The Days of Sambok are Upon Us!
Sambok (삼복) is characterized by the three hottest days of the summer and occurs over a span of a month’s time during the summer. While not necessarily what many would truly call a holiday, sambok honors how Koreans traditionally beat the heat. The time of sambok is set between the sixth and seventh month of the lunar calendar, which falls approximately between July and August on the Gregorian calendar. Instead of viewing this stifling time as unbearable, find out the way Koreans celebrate and beat the heat!
As previously stated, sambok occurs over approximately a one month period, with three marking dates within that time. The first date is chobok (초복), followed 10 days later by jungbok (중복), and then finally malbok (말복), which is 20 days after jungbok. In the early days of Korea, this time often marked a vacation period of sorts for farmers, who would take time to relax before the next round of rice harvest. Because it was so hot, this time period became holidays for farmers while they attempted to beat the heat and recover from fatigue. Boiling it down, sambok can basically be seen as a traditional Korean summer vacation. Nowadays, however, it’s more symbolic than anything and tends to revolve around food more than anything else.
Fight Fire with Fire!
The biggest tradition associated with sambok, other than taking a break to venture to cooler locations like the mountains or the beach, is to eat foods that are considered nutritious and rejuvenating. Because ice was a commodity long ago that commoners didn’t have access to, the practice of fighting fire with fire became regular. Today, the most popular dish associated with this time of year is samgyetang (chicken ginseng soup), but other popular dishes include jangeogi (grilled eel), patjuk (red bean porridge), and traditional summer fruits like melon.
But why warm dishes when it’s already sweltering outside? For one, samgyetang is known to stimulate appetite and rejuvenate the body; plus perspiration can have more health benefits than a cold meal during the summer. Jangeogi is popular because it is rich in vitamins A and E, and it is known to stimulate blood circulation while helping to prevent aging and wrinkles. And lastly patjuk, a warm dish that is also enjoyed during winter solstice, is customary in hopes of bringing peace and health to the family. During sambok, it’s thought that this dish helps to drive away heat and illness, and it is known to help relieve swelling.
As many of us go through the hottest days of the year in our own traditions, take a page from the Korean traditions book by heading out to the mountains or the beach and eating some warm traditional dishes to get back and rejuvenated for the fall!