Haejangguk, which literally means « soup to get rid of the hangover », is an invigorating concoction intended to revitalise after an … animated night. Let’s admit it, weekends often mean pushing your luck on the number of whiskies, and waking up in bed with your life-long nemesis: the hangover. A well-informed party-goer will know that Saint Bibiana is the patron saint of hangovers. He or she will also know that devoting a DIY alter to the Roman martyr doesn’t exactly rid of than banging headache. Enter the Haejangguk, known as one of the best tough morning cures in South Korea, where soju and makgeolli-rich nights out are customary.
Haejangguk is traditionally found in the street – especially on Saturday or Sunday mornings – or in 24 hour restaurants, serving this and other “guk” (soups). The basic ingredients of this magic concoction vary from recipe to recipe, but usually include coagulated beef or pork’s blood, Chinese cabbage, cow bones, pork backbone and vegetables, for the taste. The lot is served boiling in a « ttukbaeggi » – a sort of traditional bowl – with rice (“bap”).
The recipe can vary quite a bit according to where you are in the country. In eastern regions of South Korea for example, they add dried hake (rich in methionine, a beneficial amino acid for the liver), while elsewhere some add soya germ (which contains asparagine, meant to accelerate the process of alcohol elimination by the body). Tasteful ingredients which guarantee an easier morning for those late-night party goers.
Now, this type of magic potion may seem straight out of Hogwarts spell books. That’s almost it: there are indeed traces of recipes for haejangguk, which cure from alcohol abuse, in old recipe books from the 14th century. Apparently, Koreans from 650 years ago (under the Goryo dynasty) already knew the definition of hangovers: back then, haejangguk were served in taverns directly in the morning following a night of drinking. Imagine medieval drunkards tumbling in the streets – it’s nice to know nothing has changed (or is it?).
In the 19th century, these soups are made in large quantities and kept in « onggi » terracotta containers, to be delivered to Seoul dignitaries in the early morning. Anti-hangover food delivered right to your door after a rough night out, in elegant terracotta packaging? It seems Koreans invented the future Deliveroo … 200 years before our modern food delivery concept.
Later, with the development of restaurants in the country, haejangguk soups marked the rise of the “dining out” culture: they became the favourite soup for workers and builders who enjoyed a wee tipple after a hard day’s work, but didn’t want to come in broken the next day.
Cheongjinok is one of the most famous haejangguk restaurants in Seoul. It opened in 1937 and has been feeding drunks in the capital for more than 3 generations. In this legendary place, beef bones are left to simmer for more than 24 hours so as to obtain a stock, in which they add rice, coagulated blood, intestines, cabbage and green onions, to make what they call Seonji Haejangguk. The restaurant is overtaken from dawn, from hordes of night owls just as much as from locals who just want something a bit heartier than a bowl of Kellogg’s.