Eating & drinking: The morning after

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The Independent Culture
IT'S THAT delicate, fuzzy, desolate time of year again. The time when the unpleasant after-effects of overindulgence lead even the most hardened party-goer to reach for hangover cures with a trembling and palsied hand.

In no way do I doubt those who claim to have the one and only true hangover cure. But doesn't it seem odd that there should be so many one and only true hangover cures in the world?

Everyone who drinks has one. It enables them to drink again, another day. One friend is forever proving his own favourite remedy - a bowl of thick, sweet French onion soup, with a glass or two of champagne. He says it's the vitamin C in the onions that does it, although he is generally on to his third glass of champagne as he says it.

Another friend swears by Chinese congee, a thick gloopy rice soup flavoured with white fish, pig's kidney or, better still, a combination of 100-year- old eggs and minced pork. Mind you, he's Chinese.

The Spanish plump for a hearty rib-sticking stew like Callos a la Madrilena, full of chorizo sausage, piggy bits and beans, while Jewish people tend to go for chicken soup. But then they would: they also suggest it for gout, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's and leprosy.

Where strong cultural ties have broken down, the Bloody Mary has its fans, although these are the same people whose hangovers were brought on in the first place by vodka martinis and Stoli shots.

In his book Nose to Tail Eating, St John's Fergus Henderson submits his own sure-fire hangover cure. Surprisingly, there's not a gram of offal to be seen. Nevertheless, his combination of Fernet Branca, creme de menthe and ice does come with a warning. Apparently it is so addictive that the cure can easily become the cause.

Then there are the rest: the greasy hamburger and chocolate milkshake combo; energy drinks such as Lucozade; spaghetti with meatballs; pickled herrings; clam chowder; scrambled eggs on toast; the white bread bacon sandwich; and the full-on English fry-up, complete with plenty of black pudding.

Perhaps the most original hangover cure comes from Haiti, where the demons of alcohol are exorcised by voodoo. All you have to do is stick 13 black- headed pins into the cork of the bottle that did the damage, and wait for mysterious forces to take over.

If I had to put my own money on any one cure, it would go on the Mexican menudo estilo norteno, a turbo-charged soupy stew made with honeycomb tripe, calves' feet, hominy (corn grits) and ancho chillies. In Northern Mexico, where its powers are legendary, more menudo is eaten on New Year's Day than for the whole of the rest of the year. It seems only fair that the country that invented Tequila should also find the ultimate cure for alleviating the subsequent pain.

The sad news for those who suffer the estimated 660 million hangovers that occur every year in Britain is that, scientifically speaking, there is no miracle cure. The problem is that our mouths can drink alcohol faster than our livers can process it (roughly one drink an hour). Yes, you can replace the nutrients such as vitamin B, thiamine, calcium and zinc that alcohol strips from your body. Yes, sugary drinks will help you feel better temporarily, and foods high in carbohydrates can also help pump up depressed blood sugar levels.

But about the only thing our most eminent scientists seem to agree on is that you have to drink plenty of water, before, during and after drinking alcohol, which helps to counter its dehydrating effects.

Like all prevention-rather-than-cure prescriptions, there is a basic flaw. If you were sober enough to remember to drink all that water, you wouldn't have a hangover in the first place.

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