Home Lifestyle and Culinary Tips Korean Sick Food: What to Eat When Feeling Sick

Korean Sick Food: What to Eat When Feeling Sick

by Emily
Korean Sick food Post--A photo of a spoon and chopstick on a little plate

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It’s that time of the year–the holidays are over and people are starting to feel run down from being with family, eating and drinking way too much, the contagious bugs going around, and/or the cold weather. Whatever the case, if you are feeling under the weather, Korea has some delicious meals that help you get back on your feet.

Across the world, people prepare their family’s favorite comfort foods to fight illness. In South Korea, these foods vary widely based on the health benefits traditionally believed to help treat ailments and prevent disease. 

People in South Korea have used food remedies for generations. Many foods date back to when monarchs ruled Korea during the Joseon Dynasty. The most prominent written documentation of these traditional culinary medical remedies can be found in Donguibogam (동의보감). In English, Donguibogam translates to ‘a priceless book of medicine.’ This historical encyclopedia of medical knowledge and treatment techniques text was compiled and then edited by the royal physician Heo Jun during the 17th century. In this 25 volume text, the writers delve into how ailments affect the body and how to treat these diseases. Nowadays, this book is still widely used by Eastern Medicine doctors. In 2009, it was added to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register and is a protected text. 

Korean Sick Food:

As of today, the elderly generation often still has a strong belief in the healing powers of these foods. On the other hand, though young people still widely consume these dishes when ill, it is out of tradition rather than actual belief in the health benefits. 

Here, we will list some of our favorite Korean comfort foods and drinks that help with illness. But, before we get started, I want to state that these foods are meant to soothe you while sick, they are not actually a cure and cannot replace medicine prescribed by a doctor.

Are you curious about what people eat when feeling ill? If so, check out our list of Korean culinary cures below!

1. Samgyetang: 

A bowl of Korean samyetang--a bowl with broth and chicken.
Photo Credit: makafood
Authentic Samgyetang!

‘Samgyetang’ (삼계탕) is a type of chicken soup. To make this dish, you clean and prepare a small whole chicken. Once cleaned, you stuff the chicken with glutinous rice, ginseng, garlic, red dates (known as jujube), and/or peeled chestnuts. Then, you boil the chicken allowing the rice to absorb the liquid and the chicken to excrete all of its juices. 

Traditionally, people in Korea consume this dish during the hottest days of summer. Back in the day, people believed it helped regulate body temperature. During the Joseon period, ginseng was thought to warm the body, especially the stomach. 

To me, this dish is most comparable in taste to chicken noodle soup we eat in America when feeling ill. 

2. Ginseng:

People in Korea use ‘ginseng’ (인삼) in other ways beyond just samgyetang. For example, they use ginseng in various ‘banchan’ (side dishes), ‘guk’ (soups), ‘cha’ (tea) and ‘sul’ (alcoholic beverages).

Further, people often give ginseng in little drinking pouches as traditional gifts for major holidays and housewarming. If you watch Korean dramas, you may notice people drinking up these little sticks of ginseng. 

People in Korea say that ginseng acts as an energy booster. Although people have been using ginseng in traditional medicine for centuries in Korea, modern research is inconclusive about the medical benefits. As of 2019, the FDA in America has issued a warning to manufacturers of ginseng dietary supplements for making false health claims.

3. Juk (Or Jook):

In English, Jook (죽), or Juk,  translates to rice porridge. Like American chicken noodle soup, this is a Korean staple for those who feel ill. To make this dish, you slowly boil rice that you have soaked in water for many hours. Once boiled, the rice becomes a porridge texture that can easily be swallowed. Often, you add different ingredients (such as vegetables, seafood, chicken, etc.).

I recommend trying my recipe for ‘jeonbokjuk’ (전복죽), otherwise known as Korean abalone porridge. It really helps if you do not feel well!

4. Baesuk:

Baesuk (배숙) is a type of Korean pear punch. Traditionally, people in Korea make this punch by poaching or steaming a Korean pear, known as ‘bae’ (배), with other ingredients such as honey, black peppercorns, and ginger. Then, they would garnish the drink with toasted pine nuts. 

Often, people serve this drink hot to remedy a sore throat and cough from the common cold. While the honey soothes the throat, the ginger and hot liquid help warm the body. 

5. Yuja-Cha: 

‘Yuja-cha’ (유자차) literally translates to ‘yuja tea’ in English. To make this tea, you first add together yuja marmalade with hot water. To make the marmalade, you use the yuja fruit, also known as yuzu. 

While yuzu can be found in many Asian countries, it is actually illegal to grow in much of the United States because the yuzu fruits and plants can carry a disease that would wipe out certain parts of American agriculture. If you want yuja-cha, and live in the United States, you would have to buy the premade marmalades. These are often available in Asian grocery stores as well as Amazon. 

The tea is often used in the winter or when sick with a cold. 

6. Kongnamul Guk

‘Kongnamul guk’ (콩나물국) is a type of Korean soup made using soybean sprouts. People tend to serve this soup in two different ways: spicy using Korean chili flakes or mild without chili flakes. 

People in Korea traditionally believed that soybean sprouts help to clean the liver and stomach making it the perfect detox soup (especially when hungover). 

7. Miyeok Guk

‘Miyeok-guk’ (미역국) is a type of seaweed soup with incredibly important traditional meaning. In South Korea, new mothers consume this soup as part of their recovery diet in the hospital. Seaweed is filled with important minerals necessary for new mothers during and after pregnancy. 

Mothers then give this soup to their children every birthday to celebrate. 

8. Kkul-Cha (Or Ggul-Cha)

A hot glass of honey tea-- a jar of honey sits next to the glass of tea.
Photo Credit: congerdesign
Honey Tea to Soothe a Sore Throat

‘Kkul-Cha’ or ‘Ggul-Cha’ (꿀차) literally translates to honey tea in English. In Korea, people drink this when feeling under the weather. Not only does it soothe your throat, but using local honey also helps your body fight allergens in your area. 

The most basic recipe involves mixing hot water and honey. People often infuse the honey with other medicinal ingredients such as ginseng, lemons, ginger, yuja, and more!

We Hope You Enjoyed Learning About Korean Food to Eat When Sick!

In the end, we hope you enjoyed learning about Korean food to eat when sick. If so, let us know in the comment section below. Also, let us know if you have any cultural foods you recommend when feeling ill.

If you would like to read more about cooking, you can find further recipes on our blog. We listed some of our favorite Carving A Journey Korean recipes below! For reference, many recipes are influenced by our blended Korean and Southern heritage.

Korean Ingredients: 

Further Carving A Journey Korean Recipes:

If you have any questions or comments, you can also email us at [email protected].

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