This yaka mein recipe is sponsored by Pacific Foods. All opinions expressed are my own. Thank you for supporting the companies that keep this blog going.
Yaka mein is a mishmash of Chinese and Cajun cuisines resulting in an easy, comforting, and rich beef noodle soup that will warm your soul. Chewy noodles are served in a savory and slightly sweet Asian-style beef broth. It’s topped with juicy steak, hot sauce, and a boiled egg. Delicious served hot or cold, it’s a perfect dish to cook on a busy weekday yet fancy enough to serve for Sunday dinner.
The first time I heard about yaka mein was from a reader. It is a New Orleans beef noodle soup that is supposed to have originated in China and was introduced to Louisiana in the early 1800’s by Chinese laborers.
The dish didn’t sound familiar at all, but we were immediately hooked on the concept and tested out the recipe.To our biggest surprise, the beef noodle soup turned out so rich and full of flavor by simply adding cajun seasoning to the beef broth. Today I can’t wait to show you how to cook this simple yet scrumptious dish in your own kitchen.
Why this recipe
This recipe uses minimal ingredients and time to create the boldest flavor!
- Minimal cooking time. Traditional yaka mein usually consists of noodles in a beef broth seasoned with cajun seasoning, topped with braised beef brisket. When we developed the recipe, we decided to pan fry a small steak instead of braising it, which saves hours of work while maintaining a high quality.
- Super flavorful broth. We marinate the beef with a simple sauce and then used it in the noodle broth along with the beef juice. The noodle broth turned out SO RICH.
- Delicious steak. We marinate the steak to make it more flavorful and then beautifully char it.
- Less prep. Because we combined the marinade with the broth, you will need to do very little chopping and prepping.
- Marinate the beef in a 3-ingredient marinade.
- Sear the steak. Cook some spaghetti in a separate pot at the same time.
- Remove the steak once it’s done.
- Cook the garlic and cajun seasoning in the same pan.
- Pour the marinade back into the pan.
- Add the beef broth and bring to a boil.
Yes, you do need to be a bit organized to marinate the beef in advance (minimum of 1 hour). But once it’s done, you’ll need literally 5 minutes to prep and 10 minutes to cook everything.
Spaghetti in noodle soup?
When we saw that spaghetti was a standard ingredient in Yaka Mein, our first thought was “whaaaat?”
But after a few rounds of testing, we were surprised to find that spaghetti worked so much better than other Chinese / Asian noodles! The thinner and softer Chinese noodles absorbed the flavor of the broth and made the dish taste one-note. The thicker and firmer spaghetti made the noodle bowl more dynamic.
Cut of beef
We chose round steak because it’s a cheap cut and it works great. The thin steak absorbs the marinade faster, and the cut cooks faster, too. I sear it until both sides are browned and the inside is just cooked through. Feel free to cook for a shorter time if you like your steak medium rare!
Low-sodium beef broth
I wasn’t a big fan of low-sodium broth until I tried Pacific Foods’ version. Their Organic Low Sodium Beef Broth is so rich and flavorful that it tastes even better than the regular beef broth from other brands.
If you look at the nutrition label, you’ll find that 1 cup of regular beef broth usually contains 800mg sodium or more. If you’re making a soup using 2 cups of broth, the broth itself would contain a whole day’s worth of the daily recommended sodium intake. By comparison, the Pacific Foods Organic Low Sodium Broth only contains 125mg of sodium per serving, which is 4 times less than the regular beef broth.
What pan to use
We’ve tried both using a nonstick pan and a carbon steel pan. Both worked well.
If you prefer easy clean-up, go ahead with the nonstick pan. Your steak will be browned just as well, due to the marinade.
On the other hand, a carbon steel pan (or cast iron pan) does produce a better charred steak while keeping the interior medium rare. Due to the sugar in the marinade, you might get some burned bits from the steak. You can use a mesh strainer to skim out the bits before serving, if you prefer a clear broth.
Put an egg on top
Yaka mein usually comes with half a hard boiled egg on top by default. I used soft-boiled eggs due to personal preference. If you want the cooking to be faster, you can cook fried eggs in the same pan you cooked the noodles in. It will take like 2 extra minutes to cook the eggs.
If you prefer boiled eggs, you can bring a small pot of water to a boil. Lower the eggs carefully into it using a ladle. Simmer for 5 to 6 minutes for soft boiled eggs, 7 minutes for medium eggs, and 10 minutes for hard boiled eggs.
Other topping options
I included the most comforting and simple yaka mein base recipe below. But feel free to add other toppings if you prefer. If you wish to add veggies, you can add them directly to the broth and cook it a bit longer until the veggies are done. Some great options include: spinach, baby bok choy, napa cabbage, broccoli, and bean sprouts.
Yaka Mein (Beef Noodle Soup)
- 12 oz (340 g) top round steak
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons cajun seasoning
- 2 cloves garlic , minced
- 1 tablespoon cajun seasoning
- 4 cups Pacific Foods Organic Low Sodium Beef Broth
- 8 oz (225 g) spaghetti (*Footnote 1)
- 2 eggs , boiled to the degree you prefer
- 2 green onions , chopped
- Chili garlic sauce , to taste (or your favorite hot sauce)
- Soy sauce (or to taste) (Optional)
- Combine all the marinade ingredients in a big plate or tray that is large enough to hold the steak. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the steak to the marinade and marinate for 1 to 2 hours. Flip the meat occasionally to make sure it is evenly marinated.
- Cook the spaghetti according to the instructions on the package. Drain and set aside.
