One of the oldest, most common miseries known to man goes by a variety of names. What the medical community recognizes as “veisalgi” (from the Greek root algos, for “pain and grief”), Germans refer to as “katzenjammer” (“wailing cats”); when Scottish poet Robert Burns described feeling “ramfeezled and forswunk” in the late 18th century, he was invoking the same malady that modern-day Danes call “tØmmermænd”(“hammering carpenters”).
Americans, of course, just call it a hangover.
Virtually every consenting adult has suffered at least a touch of this distress at one time or another. And while the scientific explanations for the condition vary, the symptoms are almost universal: headache, upset stomach, and thirstiness all signal the wrath of grapes, hops, or spirits. In response, almost every culture has generated homegrown cures—which can be loosely grouped into four categories.
1. The Firefighters. These remedies employ heat—both internal and external—to sweat out toxins and distract from hangover discomfort. The Russian banya (sauna), kept at a sweltering, steamy 194 F, is a firefighter; but so is a spicy Romanian tripe soup that draws attention to a burning tongue rather than a pounding head.
2. The Sourpusses. Many cultures believe in kick-starting a frizzled battery with some kind of pickle. Besides the bracing shock of vinegary flavor, the saltiness of snacks like pickled herring (in northern Europe) and umeboshi (in Japan) are meant to restore electrolytes and encourage the drinking of more water. (Poles and Russians have even been known to drink brining liquid straight. If this sounds questionable, just ask the Philadelphia Eagles about their winning “pickle juice game” in 2000; players drank pickle brine before kickoff and said it helped them withstand 109 F heat.)
3. The Buffers. Lining the belly with a heavy meal, as a sort of sandbag against crashing waves of indigestion, is a morning-after ritual in many countries. As well as calming the stomach, chewing through a meaty spread like a full English breakfast might trigger a restorative nap.
4. The Hair(s) of the Dog. Though most researchers claim that turning back to what bit you actually stalls recovery, there’s a wealth of mixological evidence to the contrary—from the classic brunch companion, a spicy Bloody Mary, to the more bracing Corpse Reviver.
What all of these remedies share is a certain home-brewed sense of comfort—as well as hard-won street cred. And such emotional benefits may have quite a bit to do with the cures’ reported effectiveness. In 2005, the British Medical Journal published a study on eight hangover treatments, including fructose and a beta-blocker; none alleviated symptoms. Could it be that our hungover selves are tricked by a placebo effect?
When we’re at the mercy of the wailing cats, do we even care?
What It Is: While the exact elements vary, a “full English” is always enormous—usually a plate groaning with bacon, sausage, fried or poached eggs, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, and baked beans (a post-World War II addition), and christened with a few dashes of vinegary HP Sauce. Ireland and Scotland have similar morning-after fry-ups, which can include black and white puddings.
Why It (Supposedly) Works: “Full English” fans believe the meal’s whopping protein and fat content provide a steadying ballast—and to an extent, digestion can soften a hangover’s blow by sidetracking the body from other inner turmoil. Plus, the eggs contribute an amino acid, N-acetylcysteine, that helps eliminate toxins.
Where to Experience It: London, but forego the greasy spoons and settle into the Wolseley’s airy, genteel dining room. Breakfast here comes with blood pudding—and you’ll be offered the Financial Times, behind which you can hide your bloodshot eyes.
What It Is: Stomaching a cow’s stomach may seem antithetical the day after—but in Romania, this milky-looking soup, brimming with strips of long-simmered tripe, vinegar, garlic, hot pepper, and dollops of sour cream, is the fog-cutter of choice.
Why It (Supposedly) Works: The tripe’s high protein and the condiments’ heat let your stomach wrestle with something other than alcohol. Other spicy tripe soups are used as folk remedies across the globe, from Mexico (menudo) to Turkey (iskembe orbasi) to Korea (hae jang gook).
Where to Experience It: Locanta Jaristea, one of Bucharest’s best traditional Romanian restaurants, serves ciorba de burta at lunch (in a dining room whose solicitous formality borders on kitsch). Alternatively, if you’ve been imbibing at the city’s oldest beer hall, Caru’ ce Bere, it’s just as easy to stagger across the street to Stavropoleos Church and offer a prayer to St. Vivian, the patron saint of the hungover.
Prairie Oyster Cocktail
What It Is: Not to be confused with the “cowboy caviar” of the same name, the Prairie Oyster is what Sally Bowles called breakfast in Cabaret: a whole, raw egg yolk tipped into a rocks glass, then topped with a few dashes of Worcestershire, Tabasco, salt, and pepper. (Some variants use vinegar and brandy in the mix.) The aim is to toss it all back without breaking the yolk.
Why It (Supposedly) Works: Purportedly, the concoction fights one toxin (alcohol) by introducing another (fiery spices). The nutrients in the egg may also help you over the metabolic hump. Some who’ve tried a morning-after Prairie Oyster, though, swear that it’s only truly effective as an emetic.
Where to Experience It: At home, at least the first time, for obvious reasons.
