Dog in Seoul (Long!)
- Alan Divack May 31, 2001 09:14 PM
Below is a report from a friend of mine who is spending this semester in Korea, about a visit to a restaurant in Seoul specializing in dog. My friend was timid about posting it on his own, but said it was OK for me to do it for him. Mind you that this is from a person who, until not too many years ago, couldn't (and wouldn't) even eat with chopsticks. Now he has truly gone where I would not dare.
I've just returned from an excursion to a dog restaurant. It's near the Blue House, and was located in an elegant building -- thatched roof, stucco walls, interior courtyard, elaborate plantings. It's either an
old private home or was modeled on one. Most of the patrons seemed to be businessmen or politicians with a sprinkling of young families and couples, in other words a typical crowd for an upscale restaurant. Dog meat is a delicacy here, and an expensive one at that. We were the only westerners & attracted lots of stare. My friend brought his driver, Mr. Lee, and otherwise I'm sure we couldn't have gained admission and couldn't have figured out what to order.
Ever since the Olympics dog restaurants in Seoul have kept a low profile. They've been removed from main streets, signs are smaller, and the younger eneration's been turned off the practice. Another price of westernization. Dog restaurants in the countryside are much more open, I'm told; also dog restaurants in Seoul no longer hang carcasses in plain view (as other restaurants do duck & lamb carcasses, e.g.) . There is a steady barrage of letters in the English-language Korean press attacking dog-eating, thus showing the limits of westerners for cultural diversity. One result is that dog meat is apparently the only kind of meat that's not subject to government inspection, for doing
so would give ammo to the practices opponents. Having no government inspection is a way of pretending it doesn't really exist. Koreans are hyper-sensitive about the country's image.
(Koreans also complain that the younger generation is losing the taste for kimchi. There may be SOME reason for this concern, but mostly I see it as evidence of uneasiness about "westernization" -- with westernization in this context meaning less an imposed hegemony than various Koreans own choices of new social directions. It's a question then of internal Korean conflicts. So one middle-aged Korean blamed the problem on working wives. They don't have time to make kimchi (perhaps one whole day of preparations for a month's supply), they get home late from the office so they buy fast food, they don't have time to prepare their children to accept its taste (by starting them off with mild varieties, then introducing hotter and hotter types), they put the responsibility on their own parents, who?ve already done this all their lives. One can get prepared kimchi at supermarkets, but the traditionalists are horrified by this. There's more fermenting here than just vegetables.)
We had two dishes, both cooked on the gas burner in the table. One was a kind of grill -- with the meat being cooked with greens (scallions, except much longer and tastier than ours, and a kind of green). You take up one green, put it in a hot sauce, add some meat, then some of the other greens, mix it around, and eat it. Sort of like bulgogki. The hot sauce consisted of a red pepper-laden concoction, mustard, and a granulated powder that was various shades of brown and black.
The other dish was the famous dog stew that boiled down into a thick, viscous mass. It was also eaten with a dipping sauce. Both were very good, though I referred the grill. Then the waitress brought in rice & dumped it in the soup pot. She added dried seaweed & some kind of hot pepper & mixed the remains of the stew in it, & we ate the rice. Among the best rice dishes I've ever tasted -- surprisingly delicate and complex. According to Mr. Lee, who should know, this was a good dog restaurant.
Dog meat itself is dark & resembles a combination between beef and dark turkey, except it's juicier & is much more tender. It comes in small hunks. There wasn't much of a smell-- that's apparently a sign of a good cook because at some places it smells good but has no taste. This was delicious -- and all the better with the spices. Also, though Korean food is famously hot, great skill is involved in blending the spices and, more important, in not having them overwhelm the freshness of the ingredients. That is especially apparent here.
If we can get together again, we're going to try for a kind of restaurant that serves (I think) soltang -- it consists of a cow's carcass that boils for a day or so & is mainly marrow. Supposed to be fantastic.
re: Michael Lewis
If you had milk from a cow that had grazed on onion or garlic greens, you would know it.
Pork is well known to be flavored by its feed. My ex and I raised a pig one year, and it didn't taste like the supermarket pork we were accustomed to.
Sea birds are fishy, land duck not so.
One year we shot a woodchuck in the garden. Tasted like a cross between duck and pork--fattened on lettuce, I said.
I thought this was a thoughtful post. You are right that my fellow Koreans are very sensitive about the image of its country abroad, and the consumption of dog meat is a particularly poignant issue.
Most recently in the local press (www.koreaherald.com), there was an opinion from an American reader who wanted all dog consumption to stop because it entailed the torture of dogs. The letter can be found at the link below.
Dog meat is consumed by some people here on a semi-regular basis...too often to be called a delicacy and too seldom to be called a staple of our diet. And your friend is perfectly right to say that we are in a legal Catch 22. The government does not want to formally endorse dog consumption because of what that would do to our image on the world stage, so the whole sector is un-regulated. People have to be really careful about where they eat this dish.
By the way, many Koreans also raise dogs as pets. Probably in most cases not the same people who eat dogs, but it is kinda weird seeing all this go on in one society.
The other thing I wanted to mention is that dog meat is pretty scarce in Korea, partly because of the bad press surrounding the raising of dogs for consumption, and believe it or not, dog meat has been known to be imported from Central America. I remember a year ago about an illegal shipment of dog carcasses from the Honduras and El Salvador. A cargo container full of dog meat. Its a strange world, and my credo for this issue is Chacun a son gout. Everyone to his/her own tastes.
My folks ate dog in Tahiti when the lived there several years ago. They were living on a small island and eating fish three times a day or canned meat. My folks had developed a mean craving for some "meat on the bone" as my stepfather put it. They jumped in the bota and head to Papeete. Upon arriving on the island they stopped at the first cart on the street that was roasting meat and chow'd down. turned out it was dog, but my ma says after a steady fish diet for a month it was the best thing she'd eaten. In Tahiti dogs raom the streets wild and although some do have dogs as pets their take on the whole matter is different then the American perception.
re: Michael Yu
Most of the discussion of dog as human food in Calvin Schwabe's book Unmentionable Cuisine published in 1979, 2nd ed 1995, University of Virgina Press (is this in chowbooks? if not, it should be) focuses on Oceania -- Polynesia, Tahiti, Hawaii, Philippines (he even has a recipe for dog in adobo) Indonesia, and also China. He mentions Korea, but doesn't describe many dishes.
Interestingly, he also talks about the consumption of dog in Europe. He gives a detailed recipe for the preparation of a dog prosciutto from Switzerland, and notes that there were recent (presumably post war) cases of trichinosis due to the consumption of improperly prepared dog flesh. It probably should not be surprising that people in Alpine areas would eat dog. Other animal protein might be too scarce, or dairy cows too valuable to eat until they are so old and tough that they are rather less appealing than canine. He also notes that Belgium has a law on the books from 1885 regulating how dog meat is to be sold for human consumption.