22 June 2010

영양탕 - Korean dog soup

I was fortunate to have work send me to Korea recently.  I wish I had had time to take more pictures of the many tasty things that came across my plate while I was there.  But I couldn't give up the chance to try a Korean dish famous the world over - Bosintang.  Korean dog meat soup.

I don't speak Korean, so finding such a place was challenging.  Though illegal on the mainland, on Jeju Island (where I was staying), dogmeat is legal.  I approached the English-speaking concierge in my hotel, and asked:

"Can you recommend a restaurant where I can try dog?"

"What for?"  She looked aghast.

"I'd like to try dog meat."

"What?!?"

At this point, I was concerned.  Had I been had?  I had been told dogmeat was reasonably common in Korea, but given her reaction, I was a tad concerned that I had been misinformed.

She paused.  "Foreigners *never* ask for dogmeat."  She paused again.  "One of my coworkers really likes dog.  I'll call him to find out where the best place is."

She spent some time on the phone and returned.  She wrote out 3 notes in Korean, one was instructions for the cabbie for where to go.  One was a note for the restaurant, telling them what I wanted.  The final note was for the cabbie to help me return.

"I've tried dog soup."  she said.  "The meat smells bad."

"Hmmm." I said.  "I'd like to try it."

"You're very brave."

I don't know about that last part, but I'm certainly curious - and when will I have a chance to try this again?  I don't expect to be in Korea often, if ever again.  So this was my chance.  And off I went.

The restaurant I found was very small, on a narrow side street.  I took pictures of the sign and the menu so I could later confirm that I had, indeed, eaten at the right place.

Dog soup restaurant

Inside, there was a raised area with low tables, and a bunch of shoes near the entrance.  I removed my shoes, and followed the waiter in to sit at a low table.

Ambiance

I showed the waiter my note, and he pointed to the sign on the wall, so he could indicate the price.  The dog soup is the third one down on the left.  8000 Korean won (₩) - or about $8.

Dog soup sign

My Korean colleagues confirmed that this was the right dish.  The characters:

영양탕

translate to:

yeongyangtang or "nutritious soup", one of many euphemisms for dog soup listed on the Wikipedia.  This is when the only word of English passed from my waiter's mouth.  "Beeruh?"

Yes, yes I think having a beer during this excursion was more than appropriate, and indeed all of the other tables were also consuming beer with their soup.  The beer was a brand I had not seen before, labeled in English as "Cass Fresh".

As with many Korean meals, they loaded the table up with many condiments.  Naturally, there was kimchi, the fermented, spiced cabbage dish.

Kimchi

A spiced cucumber/zucchini like critter.

Zucchini??

Dried, salted anchovies.  These were excellent, if a little spiky.  They poke into your mouth in a rather unpleasant way when chewing them.  I think they'd be quite nice if gently stewed (though that might take out some of the nice saltiness).

Dried, salted anchovies

Red dragon sauce?  Maybe.

Red chile sauce

And a small bowl with what looked like serrano peppers with onion slices.

Jalapeno & Onion

I sat alone with these dishes, nursing my beer, and trying pretty hard to ignore the older Korean gentleman at the table next to me that were staring at me.  Clearly, they were as surprised as the concierge, to see a 6' 3" white guy, about to dine on dog.

After about 15 minutes, an older woman emerged, carrying a screaming hot ceramic pot.  She scowled at me, as she set it in front of me.  It was boiling vigorously as she set in front of me.  And it smelled heavenly.

Dog soup

Look at that!

Dog soup

The broth was a bright, spicy flavour.  I had assumed there was tomato in there from the colour, but there was no tomato flavour.  Rich, bright and quite spicy.  The greens were pretty sturdy, but quite delicious, (and I always enjoy discovering new greens).  This is a very hearty soup.  But you haven't read this far to hear about the broth...

I hate when people compare one meat to another.  "It's like chicken."  No it's not.  Duck is not like chicken.  Turkey is not like chicken.  But if you are going to explain what a meat is like, I suppose the easiest way to do it is to compare it to meats people know.

Dog meat is *extremely* fatty.  Not quite as fatty as pork belly, but close.  And the texture of the meat is very beeflike.  The cuts reminded me of cuts of brisket.  But the flavour was more like mutton or lamb.  Very gamy, but not unpleasantly so.  The first few bites of meat, I put the whole thing in my mouth, but I very quickly found the fat off-putting, and pulled the large chunks of fat off.

Fat

I later read that Koreans prize the fat and the skin.  I confess, I didn't.  The meat was really flavourful, and really nice, but the fat was too much for my Canadian palate.

I really liked this soup, and found myself wondering how well dog would stand up on the barbecue, with the fat properly rendered (this is how my mind works, I'm afraid).

I'm glad I went out to try this soup, but I was embarrassed when I left that I didn't finish it.  They brought me an enormous bowl, and I simply couldn't finish it.  I finished the meat (though not the fat) - I think it's near a sin to waste meat.  But I left a fair amount of broth and greens on the bottom of my bowl.  I looked over, and was relieved to see that some of the other folks in the restaurant also were leaving some food in their bowl.

