to pay my light bill) a lot of times all I see on my chest is a capital A (for Adequate-man) or an E (for Every-man); I long for a little thing, a small pleasure. Yat-ka Mein is that.
The Prophet once wrote: “Now go.”

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