It is a little known fact that many Koreans love their boiling bowls of soup the most during the hottest days of summer, so it would not be unusual to find them downing steaming hot samgyetang (chicken ginseng soup) during an oppressively humid afternoon.
In Korea, they say, “fight fire with fire!,” restaurant owner Choi Mi-hee told Vice. “[Samgyetang] has benefits because when it’s too hot, we eat cold things. Our stomach gets colder but the rest of us stays hot. So we have to make it the same temperature.”
Such belief brings a flock of patrons to Choi’s Gangwon Toon Samgyetang in Ilsan, Korea during the three hottest days of Korean summer —chobok, jungbok, and malbo. It is widely believed that eating the soup three times in this period is good for a person’s health.
“When we eat samgyetang, we can get our stamina back,” Choi claimed.
The special soup is often consumed with ginseng liquor or soju.
Samgyetang is cooked with month-old chicken that fits whole into a bowl. The still tender meat is filled with garlic and rice and then cooked with ginseng, jujube, milk vetch root, and chestnut as basic ingredients with other ingredients depending on who’s cooking. Choi, for her part, includes eight additional special ingredients that she did not want to reveal.
The popular Korean specialty is getting more attention abroad. Canned and frozen samgyetang has recently been exported to and found popularity in China. Like in Korea, the Chinese believe that the soup can prevent illnesses.
Choi insists that while the meal itself may contain more than 1,000 calories per bowl, samgyetang is still a better option than what is available out there.
“Nowadays, a lot of Koreans eat a lot of junk food,” said Choi, “But samgyetang doesn’t have chemical ingredients and is natural and healthy.”