What It Is: While there are several variations on this flamboyantly named drink, the landmark recipes trace back to London’s Savoy hotel bar. The Savoy Cocktail Book, compiled by barman Harry Craddock and published in 1930, touted two versions: one combining two parts brandy with one part each of Calvados and sweet vermouth; the second with equal parts gin, Cointreau, Lillet blanc, and lemon juice, with a dash of absinthe. Each is shaken over ice and strained into a cocktail glass.
Why It (Supposedly) Works: These cocktails are pure, high-octane hair of the dog; each has botanicals that theoretically take the edge off. But remember Craddock’s warning: “Four of these taken in swift succession will unrevive the corpse again.”
Where to Experience It: After a multimillion-dollar renovation, you can now raise a glass at the source once again.
What It Is: If an epic hangover is luring you toward a full-bore detox, this ancient ayurvedic practice is meant to thoroughly purify and heal the body and mind. The treatment involves a days-long series of “cleanses,” including a special vegetarian diet, massage, sweat therapy, and purges.
Why It (Supposedly) Works: e_SNbSAfter days of sluicing ama (toxins) from what feels like every cell in your body, you’ll emerge from pancha karma with an allegedly stronger immune system. While the programs in India can be hard-core, lasting more than a week and sometimes including bloodletting, many ayurvedic centers in the U.S. offer easier, less torturous-sounding versions.
Where to Experience It: At The Raj, a posh ayurveda retreat in the Iowa countryside, clients get a personalized regimen of massage and toxin-elimination. The spa’s approach was developed with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, known for popularizing transcendental meditation.
What It Is: In Russia, visiting banyas, public sauna-like bathhouses, is a purifying tradition that dates to the 17th century. Habitués alternate stints in the parilka—sauna rooms, where stone-filled stoves heat the air to 194 F—with bucketfuls of cold water or plunges into an icy pool (and breaks for tea and gossip). Bathers also sometimes thwack themselves with veniki, bundles of soaked birch twigs—not as penance, but to rev up their circulation.
Why It (Supposedly) Works: Sweating in the intense heat is meant to purge the body of toxins (some believers even up the ante by wearing felt hats inside the parilka). Tannins in the birch leaves are also said to have astringent properties.
Where to Experience It: Sanduny is Moscow’s oldest and grandest banya, set in an 1896 building festooned with carved nymphs and chandeliers.
What It Is: An essential component of the old-school German katerfruehstueck (literally, a tomcat’s breakfast), rollmops are fillets of pickled herring wrapped around slivers of pickle and onion. Similar mouth-puckering dishes are popular across northern Europe, especially Scandinavia—particularly after a night of carousing.
Why It (Supposedly) Works: The brine in the snack replenishes electrolytes—and while its saltiness encourages you to drink more water, its sugar content also alleviates hypoglycemia (the cause of morning-after wobblies).
Where to Experience It: In Munich, home of Oktoberfest, head to the Viktualienmarkt, a vast sprawl of food stalls and shops. The fishmongers, like Fisch-Witte, are clustered together; if you find that the herring isn’t doing the trick, wander over to the market’s biergarten for some hair of the dog.
What It Is: While still green, apricot-like Japanese ume fruit are harvested and cured with sea salt for several months. The result: pickled, wrinkly, eye-wateringly-sour and salty mouthfuls about the size of large gumballs. Soaking umeboshi in hot water, or eating them with boiled rice, can temper the powerfully strong flavor.
Why It (Supposedly) Works: Umeboshi have been a Japanese cure-all for centuries, used by samurai and schoolchildren. The acids ostensibly improve liver function, aid digestion, and dispel fatigue. The pickled fruit is also rich in key electrolytes like sodium and potassium.
Where to Experience It: Since umeboshi are the Japanese equivalent of “an apple a day,” they’re sold as snacks all over the U.S.. You’ll find them in Japanese grocery stores like Seattle’s Uwajimaya or New York’s Katagiri.
What It Is: Scuba divers have been known to take a few onshore hits from their regulators to clear their heads. A similar breathing remedy is used around the world at walk-in oxygen bars, where the air is enriched with 95 percent oxygen (as opposed to the ordinary 21 percent).
Why It (Supposedly) Works: Proponents claim that extra oxygen improves the body’s overall metabolism, thus hastening the breakdown of alcohol-related toxins. Oxygen-enhanced air can also be infused with aromatherapeutic scents, like calming lavender or energizing mint (although adding these decreases the level of 02).
Where to Experience It: Paris’ Bleu Comme Bleu spa streams scented, oxygen-enhanced air at its “oxybar,” a small window-front counter in the sleek salon. Air tubes snake past beakers of pastel-tinted essential oils; choose the retour de fêtes scent for a headache-easing blast of ginger and citrus.
What It Is: Known as Scotland’s “other national drink,” this neon-orange soda is said to offset the effects of the country’s primary libation (Scotch). The name is pronounced “iron brew,” and in fact, the drink does contain trace amounts of iron. The secret formula’s syrupy taste is reminiscent of orange Tic Tacs, with a hint of quinine.
Why It (Supposedly) Works: With high levels of sugar and caffeine, the fizz can certainly give a temporary kick. Since it’s been promoted for decades as a strengthening tonic, though, there could also be a compelling power of suggestion at work.
Where to Experience It: You can find Irn-Bru all over Scotland, even in McDonald’s.•