“South Korea — a.k.a., the Ireland of Asia — has earned its title. Blame it on history, where alcohol was (and still is) served as an obligatory way to honor ancestors and celebrate holidays. Or perhaps it became even more of a staple when Confucianism inspired the very much intact hierarchy system of today. If your elders drink, you do too. If a glass is empty, it’s refilled in an instant.
As part of the culture, drinking in public is legal, bars stay open all night and business dinners or hoesiks often include copious bottles of soju, maegju (beer), and makgeolli, followed by a riotous jaunt to a norebang where the liquid is poured until the wee hours of the morning. As a Korean friend told me once, “It’s a lot like the Psy music video Hangover.”
There’s nothing more regretful than waking with a dreaded, nausea-filled, throbbing-headache that a mixture of all three–soju, maegju, and makgeolli — will gift you the morning after. Still, Koreans seem unaffected by this plight we expat mortals suffer at the grips of “just one more” cup of somac (beer and soju mixed — guys they mean business here).
As it turns out, Koreans have had hundreds and hundreds of years to perfect the art of the hangover cure. Whether you believe one exists or not, here are five ways the ROK fights back against an alcohol fueled frenzy.
1. Haejjunguk (해장국) or Hangover Soup
Yes, there are specific miracle soups to cure your ailing, alcohol riddled body. These hearty stews can be found 24 hours a day, convenient enough to pick up on the way home from a long hoesik when work begins in a few hours. They’re loaded with meaty ingredients and veggies packed with vitamins thought to facilitate energy recovery and rehydration.
Dried Pollock Soup (Bukeoguk) is one of the most popular for a sukchwee (hangover). It’s light ingredients of pollack (dried Korean fish), anchovy, soft tofu, and egg mixed with a soothing broth is expected to release the body of any toxins and reduce headaches.
Bean Sprout Soup (kongnamulgak) is a sometimes spicy, salty vegetarian option loaded with bean sprouts and has the ability of dissolving the alcohol from the body.
For those intense mornings when death is beckoning you into its arms, there’s Galbitang, a rich, chili-infused combination of beef sliced right off the bone with noodles and Korean radish to satiate any weary soul.
2. Recovery drinks
Found in about any convenience store shelf, these liquid saviors in tiny bottles range from the healthy herbal and vitamin variety to mixtures of taurine and caffeine for those who would rather not sleep again.
Dawn 808 has small packaging with big promises. The smiling older gentleman on the front of the can seems proud to endorse a product that has won the “Great Grand Prix Award”-whatever that means. It attributes itself to being the “first patented hangover cure” and its flavor tastes like one should: medicinal and bitter. As for the name, the “808” indicates how many times the inventor drunk and tried to cure his hangover before he perfected the beverage. That’s dedication.
Bacchus claims to cure all of the morning after ailments, but after researching the ingredients it becomes clear the one thing this drink will do with success is keep you awake. The fizzy, sweet libation is one that will force you to pucker your mouth while you sip it and it’s more of an energy drink than a miracle elixir. However, it does include taurine, which has been proven to help break down acetaldehyde, a poisonous chemical in your system after over-imbibing which is considered more toxic than the alcohol itself. Fun.
Condition is made with natural ingredients, but boasts the addition of “heotgae” or oriental raisin tree, an assumed hangover killer. Although you’ll have to stomach the light, bubbly beverage before it can do its work, which is a challenge in itself considering it’s flavor has a slight resemblance to something you mixed your drinks with the night before.
Morning Care has the most potential of all the convenience store antidotes, along with the earthiest flavor. Ingredients include soybeans and guarana, but it’s the addition of milk thistle, which boosts liver function, that aids in the healing process. Tossing Morning Care down your gullet the night before you intentionally poison yourself can help your body better process the alcohol.
3. Chocolate milk
It’s chock-full of Vitamin D, is said to settle the stomach and raises blood sugar, which should stabilize your system and begin to help your body rehydrate.
4. Asian pear juice
Many studies of late have boasted the healing powers of the Asian pear. They’re said to make great “anju,” a Korean word for food that accompanies alcohol. Asian pear juice should be drunk before a night of debauchery and has anti-inflammatory agents to relieve headaches and strengthen concentration.
Get naked and sweat out those toxins in the heaven that is the Korean spa, where one can jump (or crawl depending on your condition) from hot baths, cold baths to the sauna, and back again in an attempt to wash away last night’s misery.