Tis the season to be jolly, as the old song has it, and though there’s barely a dent in the Advent calendar, the sticky scent of mulled wine already hangs over the nation like a festive fug. Angels are old news. In Britain, we prefer to herald the Messiah with booze and, for most of us, the Christmas party season is now in full swing.
I won’t dwell on the catering, which will be disappointing however good you’ve been this year, but in the spirit of festive generosity I would like to offer a helping hand when it comes to surviving the onslaught of hot plonk. Here, food, as in so many situations, is your friend.
Instead of “preloading” (as I believe the young folk call it) with drinks while getting ready, try to channel your mother and have a proper meal before going out – or at least a helping of something fatty to slow down the rate at which alcohol enters your system. In parts of Africa, this would be a spoonful of peanut butter and the Mediterranean region tends to prefer olive oil but you could do worse than a sneaky glug of milk from the office fridge.
Drawing a discreet veil over events at the party buffet and quietly passing over the ill-advised doner stop on the way home, we move on to the next morning, when food really comes into its own – if you can stomach it, that is. You should at least try. Eating will speed up your metabolism, allowing your body to process the alcohol more quickly. Carbohydrates are a good bet for restoring depleted sugar levels, while protein will make up for some of the damage done in your brain – which is all the excuse you need for a fry-up.
However, a full English is not the only option. Indeed, the Roman sage Pliny the Elder swore by fried canaries and raw owl’s eggs, which is along the same basic lines, though it might raise a few eyebrows at your local caff.
Soup, one of the last dishes I’d rely upon in extremis, is strangely popular around the world, with tripe featuring surprisingly widely, especially in south-eastern Europe and Turkey. Head north, and sour pickle-based broths are preferred – counterintuitive, perhaps, but not as actively unpleasant as the rabbit-poo tea brewed up by American cowboys after a hard night round the campfire.
Dishes that actively stick two fingers up at one’s gag reflex are more common than seems entirely wise in the circumstances. Pickled sheep’s eyes in tomato sauce were once all the rage in Mongolia, while Korea still considers spicy broths gingered up with hunks of spine and congealed blood just the ticket for a dicky tummy.
Filipinos swear by fertilised duck eggs complete with bonus feathery foetus and Sicilians are said to have traditionally restored their machismo with a dried bull’s penis (though these days, like many Italians, they mostly stick to an espresso and a cigarette).
There’s an air of penitential suffering about many of these so-called cures, a belief that such wicked self-indulgence can only be rectified by a culinary hairshirt the morning after. Yet all these strong flavours and all that grease suggest that most of us also cling to the faint hope of distracting the body from its alcohol-induced misery by battering it with fresh horrors.
There may be something in this. Large, indigestible meals will certainly provide brief respite for thumping heads and whirling guts but the only cure is time. Time, sleep and a chargrilled bacon roll liberally laced with hot English mustard and thick-cut marmalade. Consider that last tip my gift to you. Happy partying and happy Christmas.