This wasn't the best meal I had in Korea, but it was by far the most memorable.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good for YOU! Seriously! It is nice to see that another person out there beside myself looks at life with logic instead of bleeding heart emotion. Meat is just that.....meat. I am a hunter and thankfully my children have learned to appreciate the meat that is brought to the table each fall. My spouse, who I respect immensely, will not, under ANY circumstances, eat anything but the big 3, beef, pork and chicken. I ask her on occasion what if our ancestors had domesticated deer instead cattle? Perhaps we would be hunting cows each fall. It is a mindset and to be honest but not insulting, ignorance. Kudo's to you for trying the traditions of another culture and exercising intelligence!

kmylml said...

Wow, I didn't know that this was a specialty in Korea. I'm glad you got to try it before you left. The large fatty bits is pretty off-putting. I'm not a huge fan of big chunks of wobbly fat. The pictures remind me of the Jjigae at Korean restaurants around here. Would you choose to have this again?

Bbq Dude said...

Anon: Thanks.

kmylml: Yes, I would choose it again. The broth was fantastic. I'm not sure I'd go a long way out of the way to have it again, but I would have it again. I do wonder how other techniques might improve the meat, by rendering more of the fat...

John K. said...

What an opportunity! I'd have gone for it too. I doubt I'll ever find any here in Ohio! Good for you for giving yourself such a dining adventure.

Bbq Dude said...

John,

Thanks. I agree. You have to take those opportunities that life presents you.

Todd said...

Having lived in Korea, you can have dog generally two different ways, soup or BBQ. The BBQ was a lot easier for me to stomach since the fat and skin were the worst part of the soup. The BBQ version is harder to find but they must have made dog meat illegal on the main land since 2002 when I moved back to the states. I agree not the best thing to eat in Korea, but memorable.

Bbq Dude said...

Todd,

The way my Korean colleagues explained it to me, dogmeat is illegal on the mainland in the same way that speeding is illegal. It's not policed much, and indeed the primary enforcement of the law is around major international events.

It would have been interesting to try BBQ dog, particularly given my own interests in BBQ. Perhaps the next time I'm out that way.

Cork@Cork'sOutdoors said...

Noticed your dog link at Hank Shaw's and just had to come over and say how much you made me homesick for Korea!

I was there in 2007 to learn Korean and get an indepth experience with the culture. One of the controversial experiences was eating Kae...dog. I had it as a bul-gogi ("fired meat"...aka grilled), and as boshintang, which I really enjoyed...until I found out how they kill the dog: they torture it with a blow torch or beat it slowly to death with a stick--the reasoning is to bring out the endorphins that cause a definite response in the eater. Main reason it's thought of as an aprhodesiac--I did notice a definite "high"--what is that about we are what eat?

As for meat quality, probably a lot better than in Vietnam, where they'll grab any unlucky mutt--there's a special dog raised specifically for the Korean palate.
...and then I was told how they dispatch the dogs.

The best place, I was told, was that place I had it near Incheon, out in near the rice fields, that I can't recall the name of.

Would I try it again? Probably not with the same enthusiasm I did before being told about the slaughtering process.

It was tasty, both ways and I do have a boshintang recipe, though, which I'm looking to try on coyotes--a .22 bullet from 200-300 yards into a 'yote's head is a lot quicker, and hopefully much more humnane, way to put an overpopulated wild dog in the freezer and use as much of it as possible...

Anonymous said...

Cork's comments covers what I was planning to say about dog treatment. I know it's super-hip to be a food rogue these days, to eat anything and everything. Hey, why not write about the animals consumed alive at some restaurants, even here in the States? It's not that much of a departure from contributing to the torturous lives these dogs lead, and the agony of their deaths. To put the taste and personal pleasure of a friggin' bowl of soup, above the unspeakable way these animals are treated is, to me, the height of self-centered, culinary madness. I thought we were moving forward as a species.

Bbq Dude said...

Cork and Anonymous,

Thanks for stopping by. I, too, share your concern for humane dispatching of animals consumed as meat. I had heard the same stories of electrocution and beatings in the preparation of dog meat. When I asked some of my Korean colleagues about this, they were uniformly disgusted about the consumption of dog meat, but because they thought of dog as a companion animal. But they told me that the torture stories are a myth, and that dogs are generally killed the same way as pigs - hung and throat slit, dying in a matter of 60 seconds or less. I'm with you, Cork. I'd prefer a bullet, but I think most non-industrial raised animals are killed in the manner I describe.

Having not seen the preparation of the animal, I of course can't confirm this, and can only hope that what I heard independently from multiple sources is correct. Thanks for your comments.

Anonymous said...

Not sure I would try it but more power to you for doing it.

Is the reason for the legality of the meat because of foreign visitors more than anything else?
I remember during the 2002 World Cup, I had read how the authorities didnt want to give a bad impression to western tourists and cracked down on it.
How others feel about our food should not affect what we eat. Hindus might not eat steak but their disgust has no bearing on me.

Bbq Dude said...

Anon,

My understanding (as a non-Korean) is that it is a combination of changing mores and wanting to make a good impression on other countries is the main reason. Hence the reason that it is illegal, but largely only enforced prior to major international events, and only in places that tourists are likely to go (i.e. Seoul). I didn't have to go more than a mile from a convention center to find a restaurant that served only dog dog soup.

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