It feels like it was New Year’s eve just a couple weeks ago, but we’ve already come half way through the year and summer is just around the corner. Unlike summer in Southern California, which is usually sunny and dry throughout, summer in Korea is known to be very hot and humid. Summer in Korea usually begins with a rainy season and after that heat kicks in. The temperature can easily reach one hundred degrees in some regions and it usually lasts about three months from June to August until the temperature starts to drop in September. Since Korea has such distinctive seasons throughout the year, there are unique ways to prepare for the upcoming season of heat and humidity.
When you prepare yourself for the hot and humid summer, it is probably natural for you to seek the cold by eating something cold and lowering the AC temperature. However, People in Korea have developed a distinctive, somewhat abnormal way to bear the heat and humidity: “YI-Yeol-Chi-Yeol (이열치열).” Yi Yeol Chi Yeol is a Korean idiom which means ‘treating heat with heat,’ or ‘fight fire with fire.’ It might sound strange to you at first – why would you want more heat when there’s already enough heat? However, you can easily find Korean people applying this to every part of their lives, including but not limited to the culinary culture. People seek a bowl of hot soup so that they can sweat the heat out. You’ll hear people saying “ah, it’s so cool now” after they drink a bowl of hot soup. Using their body’s natural cooling system, they let the sweat out after eating hot food to cool down.
Koreans celebrate the beginning of summer with a bowl of samgyetang, a stuffed chicken in a broth. Cho-bok, is a day on the lunar calendar that is regarded as the beginning of the summer. Just as we eat turkeys on Thanksgiving, traditionally people in Korea eat samgyetang on Cho-bok. It is very normal to see people lining up at a restaurant on a hot sunny day to get a bowl of hot soup. In addition to that, there are two more bok days: mid and end of summer days that people endure the heat with a bowl of samgyetang. Samgyetang is one of the most popular foods in summer because it is considered very healthy food: a combination of steaming broth and a chicken stuffed with healthy ingredients. There are also many different kinds of Korean stews and soups that are popular during summer. For the same purpose, people also go to saunas a lot during summer. They go into a dry sauna with the purpose of sweating the heat out. Many saunas and restaurants hold special promotion events centered around “yi-yeol-chi-yeol.”
However, Koreans don’t eat only hot foods during the summer. Even though they fight heat with heat, they also like to eat cold foods to literally cool themselves down. One of the famous and popular cold foods in Korea is naengmyun, which means “cold noodle.” Bingsoo, Korean shaved ice, is also popular. There are varieties of bingsoos from the regular red bean bingsoo to cheesecake bingsoo, or even tiramisu bingsoo.
People’s tastes in food may have changed as time has passed and many different flavors have been added with improved techniques. But the wisdom in the spirit of “Yi Yeol Chi Yeo” “has remained the same throughout the centuries.
By Hailey Cho