Sunday, July 27, 2003

Wolfing Down Doggie

And on the sixth day, God created Man's Best Friend, and Man was so delighted that he ate him straightaway.
--Encyclopaedia hominidica


I've decided that the best way to relate the interesting and unique experience of dog-eating is through an imaginary interview format. Imagine the questioner is Ted Koppel. He's sitting across from me now; we're using the set from the first "Matrix" movie, where Neo sits across from Morpheus and takes the red pill. Ted is wearing his usual slacks, but he's got the black leather Morpheus trenchcoat on, and the cool pince-nez sunglasses. I'm half-Korean and much more handsome than multiculti Keanu Reeves, because I carry my blubber well. As the interview begins, I'm slouched in my high-backed fauteuil, languidly digging out a large booger from my right nostril.

Koppel: Dog-eating, Kevin. What the hell were you thinking?

Kevin: I've been wanting to eat dog since I arrived last year. I simply didn't have the nerve until I returned to Korea this past June after a short trip to the States. While I was back in America, I went with my brothers to the Busch Gardens amusement park in Williamsburg, Virginia, and spent a weekday morning and afternoon conquering an old childhood fear: roller coasters. I'd hated roller coasters since elementary school, but this time around, I rode the four biggies: Apollo's Chariot, the Big Bad Wolf, Alpengeist, and the Loch Ness Monster. By the time I finished, I realized that screaming loudly and constantly was (for me) the key to braving a roller coaster, and-- poof. No more fear. I think I could ride a coaster again, and maybe even enjoy it. I certainly enjoyed the digital pictures that were taken of us as we whipped around certain high-gee turns. Most pics of me showed my enormous, fleshy face flapping fatly in the breeze. Amusing, but not quite amusing enough for me to purchase a copy of the pic for myself.

You might be asking yourself what the Alpengeist and Apollo's Chariot have to do with dog-eating. The answer is that, while I've been morbidly curious about dog-eating, I've also somewhat dreaded it. So tonight, I decided to tackle THAT fear, as well. Two fears down in one year. Not bad, eh?

I think what everyone wants to know is... would you eat dog again?

I'd ride a roller coaster again, but I doubt I'd eat boshin-t'ang again. It's not so much the taste of the dog meat-- I was actually OK with that. Rather, it was the taste of the stew's broth, which is spiced in a way that I found increasingly nauseating. To repeat: the meat actually tasted fine, and I'd probably eat that again. But boshin-t'ang is a stew; I may have to have my dog meat cooked a different way next time. The restaurant's menu, tacked to the wall like a huge Ross Perot chart, showed other dog preparations, none of which were stews.

[NB: "Boshin-t'ang" is a euphemism that translates roughly as "health stew," where "t'ang" means "stew"; all Koreans know the euphemism actually means "dog stew," though. The term for "dog meat is "kae gogi," where "kae" means "dog" and "gogi" means meat.]

All right. Shifting gears for a sec-- do you think my balls are too big? Be honest. My wife has been complaining lately about huge red welts on her buttocks from all the slamming. Frankly, I don't see that there's a problem.

Ted, I didn't come here to look at your scrotum, so please roll it back up and put it away. The cameras are still going. From what I can glimpse, though, you should probably lose a testicle-- or both-- to make life easier for your wife. Those bad boys're huge. Kudos.

[Ted puts his tackle away.]

What kinds of restaurants serve dog?

This was my first time in a boshin-t'ang-jip (a dog stew resto), so I don't know enough to generalize. I've heard some places specialize only in dog meat. This place's menu, however, also included standard dishes like samgye-t'ang (a kind of chicken stew, where the chicken is stuffed with ginger and rice) and samgyop-sal (a bacon-like cut of pork, often cooked and eaten with fresh vegetables and spicy pastes, wrapped taco-style in lettuce leaves).

How much does boshin-t'ang cost?

At this restaurant, which is about 50 meters from where I live, a single bowl cost me 7000 won, or about-- what-- 5 or 6 dollars at current rates. I don't know if that's average.

