Samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup) is one of the most favored Korean health foods. This invigorating soup is made of a small chicken, ginseng, dates, glutinous rice, and other wholesome ingredients. But a more simplified recipe may use just chicken, ginseng, and garlic. To overcome the hot and humid summer heat, Koreans eat samgyetang at least three times during the season.
Taste Samgyetang in a Sweet in hot Weather
Why do Koreans have hot samgyetang in the hot summer? This is because of Korea’s unique custom of having “boknal (the three dog days).”
Boknal stands for one of the three hottest days of the year. Chobok (the first of the three dog days), Jungbok (the second of the three dog days), and Malbok (the last of the three dog days) fall between July and August of the year. These dog days are determined according to the lunar calendar and are considered special occasions, just like the western Christmas or Thanksgiving. On each of the three days, Koreans enjoy some special dishes that are believed to boost up one’s energy.
Samgyetang is made by putting glutinous rice, ginseng, milk vetch root, dates, and the like into an emptied chicken stomach. It’s then boiled for about one hour. The dish became popular with the rise in the popularity of ginseng. In the past, instead of chicken with ginseng, people more often ate baeksuk, which is steamed white chicken with garlic and glutinous rice. Koreans consumed the steamed chicken first and then made porridge with the chicken broth and glutinous rice. In contrast to baeksuk in which many people usually share one dish of a big-sized chicken, samgyetang is made of a small chicken and one portion is served to each person.
In this scorching hot summer, the popularity of chicken soars. As boknal approaches, it is not uncommon that even restaurants whose specialty is not samgyetang compete with each other selling the energy-boosting dish. This shows how popular the chicken food is. After having a bowl of samgyetang on the dog days, Koreans feel a sort of sense of relief. And if they do not have this dish, they feel somewhat flagged. That’s why there are long waiting lines in front of samgyetang restaurants on boknal. Today, samgyetang is not an unfamiliar dish to foreigners as well.
The dish is boiled enough to soothe the tang of garlic and the unique taste of ginseng, so it tastes similar to chicken soup that westerners enjoy. Renowned Japanese author Murakami Ryu extolled samgyetang as the best Korean dish and famous Chinese film director Zhang Yimou said that he does not fail to have samgyetang whenever he visits Korea.
Feel the Love of Mother-in-Law
Samgyetang became so popular that a variety of “fusion samgyetang dishes” have been created.
You can get samgyetang with the addition of a deer horn, chestnut, pine nut, or even abalone and baby octopus. For example, “hanbang samgyetang” is made of all sorts of medicinal herbs; “haemul samgyetang” is made of baby octopus, blue crab, and abalone; “daenamutong samgyetang” is made by steaming a whole chicken in a bamboo tube, instead of an earthen pot. The last one, in particular, emits a subdued bamboo scent, which also gives it more oomph.
However, no such samgyetang beats the one that a mother-in-law makes for her son-in-law. From olden times, there has been a tradition in which Korean mothers-in-law make samgyetang when their sons-in-law visit their house. It is explained that they want to show their love by catching a brood hen they have raised. Among the parts of chicken, giving the most luscious chicken drumstick to son-in-laws is considered to be a token of their boundless love.
Children and old people who cannot have a whole chicken still enjoy chicken porridge, which is made by boiling chicken without bones and glutinous rice.
Park Sung Eun firstname.lastname@example.org
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