According to the Lunar Calendar, the Sambok Days (삼복) are the hottest days of the year. They're divided into three days: chobok (초복) at the beginning, jungbok (중복) in the middle and malbok (말복) at the end of summer. On these days, it is a tradition to eat healthy and nutritious food to keep your body energized.
This idea is called iyeol-chiyeol (이열치열), and means to fight fire with fire (or to fight heat with heat). The thought behind it is that in summer people would eat cold dishes to cool down, which results in only the stomach being cooled and not the rest of the body. Eating hot meals helps the body to adjust to the outside temperature as sweating helps you feel cool.
You’re not convinced? Don’t worry, we’ve got you! For those of you who are craving a cold and refreshing dish, there are ice cold soups as well—the best of both worlds!
- Samgyetang (삼계탕)
Literally translated, "samgyetang" means ginseng chicken soup. It is one of the most popular summertime dishes eaten in Korea. It is believed that this soup prevents people from falling sick as ginseng is believed to be an all-purpose treatment. And on top of that, it’s supposed to keep you energized throughout the hot summer!
This dish is served boiling hot, and at first glance, you may only see a small chicken that is essential to the cuisine. But once it’s cut open, you’re surprised with a rice filling, a ginseng seasoning, jujubes, and garlic. All the ingredients—rice, ginseng, jujubes, garlic—are stuffed into the chicken and cooked all together. Samgyetang can be made at home; however, it might be challenging to get your hands on all of the needed herbs. Browse through your local Asian supermarket; if not available there, you could try ordering online! Koreanbapsang suggests using chicken broth to add more flavor to the soup; and if you prefer your soups with a thicker consistency, add some rice to the water or broth while it is boiling to thicken it.
- Dak-Kalguksu (닭칼국수)
Dak-kalguksu is another hot chicken soup but with noodles, served in chicken broth, and topped with shredded chicken meat and sliced vegetables. "Kalguksu" means knife-cut noodles. This soup is easier to make than samgyetang, but for an extra level of difficulty, you could try to make the noodles and broth yourself!
The soup is made by boiling chicken and vegetables to give the broth a rich flavor. The best thing: You can save the leftover broth for other dishes, like the upcoming cold dishes where the cold chicken broth is needed. Afterward, the chicken meat can be shredded and used to top the soup.
- Mul-Naengmyeon (물냉면)
What used to be a popular dish in winter has become even more popular as a summer dish: mul-naengmyeon! It’s a cold beef broth noodle soup, spiced up with mustard and vinegar. Mul-naengmyeon is a non-spicy alternative to bibim-naengmyeon (비빔냉면) which, admittedly, is not a soup but another very popular cold summer dish. This one is served with a spicy sauce but comes with the same toppings.
Mul-naengmyeon is usually served with cucumber, radish, Korean pear, a boiled egg, and sliced cooked beef. Spicy mustard and vinegar are served on the side so that the customer can season the soup to their personal liking. The broth is served chilled or sometimes even a little frozen, with a slushy-like consistency that slowly melts while you’re eating.
- Kongguksu (콩국수)
Kongguksu is a soy milk noodle soup, which might sound peculiar at first but it's delicious! The soy milk used for this dish is usually made at home and differs from the one that you buy at stores because they have different consistencies. The homemade one has a richer flavor and tends to be less sweet, usually containing bits of soybeans in it. Though oftentimes, sesame or other nuts, like pine nuts, are blended with the soy milk instead to add extra flavor to the soup.
Making it is also not as difficult as you’d think! The soybeans are soaked overnight, boiled and then blended with sesame and water until it is creamy—or whatever consistency you prefer! Add the noodles, garnish it with sesame, throw in vegetables like zucchini or cucumber, and maybe a sliced boiled egg; now you have the perfect summer soup! If you want it to be even more refreshing, add some ice cubes to the soup!
Have you ever tried hot soups for summer? Or do you like cold soups better? Let us know in the comments!
Written by Tran Trieu