A ramen-style noodle bowl isn't the kind of food most customers expect to find amid the Southern specialties on chef Kyle Foster's menu at Julep (3258 Larimer Street.) At lunchtime, you can dig into gumbo, chicken-fried steak or an oyster po'boy, for example — all classics from New Orleans and other regions of the Deep South. So what's that bowl of yakimein doing there?
Tourists and home cooks who have followed the likes of Justin Wilson, Paul Prudhomme and other advocates of Creole and Cajun cooking likely haven't stumbled across yakimein (often spelled yaka mein) in the cookbooks and TV shows that have popularized the food of New Orleans over the years; to find the dish, you need to hit the corner stores and street-food stands that spring up around big celebrations in the Big Easy.
The soup has its roots with Chinese immigrants who came (or were brought by railroad companies for cheap labor) to New Orleans more than a century ago, but has become a part of the soul-food canon, gaining popularity thanks to chefs like Linda Green — known in New Orleans as "the Ya-Ka-Mein Lady" — who have touted it as a hangover cure and representative of the cross-cultural traditions that have influenced the cuisine of the region.
Foster makes his yakimein with beef broth and brisket deep in meaty flavor and spices that are hard to pin down. Is there a dash of soy or a hint of Cajun seasoning in the broth? Whatever the ingredients, the result is rich and slightly tangy, like a good vegetable-beef soup or even a homemade minestrone. Some Southern chefs have attempted to elevate yakimein with high-end noodles and fancy sous-vide eggs, but Foster sticks with what has worked in New Orleans for generations: spaghetti noodles and a hard-boiled egg doused in hot sauce. A shower of green onions pretties up the pile of beef and noodles, but otherwise it's an uncomplicated presentation.
Julep's yakimein is indeed a potent cure for a previous night's overindulgence; a kick of heat that builds toward the bottom of the bowl and a hearty serving that should leave no one hungry settles the stomach and clears the head. But if you need a little extra sustenance to get you through the day, a side of scrapple fries makes a perfect accompaniment. Foster takes the traditional Pennsylvania Dutch mystery meat (usually composed of pork trimmings and offal) and turns it into an almost pâté-like treat, with just enough fried crust to give each baton a little texture.
The yakimein and scrapple fries both exemplify Julep's deep dive into regional cuisine, going far beyond the standards that have become cliché in American cookhouses. You can grab lunch at Julep from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; call 303-295-8977 or visit the restaurant's website for more information.
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