Haejangguk, translated literally from Korean into ‘hangover soup’, is a hearty, warming soup that is meant to help ease people out of a bad condition the day after heavy drinking. It doesn’t only help people who are nursing a bad hangover – I’d also argue that haejangguk can turn a bad day around, as it’s the kind of food that can provide wholesome comfort to anyone.
The types of haejangguk vary by region, with tojangguk, made from soybean paste, being the variant most typically found in Seoul. The kongnamul, or bean sprout, variant is also common in other regions such as Jeonju.
My favorite kind, and also the one most commonly found near me, is Ppyeo-haejangguk , or pork bone soup. Also known as gamjatang or potato soup, Ppyeo-haejangguk is a slightly spicy soup made mainly from large pork bones, eaten with rice and kimchi or kkakdugi. The dish typically comes with perilla powder on top, giving it a distinctly nutty taste, and various leafy vegetables in the soup.The difference here between Ppyeo-haejangguk and gamjatang is that gamjatang always comes with added potatoes, although the base soup is the same.
Eating Ppyeo-haejangguk can be daunting, as the pork bone pieces often look big and unwieldy. The tables at restaurants that serve this dish are typically big, thanks to the many plates needed to eat this dish – there’s often the ttukbaegi, or a small, black clay pot, that holds the actual soup and bones when it is initially served. Besides that, an empty side dish will usually be given to hold the meat or pork bones to let it cool down. Ttukbaegis hold heat very well, so eating directly from the pot can be dangerous as it can be scalding hot. There is also another big, empty bowl nearby to hold the stripped bones, as well as the customary metal bowl of white rice.
The best, most convenient way to eat haejangguk is by stripping all the meat off the bones first. Though this may seem inconvenient, it is definitely worth the work you have to put in. Ladle the big bones into the side dish and pick apart the meat with your chopsticks, depositing the meat back into the ttukbaegi, where it will keep warm. After the bones are picked clean, transfer it to the big bowl, then empty your rice bowl into the ttukbaegi. Mix everything together until the soup has permeated the rice and then eat to your heart’s content.
This dish has found special favor with visitors and foreigners from other East Asian countries, as it has the same hearty, slightly spicy kick they have come to associate with comfort. This dish is lesser-known by most travellers, which is such a pity. Whether it be the day after a wild night out involving lots of alcohol or just a rainy, gloomy day, try some haejangguk to pick up your spirits and to give you the strength to continue the rest of your day.