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 spending time in air-conditioned buildings or heading to the beach or waterparks. Another way to keep your cool is through the foods you eat! Many Koreans fight fire with fire by eating hot foods full of nutrients but if that’s a bit too extreme, there are also many cool dishes to feast on. If you want to spend this summer eating like a Korean, keep reading!
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. One of the best foods to eat during this time is samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup), packed with nutritious ingredients and known for its restorative properties. The dish is prepared by taking a young chicken and stuffing it with rice, jujube, garlic, ginger, ginseng, and other herbs. The ingredients are then boiled together and served up in a delicious broth.
Another filling dish to enjoy in summer is haemultang (spicy seafood stew) or haemul ttukbaegi (seafood stew in a hot pot). This traditional Korean stew is filled with an abundance of seafood, including squid, crab, shrimp, clam, and abalone, in a spicy broth. The dish has a low fat content, making it perfect for filling up on energy! Order it with a side of grilled abalone or muneo sukhoe (blanched octopus) for a complete meal.
Galbitang, short rib soup, is a great dish to order when you’re feeling drained. The rich broth and hearty meat will have you feeling rejuvenated in no time. The beef and vegetables are boiled for four to five hours for a deep tasting broth. While most soups and stews in Korea are spicy, galbitang’s beef broth is seasoned with sesame oil and soy sauce for a taste loved by all. You can eat the meat right off the bone, or cut it off with scissors and then dip it in the provided soy sauce.
Naengmyeon, a buckwheat noodle dish, first appeared as a seasonal dish that was eaten only during the winter months in North Korea. The most famous types of the dish are Pyeongyang naengmyeon and Hamheung naengmyeon. The biggest difference between the two 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. Naengmyeon dishes are usually garnished with sliced beef, a boiled egg, cucumbers, and pears.
A recommended dish for those who may have lost their appetite due to the heat is naeng kongguksu, noodles in cold soybean soup. Full of protein, this savory dish is particularly invigorating on hot, humid days. It is made by soaking cooked soybeans in cold water and then grinding them up with a millstone. It comes served cold, and is often topped with slices of cucumber, boiled egg, and tomato. For taste, you can add some sugar or salt.
Chogye guksu is a chilled noodle dish made from cooled chicken broth mixed with vinegar and mustard before adding noodles and thinly shredded chicken topping. The name comes from the Korean words for vinegar and the Pyeongan regional dialect for mustard (“cho” and “gye” respectively). This dish 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.
In Korea, one of the most popular summer desserts is none other than bingsu. Bingsu is a dessert made of shaved ice usually topped with red beans, fruits, rice cake pieces, sweetened milk, ice cream, and fruit syrup. While the original pat bingsu (shaved ice with sweetened red beans) is still enjoyed, a wide array of bingsu like fruit bingsu, green tea bingsu, coffee bingsu, and injeolmi bingsu rose to popularity in recent years. In summer, Korea becomes heaven for bingsu lovers as most cafés, bakeries and fast food restaurants sell bingsu. Even major convenience stores have started selling their own take on bingsu!
* This column was last updated in July 2020, and therefore information may differ from what is presented here. We advise you to check details before visiting.