Ms. Linda Green knows how to roll. For the last 20 years, Green, who is widely known as “The Ya-Ka-Mein Lady,” has been rolling her truck out to the Sunday social aid and pleasure club parades to sell her famous noodle soup. She rolls in the street parades as the president and longtime member of The Lady & Men Rollers. Green is on a roll nationally, too, having been featured on Anthony Bourdain’s Travel Channel show No Reservations and winning the Food Channel’s popular competition Chopped. On the television program, she bested some pretty strong challengers from the New Orleans area, including Cody Monfra, the sous chef at the Palace Cafe, Richard Bond of the Mardi Gras School of Cooking in Algiers and Justin Kennedy from the Parkway Bakery.
“I know they worked for some big names, but I worked for a big name, too: Shirley Green, my mama,” Ms. Linda says with a laugh. “I didn’t go to no culinary school; she taught me, and I’ve been doing cooking for a long time. Oh Lord, it was stressful, but it was fun,” Green adds about appearing on the show. “That time line was a mess — a dirty mess.”
Green first began selling Ya-Ka-Mein from the back of her Blazer at social aid and pleasure club anniversary parades in order to raise money for clothing and accessories for the members of the Rollers Court. Back then, the women road in cars as part of the Men Rollers’ parade. She prepared the soup, which includes spaghetti noodles, beef, a hard-boiled egg and green onions that are dashed with some soy and hot sauce, at Kemp’s Bar on La Salle Street near Washington Avenue. She’d start there and then follow the parades to the next stops.
In her 20 years vending at the Sunday afternoon parades, Green has witnessed a lot of changes in the events and the food offerings. “They didn’t have that many vendors out there back then— maybe four or five, mostly selling smoked sausage and hot sausage,” says Green, who remains the only one offering Ya-Ka-Mein. “You have all sorts of food out there now.”
Green grew up in the heart of Central City on Third and Danneel Streets where, she remembers, “Everything was happening. They had a bar on every corner and the Young Men Olympian [parade] passed right by the door. I went out that door and went second lining with them.”
While she’s seen the crowds at the parades grow larger and younger and the music become more modern, some aspects, she observes, remain the same. “Everybody in the clubs are still gearin’ up, dressin’ up and going out there and having a good time.”
It makes sense that Ms. Linda’s Ya- Ka-Mein would be in demand during those blustery winter second lines. Yet, even on the sweltering late spring and early fall Sunday parade routes, people still seek out her hot soup.
“They still eat it, and that’s ironic,” she says with a laugh. “Even though it be hot that day, you have a lot of people that do a lot of drinking. And they know that drinking with Ya-Ka-Mein, that helps. It’s called ‘Old Sober,’ and it helps sober them up a little bit.”
Ms. Linda has also become a fixture at many area festivals and events. At her cooking demonstrations at Jazz Fest, she garnered long lines of people eager to taste Ya-Ka-Mein for the first time. Her popularity was noticed by festival producers, and she got her own food booth in 2005. There, the menu includes pork chop sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, and bread pudding. She can also be found at the community festivals put on by the Jazz and Heritage Festival & Foundation as well as the Freret Street Festival, Essence Festival — which she describes as initially being a hard sell — and others. A new favorite dish is Ms. Linda’s shrimp and crabmeat dressing.
For about a year, Green has been serving up food at the Ogden Museum’s musical presentation, Ogden After Hours. “I enjoy going there because it’s a relaxation place for me,” she remarks. “I often give away more than I sell; that’s the way I am,” adds Green, who continues to donate a portion of her profits to The Lady Rollers.
“My favorite thing is making sure the girls in the group are having a good time and that everybody that comes to see us is having a good time and that we give them a good show,” she says. At The Lady & Men Rollers parade on December 30, Green will be riding.
“I like when people come to me and ask, ‘Where you been at? We’ve been looking for you. I wanted some Ya-Ka-Mein!’”