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Learn about Sambok and beat Korea's summer heat

        * Article Courtesy of Korea Touism Organization (

Koreans celebrate a number of significant holidays. Of these, the most widely celebrated are New Year’s Day, Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving), and Dano. On New Year’s Day (referred to as Seollal in Korea) Koreans gather with families to enjoy a bowl of tteokguk (rice cake soup) and play traditional games together. Chuseok is another holiday when the entire family gathers to enjoy the plentiful bounties the fall harvest has to bring. During the Dano festivities, people dress up in colorful hanbok (traditional Korean clothing), ride on swings, and wash their hair in iris-essence waters. There is also a holiday called Sambok, when families come together to delight themselves in nutritious delicacies to prepare themselves for the coming summer.

Those who take some interest in Korea may have heard about the Seollal, Chuseok, or Dano holidays, but what about Sambok? The holiday of Sambok may sound unfamiliar to many, but if you would like to beat the sultry summer heat of Korea’s summer, you might want to look in to it. Now let’s take a look at what Sambok is all about.

▒ The Meaning of Boknal

In the past, the majority of Koreans depended on farming for their livelihood, and all family members had to work in the fields from spring to fall. However, when the relentless heat of summer made field-work nearly impossible, everyone would take a short respite from the sizzling sun by nourishing themselves with nutritious meals or by taking a vacation to cooler places. In order to prepare for the fall harvest, the people had to eat nutritious meals during the summer to build stamina and cool the body, recovering themselves from fatigue. This is where the Boknal tradition originated.

Sambok refers to the three Boknal Days, or the hottest days of summer, which mark the peak of the growing season. After these days have passed, farmers look forward to the ripening of the rice. Sambok extends over a period of a month, following the lunar calendar, and is separated into three days of chobok (beginning), jungbok (middle), and malbok (last). There is a 10-day interval between chobok and jungbok, and a 20-day interval between jungbok and malbok. This year, Sambok’s chobok is on July 19 (June 17 on the lunar calendar), jungbok on July 29 (June 27 on the lunar calendar), and malbok is on August 8 (July 8 on the lunar calendar) after the monsoon season which marks the last period of summer’s sizzle.

▒ What do People do during Sambok?
Long ago, Sambok was known as a holiday season for farmers worn out from their farming chores. During the times when kings still ruled the land, the royal court distributed ice to its high-ranking government officials to cool off from the summer heat. On the other hand, ice was a rarity for the common people in those days, so when the heat of summer made it impossible to work on the farms, people would catch up on their household chores, visit nearby mountain valleys, or take a trip to the beaches to play in the ocean waters.

Although there are no special Sambok traditions that have lasted until this day, people still continue the custom of eating nutritious and rejuvenating foods, which is the main reason why you will find a long line of customers in front of samgyetang restaurants or other Sambok-specialty restaurants.

▒ Favorite Sambok Meals of Koreans

There are no specially designated foods for Sambok, but instead, Koreans are most interested in foods that help restore stamina weakened from the scorching heat of the sun. The most popular dishes during these periods are samgyetang (chicken ginseng soup) and jangeogui (grilled eel).

The chicken in the samgyetang, along with the ginseng in the broth, is known to warm the body. One might ask: why eat hot foods when the weather is already so hot? Koreans believed in Oriental medicinal theories from long ago, that although the body may heat up, the internal organs will stay relatively cold, so in order to overcome the summer heat one would have to warm up the inner body to prevent illness and fatigue. If farmers were to use all their energy tending to the fields and were not able to intake enough nutrition, it could ultimately lead to a bad harvest, so the people prepared nutritious and energizing menus during Sambok. In addition to the popular samgyetang dish, people also eat jangeogui (grilled eel), patjuk (red bean porridge), or summer fruits such as melons.

▒ Samgyetang – The Most Popular Sambok Dish

Samgyetang, the most popular Korean dish for Sambok, is a nutritious dish prepared with a tender young chicken (one small chicken for each individual serving), ginseng, garlic, jujube dates, and glutinous rice, all boiled into one pot. Samgyetang is known to stimulate one’s appetite and rejuvenate the energy. Aside from samgyetang, you may also choose to try chogyetang (a dish primarily enjoyed in North Korea, made with chicken boiled in a broth seasoned with vinegar, spicy mustard, and joined with thinly sliced beef), or yukgaejang (a spicy soup made with beef and vegetables). It has been said that a hot meal that induces perspiration may have more health benefits than a cold meal during the summer.

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▒ Patjuk – A Dish That Drives Away Spirits, So Why Not Heat?

Patjuk, red bean porridge, is not only eaten during Sambok, but also enjoyed during the winter solstice as well. Since long ago, Koreans believed that evil spirits were afraid of the color red. In turn, they would eat patjuk and the red-colored grains in the dish would drive away evil spirits. For this reason, it is customary for Koreans to eat patjuk in hopes of bringing peace and health to the family. In some regions, it has become a tradition to make patjuk on Sambok days, due to the belief that eating patjuk on Sambok days help to drive away heat and illness. Red beans, a sweet tasting legume, are rich in protein, fat, fiber, and B1 vitamins, also known to help relieve swelling.

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▒ Jangeogui – For Younger Looking Skin

Rich in vitamins A and E, jangeo, or eel, stimulates blood circulation and helps to prevent aging and wrinkles. Freshwater eel has been reported to have 200 times the amount of vitamin A in beef, and is known to be effective for people whose bodies have weakened, or those suffering from rheumatism, pneumonia, or osteoporosis. In addition, many people enjoy the dish to remedy wrinkles and prevent aging due to its high vitamin A content.

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