Street Food: USA is now streaming on Netflix, and episode four of the season covers the iconic street foods of New Orleans while telling the stories of some of the most beloved food purveyors in the city, including Miss Linda (more commonly known as “the Yak-A-Mein Lady”), corner po’ boy store Frady’s, and Hansen’s Sno-Bliz, the city’s most iconic sno-ball maker.
The episode is narrated by Vance Vaucresson, the owner of Vaucresson Sausage Co. and a Creole historian, and longtime New Orleans food writer Ian McNulty. The episode focuses on four New Orleans street foods, providing beautiful shots of each throughout: Yak-a-mein, a meaty noodle soup also known as Old Sober; po’ boys, the New Orleans-specific sandwich served on the city’s version of French bread; sno-balls, a shaved ice dessert similar to snow cones but with a different texture and consistency; and boiled crawfish, arguably the city’s favorite street food of all.
The episode starts out with the story of Miss Linda Green, a famed longtime seller of yak-a-mein at second lines and festivals. She tells the origin of the dish, which is spelled myriad different ways (yakamein, ya-ka-mein, yaka mein, yaka meat), as a crossbreed of Asian and African American culinary traditions, typically made from a combination of leftover beef, chicken, or shrimp with cooked eggs, green onions, and noodles stewed in a spicy, salty broth.
“My Grandma Georgie, she loved to cook yak-a-mein,” Green says. “When it was ready, the people from all over the block would come over with their bowls. In our community, it was always salt, pepper, and love.”
Green worked in a school cafeteria until Hurricane Katrina hit and the school never reopened. “I didn’t know what I was going to do,” she says. She had an idea to go on the second-line routes to sell yak-a-mein, and quickly made a name for herself. “Y’all seen that yak-a-mein lady, where she at?” Green recalls. “That’s what people kept calling me, so that’s how I became Miss Linda, the Yak-A-Mein Lady.
Kirk Frady helps tell the history of the po’ boy sandwich from his Bywater corner store, Frady’s One Stop Food Store, which his father opened in 1972. The sandwich got its start during the 1920s street car strike, Frady explains. “A lot of people didn’t have any money, and people felt sorry for them. They’d say here comes a ‘poor boy,’ and help them out with a sandwich,” which were eventually named the poor boy sandwich. “We have customers from the ’70s or ’80s who still come here. It’s like a community gathering place,” says Frady, who runs the shop with his sister.
“Our customers go from priests to pimps and all those people in between. They’ve all come through these doors.”
Next up are sno-balls, and the documentary goes straight to the source: Hansen’s Sno-Bliz sno-ball stand. Owner Ashley Hansen explains, “It all began when my uncle wanted a sno-ball.” At the time, men would come around to different neighborhoods with push carts and shave a block of ice to make them. “My grandfather thought, ‘I can build something better.’” He invented the first sno-ball machine, the same machine Hansen’s uses today, which is why the dessert is, as Hansen describes them, “cotton candy-sitting-on-a-cloud fluffy.” It was Hansen’s grandmother, however, who had the idea to put the machine on their front porch and make them fresh daily to sell.
“We have the heat, the mosquitoes, the rain,” Hansen says of New Orleans. “But sno-balls make everything better. It’s a sweet backdrop for life.”
Finally, the show delves into a Cajun specialty that has become an inextricable part of New Orleans’s historically Creole cuisine — boiled crawfish. It follows James Simon and his Mais la Seafood crawfish truck, often parked outside of Okay Bar. “[Me and my] people are Cajun,” Simon says. “You ever see someone in the swamps jumping off a boat onto an alligator, he’s probably a Cajun.”
“The biggest part of crawfish for me is how you prep them and clean them,” he says. He washes them until “the water’s clear enough that I would drink it,” before they go in a pot, seasoned with onion and garlic before adding corn, sausage, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. He also shares a pro tip: “When I’m almost ready to serve them, I add ice, which makes them sink to the bottom of the pot and absorb all that seasoning,” says Simon.
“There’s a lot of sense of community in New Orleans, and crawfish boils are just a way to bring those people together. It’s become something that, even if I wanted to I don’t think I could stop,” he says.
Green shares this sentiment, that she feels a responsibility to keep yak-a-mein alive in New Orleans, particularly following her son’s death. “He always told me, ‘Don’t stop, Ma,’” she says. “I have to keep going, for my daughters, my grandchildren, and my whole community. My recipe is my legacy.”
Vaucresson helps explain this commitment to preserving tradition. “In New Orleans, there’s a celebration for everything,” he says. “We don’t want to endure life, we want to enjoy it.”