Tidewater Virginia Yock

In Tidewater Virginia, the southeastern region of the state that includes Norfolk, Suffolk, and Portsmouth, yock-a-mein is known as a box of yock. The name refers to the Chinese take-out box in which it’s served. It’s also simply called yock, but there are endless ways to spell the name of the dish.

It’s likely yock arrived in Tidewater when Chinese immigrants moved to Virginia in the early twentieth century.

Some theories suggest that because of segregation many Chinese immigrants could only open restaurants in African American neighborhoods, introducing folks to yock-a-mein, which translates to “one order of noodles.” African American customers took the dish home, altered ingredients to taste, and developed their own special recipe from the traditional Chinese dish.

Tidewater yock bears only small similarities to ya-ka-mein traditions in New Orleans. Virginia uses lo-mein noodles, still made in factories in Tidewater, versus the spaghetti noodles used in the New Orleans version of the dish. A choice of meat: chicken, pork, shrimp, beef, or sometimes, sausage tops the noodles followed by a dice of raw white onions.

Depending on who’s making the yock, the ratio of soy sauce to ketchup varies. A mixture of ketchup and soy sauce forms its own broth, though some prefer chicken broth. A hard-boiled egg is optional, as is a pour of vinegar. Most folks finish it off by sprinkling cayenne pepper over the top.

When you want yock in Tidewater, you’ll find it in Chinese take-out restaurants, like Sing Wong in Portsmouth, owned by Patsy and Haymond Wong. Haymond’s grandfather, the restaurant’s namesake, opened it in 1965.

Or you can wait for a yock fundraiser – popular in black churches in Tidewater – like the one at Tabernacle Christian Church in Suffolk.  There, Bernice “Florida” Cofield cooks yock she’s made for more than thirty years, using a recipe she got from Perry Jane Davis Lambert, former owner of The Horseshoe Café in Suffolk.

Once a dish limited to certain communities in Tidewater, these stories paint a history of how a box of yock moved beyond the boundaries of neighborhood, race, and culture.

~ Sara Wood

Interviews

Norfolk Noodle Company

The Norfolk Noodle Factory supplied yock noodles to Chinese restaurants across southeastern Virginia for more than forty years.

Sing Wong Restaurant

Patsy Wong and her husband, Haymond, serve yock at their business, Sing Wong, a Chinese take-out restaurant in Portsmouth, Virginia.

Tabernacle Christian Church

Bernice Cofield and Mary Whitley prepare yock for fundraisers at their church, Tabernacle Christian Church, in Suffolk, Virginia.

The Horseshoe Cafe

John Davis is the son of Perry Jane Davis Lambert, former owner of The Horseshoe Café in Suffolk, Virginia.