What's the ambience like? Are people secretive about their dog-eating?

From the outside, the place looked a bit like a hole in the wall, but it wasn't tucked in an alley or anything so sly. When I entered the resto, there were three men sitting at a Western-style table, and one lady serving as cook/waitress. Everyone was talking and laughing and watching the TV mounted high on the wall. Bright lights, clean interior. So no, this didn't feel secretive. The word BOSHIN-T'ANG is displayed prominently on the outside-- it's how I found the place, to tell you the truth. The men were kind of loud, but they were also done with their stew and half-drunk. As it turned out, one of the three could speak some English. Sort of. We got along better talking in Korean. I've heard that dog is a dish preferred by older Koreans. These guys looked to be late-40s, early-50s. Is that "older"?

In other words, the ambience felt pretty typical for a Korean restaurant. You had your choice of where to sit: Western-style tables, with chairs-- or Korean-style low tables, with butt cushions (and you remove your shoes before stepping into that area). Tables had gas ranges on them, which is typical at many Korean restos. There were covered plastic containers holding metal spoons and chopsticks. I received a metal cup and a .5-liter plastic bottle of ice-cold water. Also got a plastic-wrapped washcloth for handwashing. I noticed the place had an upstairs, but no one was up there.

So by Korean restaurant standards, I'd call the ambience at the boshin-t'ang-jip normal.

[NB: "Jip" is the Korean word for "house." Think: House of Beef, etc.]

Any thoughts on Brigitte Bardot and her campaign against Korean dog-eating?

Bardot is old and probably doesn't wash or shave her crotch. The infections from the fleas and crab lice inhabiting her pubic hair have adversely affected her mind and biased her against Koreans. Her whole spiel is the same as that of other ignorant bastards who say things like, "All Koreans are damn dirty dog-eaters!" My best Korean buddy has never tasted dog. My mother hasn't, either. Dog is out of fashion with the younger crowd, from what I hear. Most Koreans don't eat dog. Some do. Should I say something as unjust as "All French people love America," just because only a few of them do? Wouldn't the French be offended by such an odious generalization?

To be frank, I don't find Bardot worth dwelling on. If she wants to rave about something she can't change, let her rave. Here's an idea: she should eat her own legs in protest. Then her crotch can drag on the ground and provide her some relief from the fleas and lice.

Give us a chronology of the night's event.

I actually brought pen & pad to log this and take whatever notes I could. I arrived at the resto around 8:20. Ordered boshin-t'ang at 8:22. The stew came out of the kitchen at exactly 8:30. It took me exactly 30 minutes to eat my fill.

What was the serving format?

You mean, like, did it come out on a tray? Was it stew only, or were there side dishes?

Yeah, things like that.

My table was bare except for the silverware, gas range (which I didn't have to use), water cup & bottle, and my notepad. The lady brought out a tray of goodies that was more or less typical for Korean stews. She plopped down a little metal bowl of rice, an elliptical plate that had kimchi and ggakddugi (cubed turnip pickled kimchi-style), another small plate that had some sort of sauce made of sesame oil and ground red pepper, a plate of raw onions with red pepper paste, and the brown earthenware bowl of dog stew itself-- still boiling as she placed it in front of me.

So now we come to the good stuff. What was it like to eat dog meat?

Probably nothing like having sex with your wife, Ted.

[Both men share an insincere laugh, followed by an awkward silence. Ted decides to break the silence by ripping out a loud, ball-rattling fart. He laughs, more sincerely this time, at his own prowess.]

No, seriously. Give us the gory details, Kevin.

I'd been warned about the smell. When the stew arrived, I leaned over and sniffed it, and at least initially, the smell didn't bother me. The soup was a brownish color, and I didn't see any meat at first, just broth and vegetables-- mainly green onions and some other green vegetable that looked like spindly spinach, whose English and Korean name I've forgotten. You should know that, aside from the infamous doenjang-jjigae (a Korean soup whose base is a brown bean paste; many Westerners are turned off by its odor), most Korean stews are red, thanks to the gochu (red chili pepper) that is the principal spice. So boshin-t'ang was already somewhat special, based on this initial impression. When I took that first sniff, I could smell the dog meat, even though I couldn't see it.

