A Word to "True" Millennium Party Dudes°
...Step Right This Way for Sure-Cure Hangover Soups
(e-SoupSong 9: January 1, 2001)
ONCE UPON A TIME, man invented a reliable way to feel happy...for brief periods, anyway.
In prehistoric times, of course, intoxication was pretty hit or miss: Stone Age women, those intrepid plant/food gatherers, likely stumbled on plants and mushrooms with active hallucinogens and brought them back to the cave to rave reviews. Thus academics speculate about psychotropic-inspired "parietal" art at paleolithic sites like Lascaux...and it's for sure that opium seeds have been discovered at Neolithic sites. Opium use, in fact, is well documented in Ancient Egypt, Assyria, Greece, and Rome-primarily in religious ceremonies. That goes for cannabis/marijuana in ancient Scythia too (Herodotus, Book IV).
"Created" intoxicants like beer and wine, though--that's another story. These needed the miracle of chemistry: yeast fungi fermenting the sugars of natural foods into alcohol--humans tasting the result...then figuring out how to duplicate what began as an accident. Probably man's first cocktail was made from the fruit and sap of the date palm in the Mideast. Then, around the 4th Millennium BCE--that's early Bronze Age--barley was fermented into beer...and Mesopotamians went nuts. Beer is a big topic in early Sumerian and Akkadian texts, and no doubt was a huge favorite with everyone in the area. It was just a matter of time before people figured out how to ferment the sugars in honey into mead, grapes into wine, apples into cider, and milk into koumish. By 400 BCE, physician Hippocrates of Cos was using some "boiled down wine" remedies, a good sign that brandy and other distilled liquors were in the making.
Imagine: There you are all those thousands of years ago living in a world without heat or AC, maybe without beds for sleeping or tables for eating. No plumbing. Bugs everywhere--and no health care. Imagine stumbling on a process to make a drink that made you feel... oh so good.
In anthropologist Richard Rudgley's words, "the universal human need for liberation from the restrictions of mundane existence is satisfied by experiencing altered states of consciousness." Or, as Bob Dylan arrticulated in Rainy Day Women #12 and 35, "E-v-e-r-y-b-o-d-y must get stoned."
What's incredibly human, though, is that people everywhere slapped rules on its use--it was poor form to drink indiscriminately, as too many of us do today. Intoxicants were immediately tied into religious ceremony and into the rituals of life: Asking God for help. Coming of age. Getting married. Celebrating victories and special occasions. Achieving new spiritual insight. Adamantly forgetting one's misery. Or celebrating the advent of a new year and a new Millennium, as we did last night.
But, of course, intoxication has always come with a price. No matter what the nectar or how sweet the experience, you inevitably pay with a hangover.
Believe me, this is not a new problem. Earliest man pondered the question: How can we get the "tox" out of "intoxicants"? And what was the answer? You guessed it: Soup.
WHAT KIND OF SOUP?
Cabbage soup has always been big, going back to 350 BCE in the 3rd Book of the Problemata (ascribed to Aristotle) up to 200 AD when Athenaeus' Deipnosophistai (Sophists at Dinner) observed, "Now that the Egyptians really are fond of wine this is proof, that they are the only people among whom it is a custom at their feasts to eat boiled cabbages before all the rest of their food; and even to this very time they do so.... And so Alexis says--
'Last evening you were drinking deep, And Eubulus says, somewhere or other--
So now your head aches. Go to sleep;
Take some boil'd cabbage when you wake;
And there's the end of your headache.'
'Wife, quick! Some cabbage boil, of virtues healing, (For this, you might try Scandanavian Brown Cabbage Soup).
That I may rid me of this seedy feeling.'"
Then, in medieval times, the Medical School of Salerno was already recommending the hair of the dog:
Si nocturna tibi noceat potatio vini
(For this, you might try Bloody Mary Soup or Danish Beer Soup.)
Hoc tu mane bibas iterum, et fuerit medicina
If an evening of wine does you in,
More the next morning will be medicine.
Then there are all the national favorites of today, with the operating words being stomach linings, hot spices, and sourness:
OKAY, IF YOU COULD STOMACH ANY OF THESE, WHY WOULD THEY WORK?
- Menuda in Mexico, made of tripe (lining of a cow's stomach), cow hoof or pig's foot, ancho and guajillo chilis, garnished with lemon juice, onion, oregano, and chili sauce. Some add hominy. Friend Allan Johnson says he only wishes it tasted as good as it smells....
- Mondongo in Puerto Rico is also made from beef tripe, adding starchy vegetables.
- Sopa de Patas in El Salvador, ditto but with squash, corn, plaintains, yucca, and cabbage added to the tripe and cow hooves.
- Iskembe corbasi in Turkey, is a white soup made of the lining of a sheep's stomach and must be eaten at night before turning in.
- Patsa in Greece, also made from sheep tripe-with vinegar or lemon added.
