Tuesday was Chobok, the first of the three dog days in the traditional Korean calendar, or the three hottest days of the year. The second day is called Jungbok and the third Malbok, and they are each 10 days apart and collectively called Sambok.
Koreans traditionally treat themselves to healthy foods on these days, with samgyetang, a hot bowl of whole chicken soup cooked with ginseng, being the most popular dish. Samgyetang has always topped the list of foods searched online to beat the sweltering summer season, according to Naver, Korea's largest internet portal service. Others include abalones, croakers and eels.
But it seems samgyetang's popularity has been waning amid fears over avian flu. A staffer at superstore E-Mart said, "Sales of whole chickens for samgyetang fell 12.5 percent in July last year on-year due to bird flu, and they are slowly recovering this summer."
Croakers have become an increasingly popular alternative to samgyetang as it is known that they were favored by the nobility in ancient times to improve health. At online shopping site Gmarket, sales of the fish rose 207 percent on-year in July 2016 and a whopping 1,444 percent in July last year.
At E-Mart, croaker sales rose from 5 tons in 2014 to 20 tons in 2017, pushing up the market price by 30 percent. Their growing popularity has led retailers to secure stocks of Indonesian croakers, which are known to taste the most like the Korean variety. "Not only croakers but also eels, salmon, sea bream and other seafoods have been popular choices recently," for healthy foods to beat the summer heat, a Gmarket staffer said.
Historically, many Koreans relied on the nutritionally rich foods served on special occasions like Sambok to restore their strength. Nowadays, people tend to enjoy such dishes as delicacies.
One modern interpretation of Sambok cuisine is bread in the shape of a roast chicken sold at the Chosun Deli at the Westin Chosun Hotel in Seoul. Chicken stock is used in the dough to give the bread a chicken flavor. The bread contains ingredients found in samgyetang such as glutinous rice, ginkgo, sunflower seeds, hempseed and garlic.
A bakery at the Grand Intercontinental Seoul Parnas Hotel sells bread inspired by herbal medicine. Shaped like ginseng, it has a long list of healthy ingredients including ginseng, date, pumpkin seeds and pine nuts while its dough is fermented in water boiled with various kinds of medicinal herbs. It is available in limited quantities only for Sambok.