John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Research shows the bastardized Chinese dish "yakamein" has all the nutrients you need to overcome a night of hard drinking.
Next time you're struggling to overcome a raging hangover, try mixing up this dish in the kitchen: beef brisket, spaghetti noodles, hard-boiled egg, soy sauce, green onions, hot sauce. It may sound like a godawful mess but it's got all the stuff to make you feel better – science proves it!
Really. Alyson Mitchell, a food chemist at UC Davis, released the results of her highly individualized quest to fathom the healing power of yakamein or "yak-a-mein," a Chinese-ish soup that's popular in New Orleans but unknown pretty much everywhere else. "Folklore has it that American soldiers from New Orleans stationed in Korea in the 1950s learned to appreciate yak-a-mein on the morning after, and brought a taste for it back home," she says. "It may be a good example of intuitive science – an effective remedy, and with the scientific basis revealed only years later."
For years, revelers who have consumed immoderate quantities of beer at Bullets or a raft of hurricanes at Pat O'Briens have stumbled to take-out joints for a steaming bowl of this brothy elixir. There just seems to be something about it that makes you feel alive in the morning – thus its nickname "Old Sober." That "something" turns out to be mostly salt and fat, according to Mitchell, which help your body deal with the liver-punching effects of alcohol.
Here's the yakamein cure in action: The big bowl of liquid is loaded with sodium to replace all the salts that your body whizzes away due to alcohol's diuretic properties. The unctuous brisket sits in your stomach like a heavy sponge, slowing down the body's absorption of alcohol. The B-complex vitamins in the green onions might help ease an impending headache by preventing an accumulation of glutaric acid. That egg plays a part, too, being full of a chemical called cysteine that removes noxious acetaldehyde from the system.
So while it may not be the healthiest food to put in your body, this New Orleans standard seems great as a short-term shot in the arm for souses. Unfortunately, Mitchell was not available to discuss what prompted her investigation or how she came to her conclusions. To get a good statistical sample you'd think she'd have to get wasted and chug yakamein like 30 or 40 times, which sounds like heaven or torture, depending on how much you enjoy eating cheap Chinese takeout.
Northern drinkers who don't have their own Ms. Linda cooking up pots of yakamein might not be totally out of luck. The bastardized Asian dish pops up in various formulations in other cities, as the intrepid tongue behind Food Eye Stomach explains:
A Baltimore Fav [is] pronounced Yak Gow Mane. I find that different regions do this cheap Chinese dish differently. West Baltimore makes a sweet version, East Baltimore salty, and Philly's version is covered in gravy and not ketchup.... Granted you'll have the worst breathe ever after this meal, but hey it happens ever now and then.
Top photo courtesy of The Aimless Cook on Flickr