The symptoms are the same the world over – pounding head, queasy tummy, fuzzy mouth, and that atrocious malaise, all of which can make you want to take revenge on all things sweet and lovable. Let’s get this straight from the start: there is no cure for a hangover. But many cultures have dreamed up ingenious remedies for nursing one.
A travel writer must be intrepid, so I swallowed my fears and conducted an unofficial poll of my Facebook community. Ranging from high school to adulthood, they were ghosts from times past, folks I met while traveling, and recent acquaintances from cosmopolitan New York, where I now live. They came from all corners of the globe, and contacting some of them required nerves of steel. Their responses were as informative about cultural attitudes to hangovers as the cures themselves.
Here’s the gist:
1. Hangover? Here? You gotta be kidding me (Qatar)
2. We don’t have those here. Too much alcohol interferes with the flavor of food, and we love food. (Italy)
3. Nobody really admits to going overboard with the drink. So how can you have a cure for something that doesn’t exist? But if you really must know, back in the ol’ days the village priest used to hand those out. (Ireland)
4. No problem. I’ll send over the list (Russia).
Here are the results, beginning with countries that tackle a hangover head-on, and tapering to those that extract penance.
You’re in luck if you happen to have a hangover in Russia. With the options available, your hangover might fly away like a swift wind over the icy steppe. The most popular remedy is of course the simplest: more vodka.
Necessity being the mother of invention, though, Russia offers a slew of other remedies: brine from pickled cucumbers, sauerkraut, or tomatoes; kefir (Russian yogurt); buttermilk; tomato, orange, or cranberry juice; mint tea, tea with lemon, marigold tea, strong black tea with sugar; coffee; Coca Cola; LOTS of water.
(Pause for breath.)
Then there are the homemade concoctions: a beaten, raw egg with vinegar, a dash of ketchup, a pinch of salt, stirred and downed in one; vodka with sour cream, honey and ice cubes, stirred and slowly sipped; or castor oil in hot milk, sipped slowly.
Failing that, head to the banya (sauna) to sweat out the alcoholic toxins. While you’re at it, you can punish yourself with a birch branch, for added detox pleasure.
Korea wins hands down when it comes to hangover cures. Haejangguk basically translates to “Soup to Chase a Hangover.” It’s eaten as a hearty breakfast by teetotalers and soju-indulgers alike. A typical portion weighs in at about 900 calories. Congealed ox blood forms the main ingredient, but variations made with marrow bones, salt cod, and other ingredients abound. A raw egg and bean sprouts top off everything.
Before you get all wrinkley-nosed on me, let me tell you about blood. Folks eat it all over the world. Blood pudding, or black sausage, is eaten in countries ranging from Ireland (where it’s called drisheen), to Mexico and Central America (where it’s called moronga or morcilla), to Germany (where it’s called blutwurst), to France (where it forms the filling for types of boudin). Blood pancakes are traditionally eaten in Galicia and parts of Scandinavia. Even well-known dishes, like France’s coq au vin, sometimes contain blood in the sauce.
So it seems that blood does a body good. Full of iron, it’s a kickass pick-me-up that fortifies a system recovering from self-imposed poisoning.
Mexico ascribes to the magical healing properties of soup with its famous (infamous?) menudo: tripe soup with lemon juice, chile, cilantro, and diced onion, served with warm corn tortillas and sometimes tapered off with a final beer. No one knows what banishes the hangover. Do the spices make you sweat out the alcohol? Or is it the fatty food coating the belly? Nevertheless, it’s a Mexican tradition.
Eating the stomach lining isn’t the only option, though. In Mexico, you can choose from chilaquiles con huevo (fried corn tortillas topped with mole, eggs and cheese), or a popular preventative street food: tacos de birria (tacos filled with tender, slow-braised meat like goat or beef). Some Mexicans tout the curative powers of seafood cocktails, available in varieties such as oysters and octopus. Served in a cold tomato broth with diced cucumber, tomato, cilantro and hot sauce, it’s one way to clear a foggy head.
In cities such as Mexico City, Tijuana and Guadalajara, folks chase hangovers with – you guessed it – more alcohol. Prophylactic beer cocktails take many forms, from Micheladas (beer with lime or lemon juice and hot sauce), to Chabelas (beer and Clamato), to Bull de Cerveza (dark beer with rum and gin or vodka).
Greeks also espouse soup-as-panacea with patsas. It’s tripe soup, but you could easily call it innards soup since it also contains the stomach, intestines, and feet (along with generous amounts of garlic and vinegar to mask the taste). Patsas is a traditional working-class staple that’s become popular among late-night clubbers as a way to calm the stomach and prevent hangovers.
Another preventative—surprise, surprise—is alcohol. Ending the night with a beer, some Greeks avow, provokes upchucking, a wretched yet speedy way to sober up.
