Authentic and Original New Orleans
I am part of the first of many confused generations to have lived only to witness a pop culture dominated by reproductions (of reproductions) of music, fashion, film, etc. And every so often, the repercussions surface. Such as when my co-workers discovered (in utter horror) that I had neither heard of The Police nor their hit song “Every Breath You Take” (1983), despite my prolonged obsession with Puff Daddy’s tribute to Notorious B.I.G., “I’ll be missing you” (1997). While the general omnipresence of recycled material has taught me to treasure anything truly original and good (with the exception of Forever 21), embarrassing situations like these have conditioned me to use words like “authentic” and “classic” with excessive caution.
But really, what is “authentic”? A reproductions is, in fact, an authentic product (and fascinating documentation) of pop culture’s evolution. And what makes something “classic” more deserving of respect? Many of today’s most revered “classic” artists were completely ostracized in their day because of their originality.
Treme also challenges the meaning and significance of these words used to describe New Orleans. In the second episode of Treme, street musicians Sonny (piano) and Annie (fiddle) are asked to play “something authentic” (after having performed Careless Love) by a group of church volunteers in town to help rebuild homes. Sonny scornfully offers to play the clichéd spiritual “When the Saints Go Marching In” for an additional fee, which is earnestly accepted (to his chagrin). This provides us with a well-needed reminder that New Orleans is a constantly evolving city that continues to produce some of nation’s best original work. So in honor of this message, I set out to find and explore a current authentic and original (obviously) New Orleanian album and dish.
But I didn’t have to look very far. Galactic, a seriously funkdafied jazz quintet known for fusing the modern and retrospective musical styles of New Orleans, was featured in the latter scenes of the same episode. Galactic produces an avant-garde sound by incorporating progressive electronic techniques, and a wide range of musical genres, from hip-hop, rock, blues, to electronica. And thanks to my musically au courant boyfriend (who first introduced me to Galactic), I had a copy of their recently launched album, “Ya-Ka-May”, which so happened to be the perfect subject for my investigation.
Ya-Ka-May might just be the most entertaining original musical treat of the century (for the ears AND ass). You will never hear anything quite like it, and you will never otherwise see your booty bounce in such an uncontrollably delightful and inexplicably soulful manner. If you are sneakily procrastinating in an office with the type of cubicles that reach just above the shoulders, I suggest that you wait to get home before watching the two videos below. But if you are in an environment to safely act upon a bootyful call, by all means, listen/watch it all! **My favorite songs on the album are “Boe Money”, “Katey vs. Nobby”, “Double It”, and “You Don’t Know”, which are all not available online (for free). But check out the samples here.
There is a definitive explanation for the corollary booty bounce: “bounce”! Confused? Bounce music is a style of hip-hop native to New Orleans, characterized by “call and response” (over lyricism) and hypersexual chants and call-outs (the Mardi Gras Indian kind, not the NYC construction worker kind). Bounce influenced much of the nationally recognized southern rap of the ‘90s, such as the works of Juvenile, Three 6 Mafia, and Lil Jon. Anyways, Ya-Ka-May creatively incorporates the sounds of new bounce artists (Cheeky Blakk, Big Freedia, Katey Red, Sissy Nobby) with the “seemingly disparate” but “intrinsically connected” sounds of the new and established New Orleanian jazz, funk, and brass artists (Trombone Shorty, Corey Henry, Irma Thomas, Big Chief Bo Dollis, Allen Toussaint). Hence the booty bounce!
Ya-Ka-May, the Soup
As it turns out, “Ya-Ka-May” is the name of a very peculiar and popular New Orleanian street food! Ya-Ka-May is a multi-ethnic noodle soup that much like Galactic’s Ya-Ka-May album, is composed of “seemingly disparate” ingredients – spaghetti pasta, beef broth, tender stewed beef, green onion, boiled egg, Cajun seasoning, soy sauce, and hot sauce. Ya-Ka-May is typically sold in Asian-American run bodegas in predominantly African-American neighborhoods across New Orleans, served in Styrofoam cups, and consumed with forks. It is also perceived as a miracle hangover cure, hence the nickname, “Old Sober”.
The origins of Ya-Ka-May are heavily disputed. But I am inclined to agree with Leah Chase, a prominent New Orleans Chef (aka Queen of Creole Cuisine) whose restaurant, Dooky Chase, served as a gathering/meeting place during the Civil Rights movement. According to Mrs. Chase and a number of other local sources, the concept of Ya-Ka-May originated in New Orleans’ now extinct Chinatown, which was established by the Chinese immigrants who were brought from California in the mid 19th century to build the railroads in Southern Louisiana. The Chinatown was further developed by the Chinese immigrants who came to work the sugar plantations after the fall of slavery. Check out what Leah Chase has to say here:
Legend has it that this geographical hub was adjoined to a once thriving African-American neighborhood. And it was during this time that the basic Asian concept of noodles and soup evolved (according to local tastes) to what is now known as Ya-Ka-May. The New Orleans Chinatown and surrounding districts ultimately languished, but the dish was “kept alive by the poor, the hung-over, and the corner markets run by Asians serving Blacks,” according to the Po Boy Views of New Orleans.
Ya-Ka-May is very easy and inexpensive to make. And as you will see, it also has a ton of soul. The best part? It is incredibly flavorful, yet gentle on the stomach (grant it you don’t overdo it with the hot sauce), and therefore, the perfect New Orleans “Old Sober”!
So there you have it! An authentic and original New Orleans album and dish!
Let’s Get Rid of Our Hurtin’!
HHC’s Ya-Ka-May Soup – New Orleans “Old Sober”
Ingredients (serves 4)
2 lbs of stewing beef roast chunks
2 quarts of water
1 beef bouillon cube
1 tsp of SlapYa Mama, or your favorite Cajun seasoning
1/2 tsp of onion powder
Salt and pepper, to taste
½ lb of spaghetti noodles
2 hard boiled eggs (1/2 egg per bowl of soup)
¼ cup of green onions, sliced
1 tbsp of toasted sesame seeds (my twist!)
Soy sauce and Hot sauce to taste
1. Place the stewing beef in a Crockpot (note – I halved the recipe). Add the water, beef bouillon cube, Cajun seasoning, onion powder, salt, and pepper. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. **If you don’t have a Crockpot, place all of the above ingredients in a stockpot and bring to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer for 2 hours, or until the meat is tender.
After 6 hours:
2. Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti noodles according to package instructions, and boil the eggs.
3. To assemble the soup, place a serving of spaghetti noodles in the bottom of a bowl. Ladle about 1-2 cups of the beef and broth over the noodles so that they are almost completely submerged.
4. Add a boiled egg half. Sprinkle with sliced green onion and toasted sesame seeds. Add a few dashes of soy sauce, hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce (optional). Yes, that is Katrina Storm Sauce you see there. I picked it up along with the Slap Ya Mama during my last visit to Natchitoches.
And voilà! A steaming hot and spicy bowl of Ya-Ka Mein. Ok.. let’s try…
**slurp slurp slurp** **Mmmmmmmm** **slurp slurp slurp** **Mmmmmmmm**
OMG, I want more. But I’m so full. I can’t really justify eating another bowl. Well… unless….
Wanna get it crunk?
Until next time…..