- Haejangguk in Korea, sold on streetcorners, is cowbone soup with cabbage, black pepper, bean sprouts, herbs and spices that make you sweat like a pig (oh, and yes, some variations use pig's blood). The aspartic acid in the beansprouts is supposed to remove poisons from your bloodstream.
- Jassa in Senegal, a chicken stew.
- Khao Tom Gai in Thailand, where it's called "restitution soup," made of rice with chicken or shrimp, pickled cabbage, ginger, and fried garlic.
- Onion Soup in Paris, where it's sold as a remedy in all-night cafes around Les Halles (in fact, it's pictured in James Whistler's "Soupe à Trois Sous" (1859), showing 4 bums dozing at 2 tables over wine and cups while a soulful-eyed sharp-bearded boheme on the left stares straight over his empty onion soup plate at the artist).
- L'Aigo Boulido ("Boiled Soup") in the Provence region of France, a delicate creation to baby you into feeling better.
- Solyanka or Rassolnik in Russia, according to Viliam Vasilievich Pokhlebkin in his authoritative dictionary of cuisine-both are stuffed with pickles, pickle juice, meats, dill, and sour cream. Zurek, or White Borscht, is a rye-based soup that's traditionally served at the end of the wedding to sober up the guests.
- Klash (or Khashi) in the Republic of Georgia, made by simmering pig's feet or calves' tails, hooves, and stomach until they dissolve (?!), then served with garlic, greens, and a couple shots of vodka.
- Korhelyleves, or Night Owl Soup, in Hungary, filled with smoked meats and sauerkraut, paprika and sour cream.
- Miso Soup in Japan as a rule, but since the mid 90s many swear by a vegetable stock created and sold by former taxi driver Kazu Tatishi that combines daikon radish, carrots, burdock roots, and shiitake mushrooms into a yellow broth. Tatishi, who was arrested for practicing medicine without a license, claims his soup kills cancer cells, produces 30 kinds of antibodies within 3 hours of being consumed-and stops hangovers dead in their tracks.
- Chinese Mystery Soup in Taipei. At least according to Actor Mel Gibson, who tells the following story in a 7/95 Playboy interview about his hangover there: "The next morning, I had a headache you couldn't believe, so he took me to this marketplace and got me a bowl of soup. It was a slightly murky broth with what looked like the endocrine glands and digestive tract of a small animal, the intact esophagus, liver, lungs, pancreas, intestines and adrenal glands. I never knew what it was, but it was delicious. I ate it all and felt great afterward. They know something, the Chinese."
The science of hangovers is pretty straightforward. You drink too much. You stop drinking. Your blood alcohol concentration begins to fall. The fun begins.
First, that drink you've just poured down your throat triggers urine excretion and stops your pituitary gland from releasing its anti-diuretic hormone. You lose body fluids left and right. You get dehydrated, making you weak and dizzy. Your body tries to compensate--heaven knows it does--by sucking water out of your other organs, especially your fluid-rich brain. Your brain shrinks; its "dura" covering puckers up, stretching the pain-sensitive filaments that tie it to the skull. Ouch! Headache!
Second, that drink is sedating you, so there goes your body into action again--increasing the number of receptors that excite the nervous system and decreasing the ones that inhibit nerve cell activity. The result: as alcohol levels drop, your central nervous system stays in overdrive, making you sweat and shake.
Third, that drink irritates your stomach and intestines, inflaming the stomach lining (thus all those tripe soups, by association??) and producing gastric acid, making your stomach hurt and ick up.
Fourth, that drink lowers blood sugar levels, making you tired, weak, and moody.
Fifth--and I hate to tell you this--that drink has congeners in it, biologically active compounds that give bourbon and bourdeaux their great taste. Sorry, but they're mild poisons--acetone and methanol, actually--and they take a long time to break down in the liver, prolonging and intensifying your physical discomfort.
The upshot? Soup goes to the heart of alcohol impacts. Because it's liquid (and the more the better), it helps rehydrate your dehydration-flushing out poisons, plumping the brain back up. Because it's nutritious, it raises your blood sugar levels, calms your stomach, and helps you stay energized while the alcohol metabolizes in its own sweet time. As for specific ingredients, well, who knows. There's a lot of claims, but not much science.
The main thing on this first day of a new millennium is: Think Soup. Maybe to belay last night's champagne. Maybe to stay warm in snowy climes...or cool in tropical ones. Maybe to sit down with loved ones and think about past joys and future ones. Maybe all three.
I wish you all happiness, blessings, and bowls full of soup in the new year.
° Just for the record, the end of the second millennium and the beginning of the third have at last been reached this January 1, 2001. This date is based on the now globally recognized Gregorian calendar, the initial epoch of which was established by the sixth-century scholar Dionysius Exiguus, who was compiling a table of dates of Easter. Rather than starting with the year zero, years in this calendar begin with the date January 1, 1 Anno Domini (AD). Consequently, the Third Millennium does not begin until January 1, 2001 AD. For lots and LOTS more information on this, please go to The U.S. Naval Observatory website at: http://psyche.usno.navy.mil/millennium/.
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NEXT MONTH: BEAN SOUPS--THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY.