• by Chef Jenn Farmer •
I recently stumbled upon some old recipes I picked up as a teenager when traveling in New Orleans and through several southern states. One recipe was pretty beat up, caught my eye and for obvious reason. It was for “Old Sober” or Yak a Mein soup—a hangover cure. A recipe from New Orleans can be expected to have a French, Spanish, or Cajun name or even a Creole or African name, but an Asian name? You got my attention.
I can’t quite read the name of the author on the index card, but it is written in a lovely faded script that reminds me of what I expect every housewife in the 1950-60s handwriting must have looked like. I sat down and started doing my research, first by calling an old friend originally from the Big Easy. She informed me, in the most beautiful Southern drawl that “the cure” has been around since before the Civil War, when Chinese immigrants were brought to southern plantations and railroads to work. The recipe saw a revival after many southern soldiers returned from Korea, and later the Vietnam War, brought home stories and “recipes” for hangover cures they experienced overseas. I learned a great deal during that chat: A) People in Louisiana really have an amazing food culture, and they know how to party and handle it the next day. And B) everything sounds more interesting when said by someone who has a southern drawl, especially with an elegant New Orleans lilt.
- one 4-pound chuck roast or other stewing roast
- 5 quarts beef stock
- 3 teaspoons Cajun spicy seasoning
- One quarter cup minced white onion
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Leftover meat, poultry, and shellfish, chopped
- 8 eggs, hardboiled and peeled
- One package spaghetti or lo Mein noodles
- 1 small bunch scallions, thinly sliced
- Soy sauce and hot sauce, fresh chopped hot chilies
- (a small amount of fish sauce I find really rounds out the broth)
- Ketchup or Worcestershire sauce (very optional –to taste)
Using a large soup pot, mix the broth with the spices and onion. Then add the meat, and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat, and allow it to simmer for about 3 hours, or until the meat is fork tender. Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti according to the package directions, and drain, toss with a few tablespoons vegetable oil, to prevent it from sticking too much before adding it to the soup. The meat should be removed and allowed to cool a little, and then shredded, before returning it to the broth. Add the leftover meats to the broth also, and bring up the temperature of the soup. Each bowl should contain a portion of spaghetti, one hard boiled egg, quartered, a spoonful of meat and a ladle of broth, plus a heavy hand of sliced scallions. Then garnish with soy and hot sauces. Enjoy with a large glass of ice cold water. Serves up to 8
Why do hangovers cures work? There are a number of things at work the day after drinking alcohol. The most notable is dehydration, which drastically impedes the excretion of toxins that build up in the body after a night of drinking. The body metabolizes the alcohol into something called acetaldehyde. This is a very toxic substance, worse for the human body than the alcohol, since it is can mutate and also be carcinogenic. Oh, I also forgot to mention that the stomach lining is also irritated causing nausea, and that dehydration is the leading cause of headaches and fatigue. The acetaldehyde takes a long time for the body to break down into acetic acid.
Water, of course, helps with the dehydration and a little with the stomach irritation and fatigue. The soup is salty and encourages the drinking of more water. Eggs contain cysteine, which is a combatant to the hangover, plus the protein in the egg and meat help also by slowing the alcohol absorption and metabolizing rate, to be more bearable. Carbohydrates seem to help settle the stomach as well. Deep breathing can actually help too, since it helps raise the metabolic rate and simultaneously expel toxins from the body.
Exercise is one of the best cures for a hangover. I highly recommend this tried and true method for curing the cursed hangover: Take a walk on the boat docks with dark glasses, and a bottle of water (the earlier and mistier in the morning the better). Next walk to a favorite Bloody Mary spot for hair-of-the-dog on the way to brunch at Centre Street Bistro or Queequegs. Then bring a beach blanket, umbrella, water, a book, and snacks to the beach. Lie on blanket under umbrella until feeling well enough to take a nice long, refreshing swim (at least one hour after eating, of course, I am a mom after all). Honestly the swim is the best cure, and all the rest can be skipped if you are capable of the swim to begin with.
The morning after Halloween, several years ago, was one of my most memorable hangover moments. My friends and I met for breakfast. All of us arrived grey and barely alive. As we loaded up on carbohydrates and caffeine, the hilarious stories of the previous night were revealed. Then we all began to pink up, and come back to life after our ghoulish early hours. One of my friends looked awful still. We decided that the water was still warm enough for a swim, since it had been a particularly warm autumn, and all of us had been for a swim in it just a few days prior. We chose Cisco beach. Our not-so-flawed reasoning was that we needed the swim to be invigorating enough to increase oxygen and blood flow and get rid of all those toxins that the gallons of water had not yet flushed from our systems. Also we had to be active at Cisco, it has surf, and we wouldn’t be tempted to just float around. We all dove into a white-tipped crashing roller of a wave. Emerging from the water was more than invigorating. The water temperatures had dropped dramatically, and we were all gasping in shock. Most of us managed to splash around for a bit, and genuinely felt better. All but one: my poor friend was made worse by our adventure. She got sick, then went to sleep under a massive beach blanket. As I was packing up, and getting ready to go, I saw her getting up, and heading back toward the waves, and I knew she was going to be ok.