Man Bites Dog and Loves It!
A few weekends ago in Busan, Korea, my friend and I just happened to get on the topic of eating dog meat. When I asked if he had ever eaten it he said yes; I never did and I was a bit surprised that he had, being from New Zealand. After all, my friend didn’t look like someone who would eat dog meat. By that I mean he didn’t have long arms with knuckles that dragged the floor when he walked or oversized fangs protruding from his mouth. He looks like a normal person. My friend then said, rather cheerfully, that he loved it and that it tasted like beef or mutton, "depending on how it's cooked." I thought to myself how disgusting and terrible it is to eat what we westerners consider to be 'man’s best friend' and, on top of that, say that it tastes like a farm animal. The next thing he did, almost inevitably, was to ask if I'd like to try some. I laughed. I like to try new things, but this was newer than I'd expected. 'Heck I'm in Korea, so why not?", I thought, and answered in the affirmative. I suddenly wondered to myself, did I just say yes to eating dog meat? I love dogs. Ever since I was a child I have loved dogs. I still carry a picture of my own beloved though long-dead pooch in my wallet. How could I have so readily agreed to partake in such an act of treason to my dog’s memory? But it was too late. My friend already had the plan in motion, which included inviting his Aussie friend, who also loved Bosintang, to witness my canine treachery. Wonderful!
'Dog day' finally arrived. I met my friend at 12:30 at our arranged meeting spot (no pun intended!) in front of a supermarket. He smiled and asked if I'd chickened out on him to which I sheepishly said no, but tagged on a very operative "not yet". I have to admit I was losing my nerve as we walked toward my date with destiny. I asked my friend what else was on the menu and he just laughed. In other words I was having dog meat and dog meat only. Period. Walking through the back streets to get to our destination I didn’t really think about the meal I was about to have. I was too distracted by all of the girlie bars and love motels in the area. I thought that this restaurant would be in some lonely abandoned area but it was situated in a nice quiet neighborhood in Seomyeon. We finally arrived at the restaurant. Our Australian friend was there to meet us and, after brief introductions and handshakes, we made our way to the front door.
The entrance to the cobble stone walk way of the restaurant is adorned with pictures of their table fair. There were pictures of various types of chicken, pork and beef dishes, and yes, also dog meat dishes, too. To their credit, the pictures of the dog meat is unrecognizable to the unknowing eye. If it weren’t for my friend pointing it out - a little too gleefully for my liking! - I would have been none the wiser. Yes, ignorance can still be bliss. We were met at the doorway of the restaurant by a smiling, fiftyish looking hostess who directed us to take off our shoes, leave them at the door and follow her. She led us upstairs to the dining area, where there were about five tables about a foot and a half off the ground. We were the only customers there at the time. Being that it was summer time she turned on a couple of fans and we were given seat cushions to sit on. Not only was I about to eat dog meat, but I was going to do it sitting in the lotus position. The restaurant was tastefully decorated with wooden tables, glass enclosed candles, and soft, Korean-style music.
After being seated on the floor the same petite, raven-haired lady who greeted us at the door took our order. My New Zealand friend, in Korean, asked for plum wine, rice, beer and Bosintang. I asked what that was; he smiled and answered that it was dog meat stew. "A stew? A stew?!" I thought to myself. It never occurred to me that this traditional, summertime Korean dish would be served as a stew. I just assumed that it would be served as a steak or a burger or something, but never a stew. Thankfully, the plum wine arrived first; I needed a drink. Then the beer; I needed another drink. Then out came three bowls of rice and three large, steaming bowls of Bosintang or dog meat stew.
As the bowl was placed in front of me I just stared at it. The stew looked tasty enough. There were green onions, perilla leaves and various spices which gave the soup a pleasant aroma. I still couldn't help but think of my dear departed dog and of all the fun we use to have. My companions apparently had no reservations as they started eating right away. I stared for another moment, I guess just to make sure that nothing in the stew moved. The pieces of meat looked like beef, if only a bit lighter in color, as they sat in their brown broth. I grabbed my chopsticks and poked at it; as I did, my friend barked. "Ha. Ha. Very. Funny." I said, thinking there was no way I could, or would, chicken out now. I am here in Korea, I thought, and I am going to experience this first hand. So I had finally got up enough nerve, properly positioned my chopsticks in hand and went for it.
I picked up the thinly sliced meat and quickly shoved it into my mouth followed by some rice. I chewed and chewed and chewed. Although it may have looked like beef it had a taste closer to that of pork. I swallowed. I grabbed a glass of beer and drank it. There it was done. I had taken my first bite of Bosintang. And you know what? To my surprise, it wasn't that bad. In fact it tasted, almost, well…good! I thought I'd better try it again just to make sure. Second bite in…still good! I told the guys I liked it. They laughed and asked if I'd come out for more again next weekend, but I said I would be busy, and proffered a possible rendezvous for the future. Even though the meal was tasty, I just couldn't get past the thought of eating one of man's best friends. Besides, I didn't want them to think I was a convert!