Last week I wrote about one-shot (원샷), so it seems natural to write next about what you’ll need if you one-shot a few too many: haejang (해장), or hangover relief.
The origins of haejang in Korea
The hae in haejang is from the Chinese character 解 and means to dissolve, resolve, unravel – basically, it’s the hanja equivalent of pulda 풀다, frequently seen in phrases like 스트레스 풀다, “to relieve stress.” (Thanks, multilingual life partner.)
According to the KBS World Radio segment “Honest Korean” (“바른 우리말”), a lot of people think the jang in haejang is from the hanja 腸, meaning “intestines” or “innards,” and that together the two characters mean, essentially, “to relieve the belly.”
If you’ve ever had a hangover, you might be ready to get on board with this – even my scholarly and linguistically talented Korean partner thought 腸 was the source hanja for jang. However, “Honest Korean” explains that in fact the jang comes from the character 酲, jeong (pronounced like most American English speakers would read “jung,” rhyming more or less with “lung”). This character means, in Chinese, “to sober up” (thanks babe) but in Korean, it basically means “to be hung over.” The word was, thus, originally haejeong 解酲 (pronounced something like hey-jung), meaning “hangover relief,” but over time, the sound changed until it was haejang 해장. This sound shift makes me think this word has been in the Korean language for a very long time – centuries, at least – though I haven’t been able to find any sources on this.
This kind of sound change happens in all languages all the time, and if you want to know more about this sort of thing, I highly recommend listening to John McWhorter’s episodes of the Lexicon Valley podcast or finding his The Great Courses lectures in a library or on audible.com or somewhere. He is amazing at explaining even the more boring parts of linguistics.
Types of haejang, Korean hangover cures
Okay, but if you need haejang, you wanna see the menu, not listen to endless discussion of word roots. Here are some of the types of haejang I’ve encountered:
Haejang-guk, Korea’s traditional hangover soup
The ideal go-to for a hangover in Korea is haejang-guk (해장국). Guk (국, rhyming with Luke) means soup, so this is basically “hangover soup.” There’s not one particular type of soup that is haejang-guk but several that can be used this way. My favorite is kamja-tang (감자탕), above, a spicy, hearty soup that includes pork vertebrae and usually some kind of leafy vegetables along with potatoes. Like kamja-tang, many haejang-guk are spicy and hearty, though with a beef base. Others have a seafood base and are usually less spicy.
Korean hangover drinks
Unfortunately, with the frenetic pace of life in cities like Seoul, there’s not always time to sit down for a nice bowl of haejang-guk. To make up for this, convenience stores throughout Korea sell hangover drinks with names like Morning Care 모닝케어, above, and Dawn 808. (I’m sensing a theme…) The best-selling such drink is Condition 컨디션, though I’d always been told that one was meant to be consumed before or during the drinking itself.
These non-scientifically-proven remedies taste pretty bad – extremely sweet and medicinal, like the smell of a traditional Korean/Chinese pharmacy – so if you’re having the kind of hangover where you feel like vomiting, this might push you over the edge.
Personally, Coca-Cola is my favorite hangover drink – yes, after 130 years, some of us are still using it as medicine! – but I’ve been known to throw back a Condition or two in my day.
Ramyeon, the poor man’s haejang-guk
Ramyeon 라면 is another convenience store staple and source of haejang. In a pinch, just buy a cup ramyeon 컵라면, fill it from the boiler in a corner of the store, and you’re ready to feel better. This is definitely the most frequently used haejang in our household these days.
Hair of the dog: The global hangover cure
I have never been a fan of the ol’ “hair of the dog,” when you drink more alcohol to try to stave off your hangover. It seems though that drinkers across the globe have embraced this practice, including in Korea, where some definitions of haejang include “drinking a little alcohol” as part of the meaning.
Diner food, pizza and full English breakfast: Cultural differences in hangover cures
While I’m not a fan of hair of the dog, ramyeon, haejang-guk, and even pseudo-medicinal hangover drinks have all become part of my hangover care toolbox. This wasn’t always the case, though – there was a time when it was a Papa John’s pepperoni and jalapeño pizza, washed down with a liter or two of Coke.
In a lot of Western cultures, grease seems to be the common denominator of the main food-based hangover remedies, but this isn’t the case in Korea – there, basically any of the usual hangover foods contain broth or liquid of some kind.
What is your go-to hangover cure? Any haejang I’ve missed here? Please share!
Romanization: I’ve used Revised Romanization here, for reasons that I really should go into on a future post.
The multilingual life partner.