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What Makes the Pain Go Away: A History of Hangovers 

Tuesday, Sep 23 2014
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My hangover eating has evolved over the years. For a while, it was a forearm-sized bacon-egg-cheese sandwich piled on a pliable hoagie roll from a legendary food truck near my college in Philadelphia (salt-pepper-ketchup? Just say yes). There was a period when it was bowl after bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats — the box would sit next to my bed, and I would leave a puddle of milk at the bottom of the bowl to lubricate cereal refills. Sometimes it was a breakfast burrito or pizza from the fridge. But these days, my hangover food of choice hails from Southeast Asia, and is best straight out of the plastic delivery container: pad see ew.

I discovered pad see ew, or phat si io, years ago as my preferred alternative to the more pedestrian-seeming pad Thai. Even when traveling in Thailand in my early 20s, I found myself ordering the safe, go-to dish again and again as travel fatigue set in — it was better there than here, and a tenth the price. And when I found myself sunburned, covered in mosquito bites, and inevitably hungover from too much Thai whiskey and karaoke, a dish that literally translated to "fried with soy sauce" tasted like relief, like healing.

If Thailand was where pad see ew became associated with hangovers, the real revelation came a few years later, after a company holiday party — the kind of party new hires were warned about months before, the kind that encouraged company-wide tequila shots and bad behavior. I woke up the next morning confused why our neighbors thought that hammering something into the wall was a good idea at 10 a.m. on a Saturday. They weren't; that hammering sound was coming from inside my skull. Miserable hours passed. It was getting dark and I finally felt like I could keep some food down. I blearily scoured GrubHub, put in an order for pad see ew and multiple bottles of Sprite.

The doorbell sounded, I shuffled to the door, and went straight back to bed armed with paper towels and chopsticks. The first bite was like reaching nirvana — chewy, salty sweet, heavenly relief. It was like losing my Thai food virginity all over again. My only regret was that I hadn't ordered more for breakfast the next morning.

Because the dish is simple and relies on just a few ingredients, it's hard to mess up, too. Pad Thai is more complex — the flavors are more delicate, the balance of tangy and sweet and salty more prone to error. There are, of course, better versions of pad see ew than others — the skill of the fryer, the freshness of the noodles, and the amounts of soy sauce used certainly have an impact. But it's kind of like pizza; even when it's bad, it's good. Or at least it's nothing that a healthy amount of Sriracha can't fix.

And sometimes, the "bad" versions are the ones you really want when you're hungover. The noodles stick together more, making for satisfying, carb-loaded bites. The flavor is mellower, allowing you to ease your way back into the big-flavored world of eating. The egg isn't so evenly dispersed, making for pockets of soy sauce-laden scrambles. And the broccoli soaks up all of that garlicky sauce.

I still eat pad see ew when I'm not hungover. Some versions in the city really are great; Lers Ros is cited as the city's best for a reason, and I've had good experiences with Sai Jai Thai in the Tenderloin and Jitlada in Japantown (though it doesn't deliver). But when it comes to hangover eating, I normally go for whatever I can order online with a low delivery minimum — trying to make myself understood over the phone in a loud Thai kitchen is way beyond my hungover brain's abilities. As soon as the order is placed, the anticipation sets in — for the salty-sweet flavor, for the taste of recovery, for new beginnings.

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Lauren Sloss

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