Culture Food Food Talk Living in Korea

Why do Koreans eat simmering hot samgyetang on most sweltering Summer days?

What is boknal 복날? Iyeol Chiyeol 이열치열? Boyangsik 보양식 “Health Food”?

How do you beat the heat of a hot summer day? A can of ice-cold beer or some ice cream (with a brain freeze!) seems like an obvious choice, but Koreans have a vastly different strategy! Instead of taking the “cool road,” Koreans eat a simmering hot samgyetang 삼계탕 (“ginseng chicken soup”), a type of boyangsik 보양식 (“health food” Koreans eat to boost up the stamina and energy), on the most sweltering days of the Korean summer, known as boknal 복날 (“the dog days of summer”).

Hot samgyetang on most sweltering Summer days!
wizdata, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Pulmuone Instant Samgyetang with Whole Chicken – Stove or Microwave Reheating [Amazon]


Boknal comes in three parts, or sambok 삼복(“three bok days”) – chobok 초복 (“first bok day”) jungbok 중복 (“middle bok day”) and malbok 말복 “last bok day.” They fall between mid-July and mid-August with 10 days and 20 days in between the first and the middle, and the middle and the last bok days, respectively. Interestingly, it perfectly fits the term “dog days” because the Chinese character for bok is a dog lying on its stomach, maybe exhausted from the heat.


Photo by Bruno Cervera on Pexels.com

Iyeol Chiyeol – “Fighting Fire with Fire”

The logic behind this counter-intuitive tactic called iyeolchiyeol 이열치열 (“control heat with heat,” or “fight fire with fire”), is all about maintaining a proper balance within our body. According to traditional Korean Medicine, haneuihak 한의학, the heat in the body during the summer is concentrated under the skin and makes our body relatively cold on the inside. Thus, eating cold food will only provide temporary relief, but worsen the situation in the long run. Instead, a hearty bowl of simmering hot samgyetang will help you restore the balance and replenish your body with the essential nutrients. By the time you put down the bowl, you would be all soaked in sweat, and you know you are ready to make it through the Korean summer!

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보양식 boyangsik “health food”


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박家상민, CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Nakji Bokkeum 낙지볶음 – Stir-fried Octopus

Image by mino park from Pixabay

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