The odor is hard to describe. I can't think of anything Western that smells like it. It's not an otherworldly smell by any means, but trust me-- you've never smelled a stew that smelled like this. It's a heavy odor. Not subtle. Not freakishly heavy-- not on the order of, say, Roquefort cheese. But heavy. It's there.

I dug around the bowl with my spoon, and immediately discovered a ton of meat. You probably want to know what cooked dog meat looks like in a stew. Well, I'll tell you. Dog meat behaves like any other meat if you stew it long enough: it gets chewier-- or softer, and even flakier.

I was expecting to find a skinless paw or something inside my bowl. Instead, I saw that much of the meat had been cut into fatty slices, the fat and meat layers alternating. Contrary to the remarks I'd read from other dog meat-eaters, I saw NO hairs jutting through the fatty layer. This was reassuring, because I sincerely doubt I'd have eaten as much stew as I did had I seen hairs.

The fatty slices of dog meat were colored a bit like dark meat on chicken-- but no, there will be no "tastes like chicken" revelation in this interview. Dog tastes... well, like dog. Strangely, I found that dog tasted exactly as I imagined it would. The taste is hard to describe. Dog meat has a taste to match its pungency. As you chew it, that odor-taste moves up into your nostrils. It's not chicken (or any other bird I've tried), nor is it like beef or pork-- or even horse. Dog is strong-smelling, like lamb, but again, dog tastes and smells nothing like lamb. I wish I could mentally transmit the gustatory and olfactory experience to you.

Because so much of the meat was fatty, it was quite soft when I chewed it. I tried eating the meat several ways-- straight from the bowl, with the stew veggies; wrapped in kimchi; paired with ggakddugi; smeared in the strange sesame oil/pepper sauce. As it turned out, the last combination was the tastiest for me; the sauce really seemed to go with the meat. I was surprised that dog meat didn't combine so well with kimchi (pickled cabbage; somewhat resistant, even crunchy, when you bite into it). Other foods-- pork, beef, even chicken-- go very well with it.

Out of curiosity, I asked the lady what parts of the dog I was eating. She said the meat came principally from two areas: the upper hind legs, and the muscular area below/behind the dog's rib cage that might best correspond to the flank or sirloin areas on a beef cow. From speaking with my Korean friend, I knew that dogs bred for eating tended to be of the ddong-kae variety (this literally means "shit dog," but usually refers to mongrels). Koreans do NOT simply chop up any old dog and gobble it.

There was one rather disconcerting piece of meat in my bowl, though, and I didn't eat it. It looked like it might have been a leg joint, but I don't really know. I let it drop back into the fragrant brown stew.

I ended up not finishing the entire stew, mainly because of the strange broth. Something just wasn't right about that odor, that taste. It didn't agree with me. But I had myself firmly under control; no nausea, no stomach rumbles. I knew I'd want a soda immediately afterward, and I knew I'd be able to drink it without fear of sudden regurgitation.

So I finished all the meat except for the mystery chunk, polished off the side dishes, talked for a bit with the three half-drunk 40- or 50-somethings, and lumbered out of the boshin-t'ang-jip. I got a Coke within five minutes, but discovered that this just made me belch dog fumes for the next half hour. Then I came to the nearest PC-bahng (Korean Net cafe), whipped out a review of "Terminator 3," and sat down with you, Ted.

Quite an adventure you had there, Kevin. We encourage our audience to write in with questions for Kevin about dog meat, or for me about my balls. Write us at bighominid@hotmail.com, and put "Hairy Chasms" in the subject line to get through the spam filter.

For more information on boshin-t'ang, try these sites. Type "boshintang" into Google, and you'll get a few articles.
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