- Heat the oil in a large cast iron or nonstick pan over high heat until hot. Add the marinated steak and save the marinade liquid for later. Let it cook without moving until the bottom is charred, 2 minutes or so. Flip to brown the other side, another 2 minutes. The steak is done if you prefer a medium-rare texture. For a well-done steak, turn to medium-low heat and cook for another 2 minutes or so. Transfer the steak to a plate and let sit for at least 10 minutes before cutting.
- Add the garlic and cajun seasoning to the hot pan and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Add the leftover marinade and lightly scrape the bottom of the pan to release any brown bits.
- Add the beef broth and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat. (*Footnote 2)
- Once the meat is fully rested, slice it into strips.
- To assemble a bowl of yaka mein, add half of the spaghetti to a big bowl. Pour 2 cups of beef broth over the noodles. Top with the sliced steak, boiled egg, and green onions.
- Serve with hot sauce and soy sauce on the side, if using.
- Depending on how you prefer to assemble your bowl, you might have leftover spaghetti. I prefer my noodle bowl very soupy, so I usually only use 6 oz (170 g) of spaghetti. You can make a more filling meal by using the full 8 oz (225 g) of spaghetti.
- To get a smooth soup, you can strain your broth to remove the chopped garlic or any chunks of caramelization. I prefer not to strain my soup for an easier cooking process.
If you give this recipe a try, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it (once you’ve tried it), and take a picture and tag it @omnivorescookbook on Instagram! I’d love to see what you come up with.
Questions and Reviews
During these Covid restrictive times I have a beef brisket in my freezer but no steak. How would you suggest I prepare the brisket for this recipe?
Hi Beverly, I think there are two approaches with brisket:
(1) Use the traditional approach of braising – chop the brisket into bite-size pieces, brown them with some oil, then braise it using the marinade ingredients (reduce soy sauce to 2 tablespoons) plus water to just cover the brisket. Braise until the brisket turns tender, which will take 1.5 to 2 hours. Then you can use the brisket and some braising liquid for the topping of the noodle soup.
(2) Use baking soda to tenderize the brisket and pan sear it (a method often used in Chinese restaurant) – Slice the brisket against the grain, about 1/4″ thick or no more than 1/2″ thick. Add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda to the marinade, marinate the beef for 30 minutes to 1 hour (you will need less time because of the thin slices). Then sear the slices pieces using a hot pan, brown both sides and remove them once they are just cooked, 1 to 2 minutes per side.
Any U.S. Southerner’s first question will be what kind/brand of Cajun seasoning did you use?
Commercially prepared store-bought products usually contain a high amount of salt & can vary wildly in flavor, especially the amount of cayenne pepper making some almost inedible. Personally I make my own salt-free Cajun blend, with cayenne to suit my family’s tastes.
Hi Trish, I used the regular commercial cajun seasoning (the salty type, but not too spicy) in the recipe, but I think the homemade blend sounds so much better!
I have regular, not low sodium, beef broth in the pantry. Because of the level of salt in it whenI make this I will use Beazell’s Cajun Seasoning. It is very, very low in salt and only mildly hot. I usually add cayenne to up the heat a bit. Beazell’s is not as well known outside of Louisiana, but is excellent.
Sounds like a great plan 🙂 Let me know how the dish comes out!
Hi Maggie, I have been making at least two of your recipes each week because I love Chinese food. I love the flavour of the Haka Me in its really intense. Last night I made prawn and snow peas and pineapple chicken for my daughter’s birthday dinner and every one love it.
Yat Gaw Mein was a standard Chinese restaurant soup. I suppose it still is, I haven’t been to NY in a long time. Growing up in NYC’s Chinatown it was my favorite soup to order. A few years ago I heard about Yaka Mein and was so surprised to know it was a mash up of Chinese & Cajun flavors. I am going to try this recipe. Thanks for posting.
We indians dont eat meat is it oaky if i replace beef with chicken
It will produce a very different result (considering you’ll be using chicken broth instead of beef broth) but the result should be delicious as well!
This was great! Big hit for dinner last night and will make again soon!
This was supper yummy tried it for the first time I didn’t have cajun seasoning but I just substituted for what I had and it still turned out amazing!
One major correction. In south louisiana, this is a 100% African American dish based on an asian soup. Cajuns have NOTHING to do with this at all. In Louisiana if you want this dish, 9 times out of 10 you’ve got to find an African American person, food truck, or restaurant. Up until very recently, you couldn’t even find this in asian spots. I’m curious to know where you got this “cajun” information from.
Wow! Yum. The aftertaste of the spice is amazing. I wasn’t sure I’d love this one as it was all new to me. But it was beautiful. My adventurous 11 year old daughter loved it too!
So happy to hear both you and your daughter enjoyed it and thanks for leaving a positive review! 🙂
I have to put in my 2 cents on a previous comment. But, first, I want to say I can’t wait to try this recipe; it has a few tweaks from my grandmother’s recipe.
I study New Orleans history from the 1800s to the closed of Storyville. In one of my studies, I did come across yaka mein origin in New Orleans. In the past, there was an area called Chinatown. A restaurant there decided to change a traditional Asian soup to fit the people of New Orleans palette, which became yaka mein.
I do know the African American community loves this soup. I can’t speak for other communities, but I’m sure some are familiar with this dish too. Also, I have made this dish with chicken, shrimp, chicken with beef, and chicken with shrimp. I always use beef broth, but I substituted some of the broth with the meat of choice broth. I create shrimp broth by boiling the shrimp heads or shell/tails with cajun seasoning.
I just made this again as a noodle broth only, using thick egg noodles (flat) and a bit less spice. Beautiful!
I wonder if you could possibly pack any more pop-up ads onto your page? There seemed to be a spot the size of half a postage stamp at the bottom left that was unencumbered by advertising.