DISCLAIMER: If you are squeamish at the thought of eating dog meat, then stop reading here. Now that I’ve warned you, I hope to not hear any sort of negative comments on how I’m a monster for eating pets or that the Korean people are cruel towards animals.
Hello and welcome to another very special edition of Mastication Monologues! What makes it special? Well, the food I tried this evening could be considered very controversial from a Western perspective. After playing a couple of games of volleyball with my Korean co-workers, they remained faithful to indulge one of my wishes to try an element of Korean cuisine that Koreans nowadays are reluctant to acknowledge when in the presence of foreigners: dog meat soup or bosintang. While I have heard many people back home in the states make jokes that the Chinese and Koreans eat dogs regularly, this is no longer the case. In the West, we see domesticated dogs as pets, and so do the Korean people. The dogs that are bred for bosintang in Korea are different from domesticated dogs and are viewed as livestock like cows or chickens. Where one draws the line at “pet” and food is completely arbitrary based on societal views. Korean society most likely took the concept of eating dog from the Chinese centuries ago as there is an ancient Chinese manual that describes three types of dogs, “Ones for working, ones for living under the table, and ones to be eaten”. One of the main reasons why dog meat was consumed was that it was considered to have medicinal properties that promote stamina and balance one’s qi (personal energy) during the hot days of Summer. I also learned that Korean hospitals serve it to patients recovering from surgery because it encourages robust health. However, just like in China, younger Korean generations are firmly against the consumption of dog but still respect the wishes of those who want to consume the “fragrant meat”. All of this brings us to my meal.
First, the place that I went to, Oban Bosintang located at Gyeyang-gu Seoun-dong, was very secluded.
We had to go down a small alley to actually find the place, and I definitely wouldn’t have known where to look if it wasn’t for my “uncle” teacher who is like my adopted father figure at work. Hooray for Confucian values in the workplace! Anyway, it was a very typical Korean restaurant inside with low tables and all of the side dishes laid out. After taking in the ambiance, I was face to face with a small bubbling cauldron of copper-colored broth that seemed to be mostly filled with mixed greens like any normal jjigae.
I then began to sift through the vegetables to find the dog, and I quickly muddled my way to hefty chunks of meat. It looked like pieces of pot roast since I could see the tender, individual strands of meat. As my Korean coworkers watched me, I popped a piece in my mouth and slowly savored the taste. The verdict: it was delicious.
It tasted like beef with a spicy chili background from the broth with slight gamey undertones in the aftertaste. It also came with a chili and oil sauce on the side to “reduce the fragrance” according to my vice-principal, and it seemed to do away with the gaminess which resulted in an overall better taste. The other parts of the meal like the buchu (garlic chive salad) and the green peppers with gochujang were okay, but the bosintang was the star of the show.
So I’ve finally eaten dog meat during my time living in Korea. Would I go out of my way to eat it again? Probably not. Would I eat it again if someone served it to me? Yeah since it was quite tasty. Thus checks off one of my major bizarre foods that I have always wanted to eat in the world. Watch out Andrew Zimmern, I’m coming for you.