Yaka-mein, or "Old Sober," is a Cajun-Chinese hybrid noodle soup made with spaghetti, beef, broth, hard-boiled eggs, green onions and hot sauce. It's also the traditional hangover helper of New Orleans (a city that knows a thing or two about hangovers). If you haven’t heard of it before, that's no surprise: It’s essentially confined to Louisiana and even then, not sold everywhere. You might see it on the menu at a few Chinese restaurants, but you have a better chance of scoring a Styrofoam cupful from a pickup truck during a parade or in the back of a bar late at night. Recently, though, the dish got national attention when Miss Linda Green (a.k.a. the “Yaka-Mein Lady”), who sells her signature yaka-mein at different pop-up locations across New Orleans, appeared on Chopped.
Now you might start hearing yaka-mein buzz in Chicago thanks to chef Alfredo Nogueira of Analogue. The New Orleans expat makes his own version of the dish and recently served it at a New Year’s Eve party, at 1 a.m., as hangover protection. Inspired by New Orleans’s large Vietnamese population, he infuses his yaka-mein broth with pho spices like star anise, ginger and coriander. “Everyone has their own broth method,” he says. While he enriches his with beef neck bones, other people simply use bouillon or even instant ramen flavor packets. “Working in a restaurant, I couldn’t use ramen seasoning in good conscience,” he says. “But by all means go for it—that stuff is delicious. Not everyone has time to cook neck bones down.” For Nogueira, the main requirements of a yaka-mein are spaghetti noodles, broth, stewed meat (chuck or even leftovers from a roast will work nicely), lots of green onions, hardboiled eggs and hot sauce. Beyond that, it’s a dish open to interpretation. Here, Nogueira’s recipe for your new favorite hangover cure.
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From Alfredo Nogueira of Analogue in Chicago, IL
1 pound spaghetti
6 hardboiled eggs, sliced
1 quart beef stock
1 quart chicken stock
3 beef neck bones
1 large onion, quartered
1 head of garlic, halved
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup Sriracha
1 bunch of green onions, minced
1. Season neck bones heavily with salt and pepper and brown in a sauté pan. Place browned bones in larger pot and cover with stocks. Bring up to boil skimming off any impurities, and reduce to simmer. Toss in onion and garlic and cook until meat is falling of the bone. Remove meat and allow to cool. Strain the broth and reserve.
2. Season the broth with soy and Sriracha to taste. When meat is cool, remove it from bones and break into small pieces. Return the meat to the broth. Cook the spaghetti according to package details.
3. Divide the spaghetti into bowls. Add a ladleful or two of broth into each bowl along with meat—enough to cover the noodles. Place slices of the hardboiled eggs in the soup along with lots of green onions. Serve with soy and Sriracha so that guests can season to their liking.