Sambok are the three hottest days of summer in Korea according to the traditional calendar. Traditionally these are days to rest and reserve your strength. Although Sambok are no longer nationally recognized holidays, many people still eat specific foods on these days.
What is Sambok?
The Sambok (삼복), consists of three different dates across the summer. Chobok (초복) is the first day, the second day is Jungbok (중복), and the last day is Malbok (말복). These three days are not all in a row and the exact date changes every year. This is because they are based on the lunar calendar.
Korea’s traditional calendar is based on lunar cycles and has 24 seasons. Each of the four seasons we recognize in the modern calendar is broken up into 6 seasons. It is widely known as being a more accurate indicator of Korea’s seasons and weather than the modern calendar. Although Korea has officially switched to the gregorian calendar, growing seasons and traditional holidays are still determined using the lunar calendar.
Sambok are also known as dog days or the dog days of summer. This is because the traditional character bok looks like a man lying flat on the ground like a dog. This represents the overwhelming heat of summer on these three days.
In the year of 2022, the Sambok days are the following:
- Chobok: July 16th
- Jungbok: July 26th
- Malbok: August 15th.
Traditional Sambok Food
Traditionally, the most common dishes eaten in Korea on Sambok days were dog meat soup (보신탕) or ginseng chicken soup (삼계탕). Eating meat was not a daily in Korea occurrence during pre-modern times. However, it was believed that meat would provide the nutritional benefits people needed to endure the three most extreme days of summer weather. In addition, hot soups were eaten because it was believed that if the temperature inside your body was warm the external environment would not feel as hot.
Nowadays, dog meat soup is not very common. Other types of meat, such as pork and beef are now accessible to the average Korean. As a result, many people substitute Boshintang (보신탕) for Yukgaejang (육개장). It is a similar soup but it uses beef instead of dog meat.
However, the most popular dish during Sambok, even today, is undoubtedly Samgyetang (삼계탕). Samgyetang is a chicken soup made with chicken, rice, ginseng, jujubes, and garlic. It is Korea’s go-to healthy dish for recovering physical strength. It is considered the ideal food to help with fatigue brought on by the hottest days of the year.
You can read more about Samgyetang, by Clicking Here. The writer also gave a nice recommendation of restaurants to try the dish.
For those who couldn’t afford meat, alcohol rice cake (증편/ 술떡), made with Makgeolli, was also consumed during Sambok. Because it is made with alcohol, it does not spoil even on the hottest and most humid days of the year. However, it can have a sour taste as it ferments which many people in modern times mistake for it having gone bad.
New Sambok Traditions
With more advanced food storage methods, other nutritional foods were added to the menu. Among them, we have croaker fish (민어), eel (장어), chueotang (추어탕), Sullungtang (설렁탕), yongbongtang (용봉탕), abalone porridge and (전복죽). Still, none as widely consumed as Samgyetang.
The younger generation has of course added its own twist to the tradition. Trendy foods like fire chicken noodles (불닭뽁음면) and fried chicken and beer have been added to the menu. Many people have also fully embraced the fact that we can now get ice even in summer and have dropped the tradition of eating hot food on hot days. Cold dishes such as cold noodles (냉면) and bingsu(빙수) have become popular during Sambok.
I would not know about Sambok if I did not talk to older Koreans about the culture. Often people just quietly eat their traditional dishes for dinner, so it is an easy traditional holiday to miss. Even while living here, it passes by with most foreigners being completely unaware.
It was very interesting to know about Sambok and the ways it has changed over the years. Unfortunately, it seems like it is a holiday that is slowly fading away. However, I hope that with this article more people can appreciate Sambok and continue to celebrate it in their own way.