Everyone knows Miss Linda.
If you’ve ever been to a festival, a parade, or a concert in New Orleans – (and if you haven’t, you need to get out more, with all due respect) – you’ve undoubtedly seen her, selling Ya-Ka-Mein and other delicious recipes from a tent, a table, or from the back of her truck.
“Ya-Ka-Mein is one of New Orleans’ well-best-kept secrets,” Miss Linda will tell you. “It is a soup. They call it Old Sober.”
It acquired its nickname due to its alleged curative powers after a night – or maybe a day (this is New Orleans, after all) – of heavy imbibing.
“You have noodles in it, you have a hard-boiled egg,” Miss Linda explains. “You have green onion. You have any type of meat you want, but I use a boneless chuck roast. And you have green onions, scallions. And you put all of that together, and you put that sauce. Now that sauce is the Ya-Ka-Mein.”
The recipe is a family, and a cultural, tradition.
“It always has been in the black community. My mom used to do it. She used to sell it. She worked with the school board, like I did.”
After Hurricane Katrina, Miss Linda needed a job, and her cooking skills were her salvation.
“Since the school board didn’t call anyone back, I just decided to go out on feet,” she says. “And I have been going out on feet and haven’t looked back yet. I’ve been rolling with the Ya-Ka-Mein.”
And roll she has, attracting attention near and far.
Anthony Bourdain featured Miss Linda on a segment of the Travel Channel’s “No Reservations” filmed in New Orleans. She was interviewed by Larry the Cable Guy for a History Channel program. And she’s appeared on the Cooking Channel’s “United Tastes of America.”
She’s also appearing in an upcoming episode of a popular cooking show, which she’s not supposed to talk about yet (sources tell me it’s “Chopped,” on the Food Network).
A lot of notoriety for the humble, 53-year-old New Orleans native.
“I love my city,” she says proudly. “I love my city. My city is very, very good to me.”
And it’s obvious her city – indeed, her country – loves her back.
“When Anthony Bourdain put that Ya-Ka-Mein in his mouth and that expression, that whole expression told me. He didn’t even have to say anything. That expression told me everything.”
Where to find Miss Linda:
Yes, Miss Linda seems to be everywhere; it’s a big job satisfying the stomachs of this city. “I work hard. I work hard,” she says with understatement. “And someone say, you one of them hard-workin’ women in Louisiana. I say, I’m one of ‘em. I am one of ‘em. I mean, I love what I do. I love this. I love cooking.”
Glen Abbott is a New Orleans-based freelance travel writer/photographer. Visit his blog at www.TravelinGringo.com.