Sambok – The Three Dog Days of Summer in Korea

Have you yet heard of the Korean term “Sambok” (삼복)? Following the traditional calendar, it marks the three hottest days of summer in Korea. In the past, it used to have a more significant status in Korean culture. However, even today, it does draw people towards certain foods during Sambok.

A girl using a paper fan to cool herself

In this article, we will go over in detail when 삼복 (Sambok) takes place and what foods are traditionally eaten during it. You might even get inspired to participate this year, cooking these Korean meals in your home!

What is 삼복 (Sambok)?

As we already mentioned, 삼복 (Sambok) refers to the three hottest days of the year. Other references to these days are 복날 (boknal) and “dog days.”

In the past, 삼복 (Sambok) was a farming holiday and a rather important one as that. It was thought that the weather during Sambok would determine how fruitful the upcoming harvest would be.

Different regions had different parameters for what type of weather would entail a good crop; in Busan, the rain was hoped for; in other regions, such as Gangwon, rainy weather was taken as a bad sign. Besides weather watching and eating specific foods, Sambok was also the time when 복제 (bokje) took place. Bokje is a rite done to encourage the rice crop to grow.

When does 삼복 (Sambok) occur?

These days are determined by the lunar calendar (learn more about this calendar here), typically between June and July. However, the specific dates change each year.

The Three Days of Sambok

Unlike what you may initially think, the three days of Sambok do not happen on three back-to-back days.

Sambok is divided into three days: 초복 (Chobok), 중복 (Jungbok), and 말복 (Malbok). Below we will explain a little bit more about each of them.

What is 초복 (Chobok)?

Chobok is the first day of Sambok.

Chobok 2023: July 11

What is 중복 (Jungbok)?

Jungbok is the second day of Sambok. It takes place ten days after Chobok.

Jungbok 2023: July 21

What is 말복 (Malbok)?

The last day of Sambok is called Malbok. It takes place ten days after Jungbok. The gap between Jungbok and Malbok may be 20 days, depending on the year. Thus, overall, the celebrations of Sambok take place over a period of twenty or thirty days.

Malbok 2023: August 11

What do Koreans do during sambok?

The primary way for Koreans to commemorate Sambok is through food. Historically, it was enjoyed in valleys and forests, but these days you can, of course, enjoy it in a restaurant or at home. Summer fruits such as watermelon are also enjoyed most during this time.

Besides food, it was customary to dip one’s feet in water to cool off. Today, many do so by dipping their feet in Cheonggyecheon, for example.

Traditional Sambok Food

Traditionally, it was customary for Koreans to eat dishes like either dog meat soup (보신탕 | bosintang) or ginseng chicken soup (삼계탕 | samgyetang) on the dates falling under Sambok. Back then, meat wasn’t a big part of Korean food culture. However, it was thought that nutritious foods, including meat, would offer the needed nutritional benefits to survive through the hottest days of summer.

And if you thought it was odd to eat a hot soup on the hottest day? Well, the belief actually was that by eating hot soup, the body’s temperature would rise up, and then the hot weather wouldn’t feel so strongly hot.

Today, dog meat soup is no longer common to eat. Instead, pork and beef have become the meats to eat in Korean cuisine. Thus, bosintang has been replaced by spicy beef soup (육개장 | yukgaejang) in modernized Korean traditions.

Yukgaejang is rather similar to bosintang, except for the change in meat. The ginseng chicken soup or samgyetang, however, has survived the tests of time and remains the ultimate dish to eat on Sambok. It’s popular to eat throughout the year whenever one needs to charge and heal their strength, but it gets especially popular around these dates.

Wrap Up

Wow, now you know about another Korean holiday! Honestly, this holiday could easily go unnoticed and unobserved, so it’s no surprise many foreigners don’t know of it. That is true even if you live in South Korea!

When the next summer heatwave strikes and you feel like you might want to try some 육개장 (yukgaejang) or 삼계탕 (samgyetang) to commemorate Sambok, you will want to know how to order food in Korean.

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