The cicadas are screaming, parasols abound and mould is creeping out of every corner. Summers in my city, Daegu, are oppressive. Today’s high is at 35 degrees Centigrade, and we can expect 93% percent humidity around midnight. Right now, we are squatting between the three hottest days of summer in Korea, known as 삼복 (sambok) or 복날 (boknal). The first day, 초복 (chobok), fell on July 18 this year, the second is 중복 (jungbok) and the last, 말복 (malbok), falls on August 7.
To maintain their stamina and replenish their energy levels during this period, Koreans eat 보양식 (boyang sik/food). Boyang translates as soothing, and enriching, and these foods are believed to help the body recuperate during the intense heat. Dishes considered to be boyangsik include the popular 삼계탕 (Samgyetang)–a chicken and ginseng soup–and 냉면 (naengmyoen), buckwheat noodles served cold.
On hot, breezy summer nights like these, I love walking around my neighbourhood and eating cold noodles for dinner. My favourite boyangsik is 콩국수 (kongguksu).
Like most Korean dishes, kongguksu seemed anomalous to my African eyes at first. I had never seen anything like it before coming to Korea.
There were ice blocks floating amongst the noodles, julienned cucumbers, and a hard-boiled egg that flavoured this dish. I took a bite, and my mouth filled with a creamy, grainy taste. That was the soymilk. It threw me completely, and I loved it immediately.
Rather than fighting heat with heat, as fans of samgyetang do, I savour cold teas, salads and desserts in hot weather. I was delighted to find a culinary gem like kongguksu to add to my menu. As restaurants fill with patrons ordering samgyetang, I will be sneaking into a kimbap joint and slurping away the dog days of Korean summer.