Who’s ready to put away the ice-cream, patbingsu (shaved rice with sweetened red beans), and other chilly treats for some good ‘ole piping hot soup this summer? That’s what traditional Korean belief promotes through iyeol chiyeol, or control heat with heat. As this summer has already started out hotter than many past, sambok, the time period encompassing the hottest three days of the summer between the 6th and 7th months on the lunar calendar, is sure to be scorching.
Sambok, also known as boknal, or the dog days of summer, covers a month of time at the peak of the growing season and traditionally the three hottest days were a holiday for farmers. People would get away to a mountain valley or the coast to cool off and visit family before the rice harvest. These days, this particular tradition isn’t as prevalent, however the custom of eating rejuvenating and stamina restorative food still continues. According to Eastern medicine, blood concentrates near the skin in hot weather to cool the body which can lead to bad circulation in the stomach and muscles which is why it is common to lose one’s appetite or feel tired. To offset this Koreans believe we need to warm the body and there are three dishes that come up most often in discussions with Koreans on what to eat on these days: bosintang, jangeo and samgyetang.
Bosintang, or dog meat stew, has a long history in Korea and was quite popular in the past but seems to be eaten by mostly older generations these days. This peppery and slightly spicy stew with dog as the main ingredient may not top many foreigners’ lists of food to eat during sambok, or any other time for that matter though. Jangeo, or eel, is rich in vitamin A and E and stimulates blood circulation and prevents aging and wrinkles. It’s most popular with men in Korea as it is believed to be an aphrodisiac and good for stamina. The last dish of the three is probably the most popular these days and suitable for everyone at the table. Samgyetang, or ginseng chicken soup is served in a hot stone bowl with one small chicken boiled to tender perfection with ginseng, garlic, jujube dates and stuffed with rice.
If you want to go truly Korean style, then here are the dates to look out for this summer, the first is chobok (the beginning) on July 13th. Ten days later on July 23rd is junbok (the middle) and the final day, malbok (the last) is twenty days after that on August 12th. Find a restaurant near you and be sure to get there early as the good places will have lines out the door on these three hot hot days.