Food for Thought: The hot and cold of 30 hottest days of Summer (Sambok)

Venture outdoors, and in moments, you will feel the heat. Such heat and humidity create conditions fit for damp clothes, sticky bodies, and worst of all, parched mouths. Such heat demands extra nourishment. For me, nourishment tends to come in a bowl or cone, and is likely dipped in chocolate. Koreans, however, try to “beat the heat with heat” with spices rather than sweets.

Boyangshik are special foods prepared and eaten during the hottest 30-day period in the lunar calendar called sambok. This time period is also referred to as 복날, bok nal, which means the “dog days of summer.”  According to the lunar calendar, Sambok is marked by three days: chobok (beginning), jungbok (middle), and malbok (last).  This year, chobok was on July 20, junbok on July 30 and malbok was recently on August 9. 

Sambok is rooted in Korea's agriculture. At one time, majority of Koreans were farmers, so families worked together to grow and harvest food. When it got too hot to work, Koreans would go on a short vacation, many times to the sea.  Along with getaways to the beach, people would consume nutritious meals.

According to oriental medicinal theories, such meals warm the internal organs, which still remain cold during the season.  By warming up both the inner and outer body, a person would become remain cool and prevent illness.

Jangeogui, or broiled eel, remains a sambok favorite.  Eel is traditionally rich in vitamin A and E, which helps blood circulation and skin. It is also believed to help those who suffer from rheumatism and pneumonia.

A number of hearty stews and soups are also consumed during sambok.

One of the most popular dishes to eat during sambok is samgyetang, which literally translates to “ginseng chicken soup.” Both ingredients are believed to help promote heat in the body. Samgyetang is also believed to helps replace all the lost nutrients from constant summer sweating.

Chueotang (mudfish soup) is made almost entirely of Chinese weatherfish, a fish found in Korean streams and rivers. The soup contains vitamins A, D and a lot of calcium (the fish bones are used). Additionally, the soup contains a high amount of protein and amino acids. It is believed that it strengthens the immune system, mucus membranes and skin.

The controversial Gaejang-juk (dog meat) is also consumed during sambok. This soup is usually served with boiled dog meat, scallions and chili powder. The soup tends to be popular for its “male stamina” building qualities. Since dog meat is becoming less popular, however, many variations of this dish contain chicken and bamboo shoots. 

If such Boyangshik  dishes prove too spicy for your summer palate this month, opt for other foods that are eaten to celebrate sambuk. Along with traditional spicy foods, Koreans tend to eat patjuk (red bean porridge), or summer fruits like melon.  If all else fails, there’s always anything in the ice cream variety to cool off with this summer.

Lindsey Huster is a writer who usually hails from Chicago. She enjoys listening to music,wearing cardigans and generally anything vegetarian. Send her an e-mail here: Lindsey Huster 

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