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."
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.
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.
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.
My Korean colleagues confirmed that this was the right dish. The characters:
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.
A spiced cucumber/zucchini like critter.
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).
Red dragon sauce? Maybe.
And a small bowl with what looked like serrano peppers with onion slices.
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.
Look at that!
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.
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.