Or you can make atonement with strong, bitter Greek coffee. Only the hard-core stuff will do—no sugar, no milk. Some villagers even attest to a traditional cure of eating raw coffee sprinkled with fresh-squeezed lemon.
To console upset stomachs, Chinese merrymakers espouse soup (noticing a theme here?) First and foremost: congee, a rice porridge served in different ways, including with duck eggs, various meats, or vegetables. Traditional Chinese medicine considers ginger to be good for nausea and upset stomachs, so ginger soup is an obvious antidote for a hangover. Key ingredients are ginger, chicken broth, soy sauce, egg whites, and sometimes hot pepper flakes. Or try soup made of egg cooked with milk and dried persimmon. (I feel comforted just writing this, and I’m not even hungover.)
To combat grogginess, the Chinese prescribe green tea (black tea is considered a Western predilection). Hong Kong Chinese also place their faith in ginseng tea. To make it, soak slices of American ginseng root in hot water and sip.
If you still feel like death warmed over, you can try vinegar-dipped thousand-year-old eggs (duck, chicken or quail eggs preserved in clay, ash, salt, quicklime, and rice hulls for up to several months).
Filipinos swear by the power of coconut water. They’ve been drinking it since time immemorial, even before Vita Coco jumped on the bandwagon. Folks who party hard in Manila combine their trusty coconut water with a hearty breakfast of pork tocino (sweetened pork) or tapa (marinated beef), fried eggs, and garlic fried rice. In the wee hours of the morning, clubbers pop into 24-hour breakfast nooks scattered all over Manila for these hangover fixes.
After getting blitzed at the pub, an English traditional cure is the Hair of the Dog (full disclosure: the complete name is Hair of the Dog that Bit You). Which is to say (here it comes again) more alcohol. An English disguise for it is whipping together vodka, tomato juice, and Tabasco.
A more healthy alternative (relatively speaking) is slathering your insides with the grease of a traditional English breakfast: bacon, eggs, sausages, beans, and tomatoes. If you’re still feeling puckish, try poached eggs with apple cider vinegar. Or get literary with the fictional cure invented by the valet Jeeves in Carry on Jeeves by PG Wodehouse: raw egg, Worcestershire sauce and red pepper. The mere shock of that unlikely flavor combination just might eradicate you, and all future hangovers.
Germans who’ve had a long festspiel scare away their hangovers by digging into a taste-bud puckering katerfrühstück (hangover breakfast). The main ingredient is rollmops: pickled herring rolled around onions, pickled cucumbers, and other sour-tasting food. Good luck feeling the inside of your mouth after that one.
When Japanese rabble-rousers have too many sakes, they douse their hangovers with Ukon no Chakira (which means “the power of turmeric”). Sold at Japanese pharmacies and convenience stores, its main ingredient is (who knew?) turmeric. Ukon also contains B vitamins, vitamin E and other secret ingredients. Advocates swear by it, claiming that the turmeric detoxes abused livers.
Another option is miso soup (heard this one before?). Miso (fermented soybean paste), contains tons of healthy bacteria and enzymes, so eating it for breakfast can’t hurt.
The glory days are over. According to my sources, the descendants of ancient Roman bacchants (who chased alcohol-induced sorrows with fried canaries) no longer have hope for a cure. Aside from fine espresso drunk from (numerous) dainty cups, modern Italians have little choice but to suffer the consequences or their actions. The only other hope is to douse their hangover with fountains of bottled mineral water (San Pellegrino, per favore).
Most journeys end where they began. This brings me to The General Theory of Hangover Cures. Worldwide, remedies for this blight of humanity boil down to four basic principles. Here they are:
1. Nurse Your Wounds: hearty comfort fare coats and soothes the stomach, distracting the brain from the pain wracking your body. Eggs are good. But tripe is better (the reasoning goes: if you’ve burned off your own stomach lining, replace it with the stomach lining from another animal).
2. Detoxify and Replenish: salty/sour liquids, juices and water restock lost electrolytes, detoxify the body, and treat dehydration. Pride of place goes to tomato juice.
3. Wake Up: stimulants shake the cobwebs from the brain. Coffee and tea do the trick here.
4. Denial: more alcohol numbs the pain (not advisable; this was Hemingway’s cure, and using it runs the risk of snowballing into a full-fledged drinking bout).
You can debate all you want about whether these cures hold any scientific value. At the least, they’re soothing while you’re curled in a fetal position waiting for your blues to pass. At the end of the day, it helps to remember what comedian Margaret Cho says, “I hate hangovers, and the hatred of hangovers wins by a landslide every time.” That is to say, the only real cure for a hangover is to avoid having one in the first place.
About the Author
Veronica Hackethal is a travel, food, and health writer based in New York City. Her writing has appeared in New York Times Travel, Chicago Tribune, NBCNews.com, Reuters, Best Travel Writing, Literary Traveler, Transitions Abroad, Matador, and others.