Today we release our newest oral history project, Tidewater Virginia Yock.
Earlier this year, we published oral histories documenting ya-ka-mein traditions in New Orleans. In the process of collecting the Virginia interviews, I learned the dish has only a few small similarities between the two regions, one being that the spelling will always depend on who you ask.
Yock-a-mein in Virginia is mostly referred to simply as yock, or a box of yock. When asking people in Tidewater (the southeastern part of Virginia that includes Norfolk, Suffolk, and Portsmouth) if they knew about ya-ka-mein in New Orleans, almost everyone said no.
In Tidewater, the story of yock traces how a traditional Chinese dish traveled into African American communities in the early twentieth century. The recipe moved from Chinese restaurants to the home kitchen, where the recipe was altered for taste.
The ratio of soy sauce to ketchup, vinegar to cayenne pepper, the thickness of the lo-mein noodles, depends on the person.
Here are the stories of Patsy Wong and her husband, Haymond, owners of Sing Wong Restaurant in Portsmouth. The restaurant is named for Haymond’s grandfather, who opened the restaurant in 1965 after immigrating from China.
You’ll learn about Perry Jane Davis Lambert, former owner of The Horseshoe Cafe in Suffolk. Her son, John Davis, tells the story of her how yock recipe originated with the first owner of the Horseshoe, Tsujiro Miyazaki, a Japanese man who was sent to an internment camp in Arkansas following Pearl Harbor and never heard from again.
Today this yock recipe lives on through the yock fundraisers at Tabernacle Christian Church in Suffolk, where Bernice “Florida” Cofield prepares it the same way she learned from Perry Jane at the Horseshoe.
Listen to Jenny Wong share stories of her family’s former noodle business, Norfolk Noodle Company, that supplied yock noodles to restaurants and customers across the Southeast.
Once a dish limited to certain communities in Tidewater, these stories paint a history of how a box of yock extends beyond the boundaries of neighborhood, race, and culture.
These are the stories of a box of yock.