Chicken Soup for the Sweaty Soul – Sahm-gyae-tahng

sahn gyae tahng
It’s summer time in LA, and though the heat and humidity is nowhere near the mercury and barometer levels in some other places, it’s still hot. We had a few days of overcast relief, but after that, it’s been sweltering.

When it’s hot outside, I lose my appetite. I’m not sure whether heat just naturally does that to a body, or I feel full from all the liquids I drink to keep cool and hydrated. Whatever it is, when it’s hot, all I want is ice cold liquids. Iced tea. Diet Coke. Fruit Water. But not plain water. Plain water makes me nauseous.

But there’s only so much energy a body can contract from a liquid diet, so eat we must. It’s barbecue that first comes to mind when thinking of summer time foods. However, the idea of standing over a fiery grill, then working myself to cut then chew steaming, hot steaks does not appeal to me on days that the mercury creeps up into the high 90s. Even in the high 80s. Barbecue doesn’t sound refreshing.

shi-geum-chee namul – spinach
oi so-bae-gee
oi so-bae-gee – cucumber kimchee

Salads are refreshing. Sushi can be refreshing. In Korea, soup is also refreshing – The word is shyun-hae. It’s a hard sensation to describe – how a steaming bowl of boiling hot clear broth can be refreshing, but it is. And there might be a little to do with the fact that the heat from the steam causes us to sweat, which alone is a cooling effect on the body. In fact, ???, sahm-gyae-tahng, a chicken and ginseng soup, is popular during the summer for Koreans. Of course, all those Korean bahn-chan are perfect in summer, since most of them are cold, and spicy.

chong-gak kimchee
chong-gak kimchee – “bachelor” radish

Sahm-gyae-tahng is a clear broth chicken soup with whole baby or very young chickens. Mom is making this often now, since sahm-gyae-tahng has “medicinal” properties, and is great for pregnant women (no, not me!). It’s the protein from the chicken meat, the minerals from the chicken bones, and most importantly, the “medicine” from the ginseng. I don’t know what the medicine is, but like all Korean moms, my Mom always tells me “that’s what they say.” They who?

koh-choo – sauteed peppers
oi jee
oi jee – spicy salted pickles

The chickens are stuffed with washed but raw sweet rice which will eventually “steam” within the bird, dates, garlic, and ginseng. The dates aren’t the familiar dark, purplish-brown, wrinkled oblong dates from the Middle East and California. Korean dates are red, fat, and round, and are not as sticky sweet. As the dates cook in the broth, fruit flesh inside softens to a sweet paste, and the date becomes like a little red candy truffle. They are called jujubes, which always make me wonder if the inventor of the jujubees, the movie candy, was Korean – LOL! I will venture a guess that the dates have some sort of fiber benefit, which adds to the “medicinal-ness” of the sahm-gyae-tahng.

gah-jee – eggplant
saengsun – cold marinated fish

I doubt that when sahm-gyae-tahng was first made centuries ago in the countryside, the Koreans knew about antioxidants and the like – they just knew that there was something good about garlic and ginseng. Koreans love garlic, and according to the largest garlic farmer in California (up there in Gilroy, but can’t remember his name), his biggest consumers are Koreans! That explains why I love garlic, I guess, but I cannot stand ginseng, even if it relieves fatigue, helps with depression, and fights anemia and diabetes. Ginseng, not to be confused with ginger, tastes like mud.

sahn gyae tahng
a chicken in every pot

Young chicken meat is already tender, but the soup is still simmered for a very long time at low heat until the meat falls off the bones and the entire bird basically bursts open with the cooked sweet rice that has now expanded to about three times its volume. Mom is a busy lady these days in her garden and on the golf course, so she shortens the cooking time by doing it all in a pressure cooker. Smart lady.

Everyone gets their own whole chicken in their bowl along with some of the rice, dates, and ginseng. The soup is now basically a fragrant chicken broth, but with absolutely no seasoning. Salt, pepper and sesame seeds are served on the table so each person can season the soup to taste. I also dip the chicken meat in the salt and pepper, like tong-dahk.

Mom probably considers it blasphemy, but I also dipped it in sriracha ;)

Blog Widget by LinkWithin

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Clare Eats July 22, 2005 at 1:46 am

Thanks for the really informative post! I love Korean food, but it is alittle hard to get in most places here. I have no idea where to start with cooking it!


2 sarah July 22, 2005 at 3:14 am

and there aren’t that many (good) korean cookbooks out there, either! hopefully, someone will soon write a good one for us!


3 Fatemeh Khatibloo-McClure July 22, 2005 at 4:00 am


You know, Persians also follow a similar path — hot tea in the heat of the afternoon causes sweating, and cools the body down quickly.

