Heating Up and Eating Up
The summer is about to heat up. If you thought the heat had already arrived, well you’d be right, but it’s about to get hotter.
Sambok, also known as boknal or the “dog days of summer”, is fast approaching so, make your plans to be some place that you can take a dip or plan to eat like the Koreans to keep you cool.
Sambok covers a month of time at the peak of the growing season and encompasses the three hottest days of the summer. This year, chobok (the beginning or first hottest of the days) falls on July 18th. Junbok (the middle or second of the hottest of days) is ten days later on July 28th and malbok (the last or final of the hottest days) is 10 days later on August 7th. These days became holidays for the farmers that toiled throughout the summer because it was just too hot and they would head up into a mountain valley or get to the nearest coast to cool off and visit family before the rice harvest. These days this particular tradition isn’t as prevalent, but one custom has remained and that is the food that is eaten on these especially broiling days.
Ice cream, patbingsu (shaved ice with sweetened red beans) or another chilly treat does not make it onto the table, unlike what you might expect. Instead, traditionally, Korean belief promotes iyeol chiyeol, or the idea of controlling heat with heat. The idea promotes eating rejuvenating and stamina restorative food and the three main dishes that most Koreans opt for are piping hot. 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 during the summer. To offset this, Koreans believe we need to warm the body from the inside out and the two dishes they choose to help with that are: jangeo (eel) and samgyetang (chicken stew).
Jangeo, or eel, is rich in vitamin A and E and stimulates blood circulation and prevents aging and wrinkling. It is most popular with men in Korea as it is believed to be an aphrodisiac and good for stamina. But by preventing aging and wrinkles it’s right up a woman’s alley as well. Samgyetang may be the most popular of the two dishes eaten on the hottest days of the summer. It is a ginseng chicken soup served in a hot stone bowl. The chicken is boiled to tender perfection with ginseng, garlic, jujube dates and stuffed with rice.
You’ve got some choices to make. Head up to a mountain valley or to a beach like the farmers have done for centuries or head to your local grub shop for one of the three main dishes mentioned. If you will be dining on jangeo or samgyetang, be sure to head out early though as almost everyone else will have the same idea for their dinner meal.