Eating Dog Meat Soup
Kaesong, North Korea
“Who wants dog meat soup?” one of the tour leaders asked on the bus. “It’s five euros extra.”
“Dog meat soup is a traditional food of the Korean people,” the head North Korean tour guide explained. “We eat it three times a year on special days.”
A few of the men said they were interested.
A pause settled over the bus as the rest of us thought about it.
“Oh, I’ll do dog,” I said sheepishly, reaching into my pocket for a five euro note.
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Koreans eating dog meat is a cliché in America, but it’s an example of cultural misattribution. The eating of dog meat occurs throughout East Asia, but each Western nation tends to associate it with the specific culture where those Westerners first encountered it.
Thus, Americans associate the eating of dog meat with Koreans, because American servicemen first encountered the practice in South Korea after World War II. By contrast, the British associate the canine dish with the Cantonese-speaking Chinese of Guangdong, where Brit traders first came across it. I personally associate dog meat with Cambodia, the first place I saw several skinned and gutted dogs hanging by their teeth from a window in a butcher shop.
In Korean, dog meat soup is generally called bosintang, and you can find online recipes. However, in many Western jurisdictions, the sale of dog meat for human consumption is illegal. For example, my home state of California has declared it a misdemeanor to buy, sell, accept, or even possess “any carcass or part of any carcass of any animal traditionally or commonly kept as a pet or companion with the intent of using or having another person use any part of that carcass for food.” California Penal Code section 598b(a) (scroll down). That being said, as with all such exotica, where there is a will, a wallet and an ethnic neighborhood, there is a way.
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All of the dog eaters were seated at one table, and each place was set with nine small bowls made of yellow metal, covered by matching lids. The utensils were plastic chop sticks and a Western spoon.
The metal bowls each contained about three bites of a different dish, ranging from spicy cabbage to salad to sweet pastries. A bowl of moderately sticky white rice was also served to each diner. Bottles of water and local beer were on the table although, as was the case throughout the trip, the restaurant was stingy with the beverages.
After a few minutes, the dog soup came out. It was served in large black earthenware bowls and had a dark brown brothy color with hints of reds and yellows.
Enough with the back story, you say; what does dog meat taste like?
It tasted like beef – gamey, pungent beef.
The dog meat was only one component of the soup, which was rich in spices and vegetables. The meat settled at the bottom of the bowl, and I had to reach in with chopsticks to take it out.
The dog meat was in small, almost cylindrical pieces. It was stringy, not unlike the shredded meat found in Mexican food. The cuts were not in medallions or other recognizable shapes, probably because one dog doesn’t yield a lot of meat for the chef to work with. My slices had a moderate amount of fat on them, which I picked off. The meat was not oily.
It was good! After the initial cultural trepidation, I had to admit that the soup was excellent. It wasn’t as spicy as the hottest chile you’ve ever had, but it was in an adjacent neighborhood. Although the dog meat had a unique flavor, its juices did not overpower the soup or the vegetables. I didn’t ask for seconds, but I didn’t regret the firsts.
“This is actually pretty good,” one of the other travelers said. "It has a real bite to it.”