So much of the human experience is universal: love, loss, joy … and hangovers.
Mankind all over the globe has grappled with the morning-after effects of booze since our ancestors first gobbled up that overripe fruit that made them feel so good — and then woke up feeling like prehistoric garbage.
These days, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the number of high-tech products that claim to cure or prevent the dreaded hangover. There are patches, pills and little bottles of elixirs to swig. Plus unpronounceable ingredients and marketing that uses the lingua franca of both start-up culture and the commercial “wellness” cult: “Win the morning!”
With so much slickly packaged snake oil around, perhaps this holiday season it’s better to stick to the time-tested remedies that people have been serving up for centuries, all around the world, to comfort their pounding heads and cotton-swaddled tongues. And perhaps we’ll learn a little lesson that’s timely to the beginning of a new year: You know, we really are all in this together.
Scots have long claimed that their rust-hued soda, introduced in 1909, has magical hangover-curing powers. Dubbed “Scotland’s other national drink” (second only to the whiskey that might have caused said sad state), it’s been the subject of controversy. Originally called “Iron Brew,” it re-branded in the 1940s, and in 2018 it reformulated with a less-sweet formula to skirt a sugar tax, a move that drew outcry from fans of the original.
Despite the color, which might have your taste buds expecting a citrus quaff akin to a Sunkist, the soda actually delivers a flavor that’s closer to … bubble gum? It’s sweet, and there is something vaguely medicinal about it that could convince me that it’s working. Maybe it’s the quinine, a common ingredient in tonic water that is listed as a flavoring in Irn-Bru. (In Scotland but not in the U.S. version there’s also ammonium ferric citrate, a food additive that’s a source of iron.) With sugar and caffeine for energy and stomach-settling bubbles, it does seem like it could be a soothing tonic.
Erik Neff, a government contractor from Alexandria, says he first encountered the orangy concoction when attending the University of St. Andrews in Fife. Determined to experience the culture of his temporary home, he tried the drink that so many of his classmates propounded. “They are very proud of their food and their sports and their culture, and they are happy to share,” he said. His Irn-Bru verdict? “I love it, actually.”
Now stateside, he sometimes orders it online by the 30-pack. With this enthusiasm for his adopted country, he claims it’s a solution for any situation where he might need a jolt, whether it’s fighting jet-lag, recovering from illness — or a rough night. “There’s a pickup quality to it,” he says.
There’s actual science behind the reputed power of eggs at taming the aftereffects of a night of boozing. The humble orbs contain the amino acid cysteine, which helps break down acetaldehyde, which is thought to be one of the causes of hangovers. And migas, the renowned Tex-Mex hangover slayer, combines them with salty tortilla chips — in some preparations, they’re all tossed together, often with onions and peppers. At Republic Cantina in the District, the eggs-and-veg scramble is topped by crushed chips, pico de gallo, tangy cotija cheese and avocado slices.
Whether it’s the chemical reactions happening or just the comforting hug of a breakfast of carbs, eggs and heat (and maybe even a michelada, if you really need some extra help), it somehow seems to do the trick. Republic co-owner Sam Lipnick has seen it work but thinks there’s also an intangible component that goes into the remedy that’s more than the sum of its parts. “It makes you spiritually feel better,” he swears.
After a night of overindulgence, Germans turn to katerfruhstuck (translation: “hangover breakfast”) to get themselves right. That term encompasses a category of dishes, and one of the most popular (i.e., thought to be effective) is rollmops, filets of pickled herring wrapped around pickled fillings.
There’s something counterintuitive about the proposition that a queasy hangover would be eased by a hunk of dense, oily fish encasing mouth-puckering pickled onions and cornichons, but who am I to argue with tradition? So I gave it a try, and the snack did seem strangely curative. Bracing, even.
Unlike many other purported fixes that involve heavy starches, it doesn’t weigh you down. And hey, at least you’re distracted from that headache, if only by a strange thought: You know, a martini would go great with this.
Yakamein (a.k.a. Old Sober)
When it comes to anything having to do with a party, it’s a good idea to look to the professionals. In New Orleans, good times (and cocktails, and so recovering from cocktails) are a lifestyle. The city that boasts signature dishes famed the world over also gives us yakamein, a soup of mysterious origins.
Some say that the soup, so known for its booze-taming effects that it’s also called “Old Sober,” was introduced by Chinese immigrants who came to the city to build railroads in the mid-1800s. Whatever its origins, the dish has taken on a host of influences: Its main ingredients are beef and beef broth doused with Cajun spices, soy sauce, ketchup and hot sauce, all enriched with plain old spaghetti noodles.
It has since been adopted by revelers looking for sustenance. Attendees at alcohol-soused festivals and parades know to look for Linda Green, the self-styled “Ya-Ka-Mein Lady” for a bowlful. Her recipe is relatively easy to make at home, but just make sure you plan ahead, because the last thing you want to read in a recipe when your head is pounding is “simmer for 3 to 4 hours.”
Chicken soup might be for the soul, but for your raging hangover, there’s Korea’s “hangover soup.” Danny Lee, chef at D.C.’s Mandu, explains that haejangguk is generally considered to be not just a dish itself but a slew of soups that will help set you straight after a long night out. At his downtown restaurant, one such option is the yookgejang, a complex concoction of beef brisket, threads of egg, scallion and bean sprouts, all infused with fiery hot beef broth.
The key to a good hangover soup is the spicy broth, he says, which is believed “to help you sweat out the toxins.” Even more traditional haejangguk might include blood sausage, he says, which is thought to provide extra nutrients to cure a hangover and to settle a roiling stomach. Which all sounds like a lot of magical thinking by people with early meetings to make. Lee is a believer, though: “I can attest to it,” he says.
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