As for jujubes…did you read my post about Persian New Year? We use dried jujubes on our “altar”. They are VERY yum.

Who knew Persian and Korean cultures have so much in common?


4 Kirk July 22, 2005 at 5:11 am

Another great post – I really enjoy these – I learn alot, superb!
I’m sure you’ll let us know when you find a good English Language Korean Cookbook – I’d buy it in a minute.


5 hermz July 22, 2005 at 7:15 pm

That sounds really good. And some chong-gak kimchee… my first Korean food. I haven’t had that for a while.


6 sarah July 23, 2005 at 1:03 am

fatemah – that must be why i love persian food! sheesh, now i think it’s about time to make another trip over to shamshiri grill :)

i think there is a pretty decent cookbook called doksuni, but for some reason, i wasn’t compelled to buy it when i saw it. i think i was hoping for more food porn in it. hee hee.
garsh, herms, i can’t believe your first experience with korean food was chong-gak, and still you liked it! i would think you’d have been turned off forever after that, lol!


7 LACheesemonger July 23, 2005 at 4:55 am

Well lets see if my CH usrnm will turn up on a Google search on this blog, and why am I not able to capitalize the name? FYI, I rarely post on CHLA-but a few times a year at best (last was May05 for Royal Star, and see my comments on your VIP-softcore ;0). A couple years ago, russkar (the insufferably arrogant know-it-all Nozawa shrill ;-) ) and I ‘disagreed’ on 1975 Bordeaux and sushi… and well, my posts got deleted, hehe.
Bull Durham (1988)
Crash Davis: Time out. Why do you get to choose?
Annie Savoy: What?
Crash Davis: Why do you get to choose? I mean, why don’t I get to choose, why doesn’t he get to choose?
Annie Savoy: Well, actually, nobody on this planet ever really chooses each other. I mean, it’s all a question of quantum physics, molecular attraction, and timing. Why, there are laws we don’t understand that bring us together and tear us apart. Uh, it’s like pheromones. You get three ants together, they can’t do dick. You get 300 million of them, they can build a cathedral.
[Crash laughs]
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: So is somebody going to go to bed with somebody or what?
Annie Savoy: Honey, you are a regular nuclear meltdown. You better cool off. Ha ha, ha ha!
[to Crash]

Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: Hey, Annie, what’s all this molecule stuff?

Yes indeed, I think all cuisines where the temps and humidity are high, have the same soups/heat sweating concoctions. But lets be realistic, sweating just isn’t all that fun; that’s what they did before the invention of A/C and private Jacuzzi’s in your custom Gulfstream III like Tom Cruise has to romantically jet away from SM Airport and seduce Katie Holmes, LOL. Time for American or Italian classics, ultra-premium IC or gelato…. now that hits the spot!

The tiny, teeny, skinny, recent college grad that used to work at Royal Star; she grew up in HK where all of her family/relatives still live. Recall last summer when we had blistering 100+ temps all the way out to the beach in Sept04. Dry heat I know, but the following week it dropped down into the 90F’s, but the humidity bumped up. When I went into ask about the Dim Sum (no luck) and shoot-the-breeze with her, she complained that is was just as hot that week also. But I said: “well you grew up in HK, so you should be used to it!” She said she hates that kind of weather, LOL (my kind of woman ;) ). And just the same her mother would make the more modern version of bird’s nest soup- coconut milk, chilled dessert version, as the bird’s nest (which when she found out what the composition of the nest actually is, became disgusted by it… what a sissy/wussy modern lady ;) ) is supposed to be good for the skin/complexion as her mother would tell her.

Just check Yahoo weather, and see that all summer long HK averages lower 90’s with average nighttime temps in the lower 80’s! Who could sleep! Through in intermittent thundershowers everyday for 60%+ humidity, and it makes us Angelenos seem like big time wusses. Dim Sum is designed under/for those conditions–at least the HK version, (centuries older Canton inland dim sum, it is cold during the winter months) along with the ubiquitous restaurant tea. See, Jerome doesn’t know everyting about Chinese cuisine, even if he speaks and writes the language ;).

Have to tell you Sarah, you crack me up with your extensive posts. How the hell to you have the time and energy to work and blog everyweek like this!

:bow: :bow: I’m not worthy ;-)

Too hot to post anymore tonight, I’ll add a few notes to the Typhoon over the weekend, if you don’t mind.


“Hey, Sari, what’s all this food porn stuff?” ;-)


8 C(h)ristine July 19, 2006 at 7:40 pm

I found you via a google search for sahm gyae tang….Oh your post is refreshing in itself! I crave everything you write about here–!


9 acnecare8 September 25, 2009 at 7:38 pm

i love to eat Chicken Soup, my mom used to always serve that dish with me specially when i am sick during my childhood days.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: