Picture of samgyetang on Wikipedia
Two of the three lunch items in the cafeteria were chicken in broth, and the third appeared to be sliced roasted duck. One chicken in broth was a small whole chicken in a soup, and the other was a full chicken leg in a soup. Lunch was very well attended, with festive colored signs everywhere (presumably saying something about the holiday).
"The day to eat the chicken" wasn't enough information for me, so I scoured the internet for more details. Three hottest days of summer are identified according to the lunar calendar, and celebrated as holidays to mark the passing of summer. These are the sambok days: chobok(beginning), jungbok (middle), and malbok (last), and there's 10 days between each holiday. On these days, Koreans celebrate by eating full nutritious meals, served piping hot, to give them strength in the summer heat.
I had one of the most popular nutritious meals, samgyetang, a ginseng-chicken soup*. It was reminiscent of our typical american chicken soup, with a few differences. The chicken leg was still on the bone, with no meat separated out into the soup. The broth contained green onions and rice, and was very flavorful, but without salt. Instead, a pile of mixed salt and pepper was served alongside for the diner to add as desired. The usual panoply of sauces and accompaniments came with this soup, and today they were kimchi, pickled daikon, mung bean pancakes with tentacles (octopus? squid?), white rice, sesame oil with salt, korean miso, and fresh zucchini.
I've been doing more than my fair share of sweating since I came to South Korea, both in and out of work, and perhaps samgyetang had been just what I was missing. I certainly found it delicious and refreshing, and I only wish I'd be here to enjoy the rest of the sambok days.
Still, I think we'll be able to get in a few more adventures before we head back to the states next week. Tomorrow we plan to head in to Seoul again, to see the main traditional market in Insadong. I'll be on the lookout for interesting pottery, and plan to enjoy tea in a few of the many teahouses there.
*The internet also suggests that sambok days are when it's traditional to eat dog for it's nutritional value. They did not appear to be serving it at the work cafeteria, and I think the tradition has mostly fallen out of favor. I have seen a lot of pet stores here with some adorable little critters, and several Koreans toting their dogs around in baby carriages. To me, this suggests that dogs are falling squarely into the pet category these days.