Boknal… Sambok… Whatever it is, it’s HOT!
In Korea, the dog days of summer are referred to as sambok (삼복) or boknal (복날). Covering the span of a month, the three hottest days of the summer were traditionally a holiday for the farmers. Getting away to a nearby mountain valley or the coast to cool off before the rice harvest was on the agenda. While these days may not be celebrated exactly the same, you can bet that everyone is dreamily looking out of the windows at work today wishing they were someplace cooler. Why today? Well it’s hot for one, but also, today, July 13th, is the first hottest day of the summer or chobok (초복). In ten days, on July 23rd will be joongbok (중복), or the middle hottest day and finally malbok (말복) or the final hottest day will be on August 12th.
Though the three hottest days aren’t the holidays they used to be unfortunately, people do still head to restaurants to partake in the custom of eating rejuvenating and stamina restorative dishes.
According to Eastern medicine, blood concentrates near the skin in hot weather to cool the body down but this can lead to bad circulation in the stomach and muscles leading to the loss of appetite or lethargy common during the summer. To offset this, Koreans believe we need to warm the body from the stomach on out and there are three dishes that are the common go-to’s.
Probably the top dish on everyone’s mind for these three hot days is samgyetang (삼계탕), or ginseng chicken stew. Served in a hot bowl about to boil over, one small tender chicken stuffed with rice sits in the broth with ginseng, garlic and jujube dates. It will hit the spot during boknal, or anytime of the year for that matter. If you’re hoping to eat the dish during boknal though, be sure to head out early because there are sure to be lines at the best and most delicious restaurants offering up this delicacy.
Another popular meal during this time of year is jangeo (장어), or eel. Rich in vitamin A and E and said to stimulate blood circulation and prevent aging and wrinkles, this dish is really quite popular all year round. Popular with men in Korea who believe it to be an aphrodisiac and good for their stamina, eel is popular with women because of its anti-aging uses. It’s really suitable for everyone that is sitting around the table and if you get the live eel, it’s a fun show on the stove for the little ones as well.
The final dish isn’t all that popular with the younger generation or foreigners, but traditionally bosintang (보신탕), or dog meat stew, was also eaten during boknal. This dish has a long history in Korea and these days is mostly eaten by those of the elder generations. The stew is peppery and tends to be slightly spicy with vegetables added to the dog meat that has been simmering away. If you’re not ready for this dish, no matter, the other two are available all over the place.