Photo: Fruit Bingsu
Summer in Korea is in full force, bringing with it muggy weather and bouts of heavy rain. As temperatures rise, people try to escape the heat by heading to the beach, the swimming pool, or air-conditioned cafes and malls. In Korea, however, staying healthy and cool during the summer is all about what you eat. Many Koreans try to beat the heat and counteract summer fatigue by eating cool dishes, as well as warm, healthy foods that are known for their restorative powers. Keep reading to find out exactly which foods to eat to restore your strength and refresh your spirit Korean style!
The hottest days in Korea are from early July to mid August. This period is called ‘sambok deowi,’ or ‘the heat of sambok.’ ‘Sambok’ refers to the hottest days in Korea according to the lunar calendar and is further broken down into: chobok, the beginning period; jungbok, the middle; and malbok, the tail end of the summertime heat.
Since samgye-tang (ginseng chicken soup) is packed with nutritious ingredients, it is widely known for its restorative properties. The dish is prepared by taking a young chicken and stuffing it with garlic, rice, jujube, ginger, licorice root, and other herbs. The ingredients are then boiled together and served up in a delicious broth. Some restaurants even offer variations of the traditional samgye-tang, allowing you to add different ingredients according to your personal taste. One bowl of samgye-tang is typically priced somewhere between 10,000 and 13,000 won.
Fusion-style samgye-tang has been gaining popularity with more and more restaurants cashing in on the trend. At fusion-style samgye-tang restaurants, you’ll be able to find new additions to this classic dish ranging from abalone and wild ginseng to perilla seed powder or even green tea. Fusion samgye-tang is a bit more expensive than regular samgye-tang and can cost anywhere from 15,000 to 30,000 won, depending on the ingredients. If you don’t mind paying a little more, fusion-style samgye-tang is a great way to reenergize and experience a new take on a classic Korean dish.
There are two main schools of thought in Korea when it comes to summer foods. Many Koreans eat cool dishes (chilled noodles, etc.) to try and cool off, but there are also many people that eat hot foods full of nutrition to combat fatigue. This idea of ‘Yi Yeol Chi Yeol’ (fighting fire with fire) is derived from the principles of traditional Korean medicine. Originally, the term was used to refer to a medical treatment for curing colds in which a feverish patient’s body was kept as warm as possible in order to release the heat from the body. In the spirit of ‘Yi Yeol Chi Yeol,’ fight heat with heat and rejuvenate yourself this summer by indulging in a big bowl of samgye-tang.
Not to be forgotten is the other favorite summertime chicken dish – jjimdak. Jjimdak is a mixture of chicken, hot peppers, mushrooms, carrots, and other vegetables served in a savory, sweet-and-spicy, soy sauce-based broth. Jjimdak is characterized by its spiciness, so it is often paired with a side of dongchimi (radish water kimchi), which helps neutralize some of the spice.
Naengmyeon, a buckwheat noodle dish, is perhaps one of the most beloved summer foods in Korea. Surprisingly, naengmyeon first appeared as a seasonal dish that was eaten only during the winter months in North Korea. The North Korean style noodles, Pyeongyang naengmyeon and Hamheung naengmyeon, are now famous throughout the entire country and can be found in almost any neighborhood. The biggest difference between Pyeongyang naengmyeon (mul-naengmyeon) and Hamheung naengmyeon (bibim-naengmyeon) is the way in which they are served; Pyeongyang naengmyeon is served in a chilled broth, while Hamheung naengmyeon comes topped with spicy red chili sauce. Naengmyeong dishes are usually garnished with sliced beef, a boiled egg, cucumbers, and pears.
Another good dish for those who may have lost their appetite due to the heat is naeng-kong-guksu, which is noodles in cold soybean soup. The soup is made by soaking cooked soybeans in cold water and then grinding them up with a millstone. Noodles are added and often topped with slices of cucumber, boiled egg, and tomato. For taste, you can add some sugar or salt. Full of protein, this savory dish is particularly invigorating on hot, humid days.
No matter the season, one cannot talk about Korean food without at least mentioning kimchi. In summer, many people cool off with a big bowl of kimchi noodles, which are made from an icy mixture of kimchi broth and meat broth. Simply replace the noodles with rice and you get kimchi-mari-bap, another summer dish sure to help you keep cool.
In addition to samgye-tang there is yet another chicken dish that takes center stage as the temperatures climb. This dish is none other than chogye-guksu, noodles served in a chilled chicken broth flavored with vinegar and mustard and topped with shredded chicken.
Chogye-guksu (‘cho’ meaning vinegar and ‘gye’ meaning chicken) was once a special winter treat enjoyed in the Hamgyeong-do and Pyeongan-do of North Korea. Nowadays, the dish is a popular summertime treat enjoyed by people all across the nation. Made of lean chicken, medicinal herbs, noodles, and fresh vegetables, chogye-guksu boasts a simple, yet strong flavor and a distinctive smell.
Another popular food in Korea is memil-guksu (buckwheat noodles), which are served cold as ‘mak-guksu’ or hot as ‘jang-guksu.’ In the summer, the most popular buckwheat noodle dish is memil mak-guksu, in which noodles are placed in a kimchi broth with cucumbers, kimchi, vegetables, and meat and mixed with red chili paste. Another favorite dish is memil-soba, in which the noodles are served with a soy based-broth dipping sauce that is flavored with ground radish, scallion, and horseradish.
Many people may be familiar with ‘soba,’ the Japanese word for buckwheat noodles, but there is a slight difference in the way that memil-guksu and soba are made and eaten. The broth for the Korean memil-guksu is made mostly of dried anchovy, while the broth for Japanese soba is made with dried bonito flakes. Another main difference is that Korean memil-guksu is served in a broth, while the noodles and broth of the Japanese soba are served separately.
In Korea, the most popularly enjoyed summer dessert is not ice cream, but bingsu. Bingsu is a dessert made of ice chips topped with red beans, fruit, rice cake, sweetened milk, ice cream, and fruit syrup. Rather than just the original pat-bingsu (bingsu with red beans), a wide array of bingsu like fruit bingsu, mango bingsu, green tea bingsu, and coffee bingsu has become more popular these days. In summer, Korea becomes heaven for bingsu lovers as most cafes, bakeries and fast food restaurants sell a variety of bingsu!
One of the places known for preserving the original flavor of bingsu is café Meal Top. The café prides itself on its quality ingredients and makes its bingsu using fresh cooked red beans instead of pre-packaged beans and real fruit with no artificial ingredients. The Osulloc Tea House in Myeong-dong is another recommended bingsu café and is famous for its mouth-watering green tea bingsu and green tea ice cream.
If you're not a fan of red beans, have no fear. There are plenty of bean-free bingsu variations. Gami, which opened in 1975, offers a delightfully sweet strawberry bingsu and a watermelon bingsu sweetened with condensed milk.
The quiet teahouse Suyeonsanbang, located in the former residence of novelist Lee Tae-jun, offers sweet pumpkin bingsu. While this bingsu does contain red beans, it is also topped with generous chunks of sweet pumpkin, making for a mild taste that it particularly popular among the teahouse's female clientele.
* This column was last updated in June 2016, and therefore information may differ from what is presented here.
Last updated on June 14, 2016