by Josh Scherer
There are certain questions in life for which we have no scientific answers.
Why does the moon exist?
Where did all those so-called "dinosaurs" go?
How has Little Caesar's been able to survive as a national chain by slinging $5 Large pizzas almost exclusively to stoners?
When we wake up after a night of hard drinking -- head pounding, stomach feeling like it just went through that scene in Alien where Sigourney Weaver self-caesareans one of those giant, pissed off lobsters -- why do we insist on funneling as much spicy, fatty, life-destroying-but oh-so-good food into our stomachs?
It's ridiculous; it's indulgent; it's masochistic, and I love it.
If it weren't for society's judgment and the eventual acid reflux disease, I would eat like I had a hangover everyday. Sometimes I wear sunglasses into Denny's so the server assumes I had a rough night drinking and doesn't mean mug me when I order a bowl of chili with six poached eggs for breakfast.
But the question remains: Why? Why are we further punishing our bodies? Your body is the victim in this situation, it was your mind's stupid idea to drink in the first place (assuming we're all Cartesian dualists here).
Some argue that the spicy food helps them "sweat out the toxins," and this makes complete sense if you're the kind of person who still believes in medieval blood letting as a form of medical treatment. The logic breaks down when you realize that sweating equals dehydration and dehydration equals a more massive hangover, but, hey, who am I to tell you how to live your life?
Hell, I do it. My first reaction for a hangover is to go down to Santouka Ramen and drink a half gallon of spicy miso tonkatsu broth and let my body figure out how to right all the wrongs I've thrown at it.
The world does it, too. The most common hangover cure cross-culturally still seems to be ingesting as much chili-spiked animal fat as humanly possible. Here are 15 of the spiciest, most hangover-smashing foods from around the world. Science be damned.
This Korean pork bone, beef broth, and clotted ox blood fortified stew literally translates to "Hangover Soup." With three animals represented, this is pretty much the Asian subcontinent's answer to the Turducken. Though the recipes vary regionally, most call for a healthy dose of red chilies and gochujang to go along with that sweet, sweet, fatty smorgasbord.
My personal favorite and a cure which I've been pleasantly forced to employ multiple times in my life, nothing sets those wrong decisions right like a steaming bowl of tonkotsu ramen studded with shichimi togarashi -- a Japanese spice mixture driven by dried and ground red chilies.
The intensely herbacious and beefy Vietnamese noodle soup uses a less fatty broth than tonkotsu ramen by not allowing the marrow and collagen to break down during the stock-making process. It also packs a spicier punch by serving giant slices of fresh jalapeno alongside which are meant to be dropped in the broth as a flavor enhancer. PRO TIP: eat two slices of jalapeno before starting on the soup, go hard or go home.
There's nothing like tamarind, fish sauce, and nuclear bird's eye chili soup in the morning. The intensity of this funky-flavored (sorry about the Guy Fieri impression) Filipino pork stew will make you regret that end-of-the-night Jaeger bomb seem like slightly less of a bad idea.
I know what you're thinking, "Man, if only we knew what Akon used to cure his hangovers, then maybe we would have shot at solving this global hangover crisis." Welcome to Yassa, Senegals chicken stew that starts with a whole habanero pepper and ends with intense sweating and remorse -- delicious, delicious remorse. It's commonly known that Akon is Senegalese, right?
Nothing in the world is manlier (and I mean that in the most gender-inclusive way possible) than chasing your tequila shots with pieces of slow-cooked cow stomach. Menudo is a common Mexican hangover cure, as some believe the fattiness of the broth can actually line and sooth an ailing stomach. All I know is, guajillo chilies and cow offal go together like pumpkin spice and lattes: awesomely.
7) Birria de Chivo
Though menudo is the hangover cure of choice in Mexico, the state of Jalisco, birthplace of tequila and fun times, opts for this guajillo chile and goat stew. Bold prediction: hipsters are going to co-opt and appropriate goat meat really soon, so start preempting those hangovers and buy up as many goat shanks as you can right now.
8) Sopa Levanta Muertos
I may have gotten a C- in Spanish class, but I understand enough to know that when I see "muertos" in the name of a dish, I should put as much of it into my body as I can. Literally translating to "soup that raises the dead," this Peruvian hangover-smasher starts with a seafood stock spiked with both fresh habanero and Peru's deliciously ubiquitous aji amarillo.
9) Caldo de Peixe
The Portuguese piri piri pepper is what gives this Southern African fish stew its signature kick-in-the-face hotness. Commonly known to cure hangovers because of its proteinous and brothy stature, caldo de peixe is the favorite post-binge-drinking soup in Angola, Mozambique, and Zambia. If you havent heard of caldo de peixe before, you probably know it by its indigenous name: Mozumgue.
10) Palak Masoor Dal
I employed the help of a close Indian friend on this one. I asked him if phaal -- India's hottest curry -- was commonly used as a hangover cure. He calmly said, "Hell no, that stuff's lethal, you're better off using pure grain alcohol to cure your phaal hangover." Stupid me, right? Apparently palak masoor dal, a protein-rich red lentil and spinach curry, is a much more common, and reasonable, option.
11) Black Pudding
Though not spicy in a traditional sense, this Scotch-Irish pig blood dish needs to included because of its sheer gnarliness (and the UK doesn't have a single spicy dish that doesn't end in "masala"). Thought to be a hangover cure because of its high fat and nutrient density, this bloody loaf is accented by black peppercorns and allspice, which, for the British palate, must be excruciatingly spicy.
Going with the "the gnarlier the food you eat, the less gnarly your hangover will be" approach, Turkey's most common cure is this grilled lamb intestine dish spiced with red pepper and curry and served on bread with a spicy walnut sauce. It's also known one of the most sought after street foods in Turkey, making it the perfect post-bar drunchie meal.
13) Pad Kee Mao
Colloquially known as "drunken noodles," this bird's eye chili fueled Thai dish empathizes with your inebriated state from the previous night. Drunken noodles get it man. Drunken noodles totally agree that drinking 14 Chang beers was a good idea. Drunken noodles don't judge, theyre just here to help.
Common in Israel but drawing its influence from North African and Berber flavors, this dish combines two key hangover curing ingredients: eggs and mouth-meltingly-hot harissa. Eggs are commonly thought to cure hangovers because of their protein and fat density, and if you're going to get wet, you might as well go swimming... in a heavily spiced tomato sauce.
The list couldn't go on any further without including beefy, greasy, spicy American chili. Whether it's homemade, from a lukewarm soup pot in Denny's, or straight out of the Hormel can, chili is sure to get those toxin-reducing, pseudo-scientifically-supported hangover sweats going. PRO TIP: for added calories (aka nutrients) try adding a scoop of chili on your already prepared meals, e.g. hamburgers, pizza, or trout almandine.
Josh Scherer is a 5th year, zero-time All-American at UCLA and author of the blog Culinary Bro-Down. He thinks cheesy gordita crunches make the best mid-day snack, and his life's greatest achievement is eating at three Guy Fieri restaurants in one night. Loves daytime television.
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