[Weekender] Healthy, tasty local dishes that nourish during summer

By Julie Kim Jackson
  • Published : Jul 22, 2016 - 17:09
  • Updated : Jul 22, 2016 - 17:09

During summer, some Koreans may think of the phrase “iyeolchiyeol” when deciding what to eat.

Similar to the popular English idiom “fight fire with fire,” Koreans are known to tackle the scorching weather head on by “adding” even more heat. This might take the form of visiting saunas or having a bowl of piping hot soup.   

“Boyangsik,” which translates to “food that strengthens the body,” is a common go-to food during summer because it is believed that such food is made with ingredients that can help people live longer.

Healthy food is not just simple salad and fruit as commonly perceived in the west. Boyangsik is often delicious and ample.  

A bowl of Samgyetang, Korean ginseng soup. (123RF)

Mostly consisting of hot soups, traditional Korean boyangsik contains a myriad of herbs, roots and fruits with medicinal properties that help replenish the body.

Some of the most popular dishes of boyangsik include samgyetang (chicken ginseng soup), seolleongtang (milky broth beef brisket noodle soup) and gomtang (oxtail soup).

“Without a doubt one of the most popular boyangsik for Koreans to eat is samgyetang, not only just in Seoul, but everywhere,” said a spokeswoman for the Korea Tourism Organization’s K-style Hub.

“Nowadays many restaurants have their own signature way of cooking samgyetang -- some traditional, and some more modern to add different flavors,” she added.

Samgyetang is made by boiling a young chicken (Cornish game hen) and stuffing it with glutinous rice, ginseng and jujubes. Some recipes are even known to include up to 30 oriental medicinal herbs. Less traditional soups may include seafood additions such as abalone for a little extra flavor. 

“We serve many kinds of samgyetang here, we even have one samgyetang that is specifically made for women and one made for men,” said a staff member at the famed Hwanghu Myeongga restaurant in Insadong. “Although we do serve a more standard Insadong samgyetang, customers do have more options. All our soups have more than 19 herb plants and are very healthy. They will help maintain your body’s temperature and enhance your overall health.”

Hwanghu Myeongga’s premium chicken ginger soup features wild ginseng and lotus seeds that are said to be good for women, while the deluxe soup for men includes ginseng and cordyceps sinensis (larvae fungus), a traditional herb that supposedly helps remove viruses from one’s body. 

However, boyangsik goes far beyond the popular samgyetang. 

Kko-ri gomtang, Korean-style oxtail soup. (123RF)

Seolleongtang is said to date back more than 500 years ago, to the Joseon era. The dish is typically made by simmering the bones, head, meat and entrails of an ox for up to 10 hours. The long hours of simmering ox bone results in a broth that is rich in amino acids and calcium, aiding digestion and nourishing a weakened body.

Another favorite is gomtang, which even many Koreans find hard to distinguish from seolleongtang. Both are ox-based soups, but gomtang is made by boiling beef brisket, oxtails and entrails for several hours. Its biggest distinguishing factor from seolleongtang is that its broth is more transparent as it is simmered with more meat than bones.

“Many of Korea’s boyangsik dishes are popular throughout the country, but there are some regions that have their own boyangsik traditions,” said the K-style Hub spokeswoman. “For example in the Southern regions, many people eat grilled eel in the summertime. It is still referred to as boyangsik because eel is very lean and healthy.” 

A bowl of mineotang (croaker fish soup) (Fun Busan)

Boyangsik also includes eel, chueotang (soup made from ground up mudfish) as well as mineo (croaker fish) soup, particularly in regions outside of Seoul.

“One of the dishes that my family and I would eat a lot during summer is mineo and mineotang,” said Park Ji-yoon, who grew up near Gwangju city in Jeolla Province. “It’s a pretty popular dish in our region and is very healthy, so we always feel good after eating it.”

“Like many Koreans, I believe that consuming a lot of boyangsik will contribute to you having a longer and healthier life,” Park added. “And even though it’s very hot and humid during the summer, just like eating samgyetang, there’s something about consuming this hot soup in hot weather that just feels right. ... I think the fact that we know we are being healthy somehow makes us feel refreshed.”

By Julie Jackson (