From Korea with Love

"I carry your heart with me… always."


Care for Some Dog Soup?

Wednesday, July 18th, was the first day of Sambok in 2012.

Sambok pertains to the three hottest days of summer in South Korea: Chobok (beginning), Jungbok (middle), and Malbok (last). Since this festivity follows the lunar calendar, the dates are different each year. Sambok usually begins in July and ends in August. There is a 10-day gap between Chobok and Jungbok, and a 20-day interval between Jungbok and Malbok. During Sambok days, Koreans eat nutritious food that are known to revive or increase stamina and cool the body, such as samgyetang (삼계탕: ginseng chicken soup), jangeogui (장어구이: grilled eel) and of course, the ever controversial boshintang (보신탕: dog soup).

A day before Chobok, my sibumonim (시부모님: parents-in-law) prepared samgyetang for dinner. I’m tired of eating samgyetang. It’s one of Abonim‘s (father-in-law’s) favorite soup, so Omonim (mother-in-law) cooks it for him at least once a week!

When my husband came home from work, he told me that he was expecting to see samgyetang in the kitchen. He doesn’t like that soup either. He said he’d rather eat boshintang.

For some men in Korea who like to eat gaegogi (개고기: dog meat), Chobok is the start of “Dog-eating Festival”.

In Korea, dog meat is cooked in soup or stew, like boshintang, or roasted. It is believed to have medicinal properties and help balance the body’s heat in the scorching summer weather. (It makes me wonder how hot soup or stew does that.) It is also said to boost men’s sexual potency. Contrary to what other nationalities (may) think, not all Koreans eat dog meat. A few of my husband’s friends told me they don’t like boshintang at all. In my husband’s family, Abonim is the only one who likes dog meat. (He enjoys eating turtles and snakes, why not dog meat?) My husband is not crazy about  boshintang, but he can eat it once in a while… with soju of course.

The main ingredient in “boshintang” is dog meat. The meat is boiled with perilla leaves, green onions and dandelions, and spices such as “doenjang” (된장: soybean paste), “gochujang” (고추장: hot pepper paste), and perilla seed powder. To get rid of the smell of dog meat, the soup is seasoned with “Agastache rugosa“.

Roasted dog meat

If you can’t stomach dog soup, there’s ginseng chicken soup, AKA “samgyetang”. ^^

One of my favorite fish dishes in SK, 장어구이 or grilled eel… yum! ~~~ ^^

My husband has been working the night shift; he’s exhausted, sleepy and lethargic by the time he gets home. Thinking that dog soup would “invigorate” him (Boshintang literally means “invigorating soup”.), I sent him a text message the next day he was at work, and asked him if he wanted to eat boshintang.

The problem was… he wanted to eat dog soup with me. T.T

REPHRASED: “If we eat it together…” or “If you eat it with me…”

There is no way I would eat boshintang, so I had to make up an excuse. (Well, not actually an excuse.)

So that was the plan (my plan)… we would go to a boshintang restaurant after his work. There’s one in our area, and I thought it’s open until dawn… but later I found out that it isn’t. There are but a few boshintang restaurants that do not close until morning, but they are a bit far from our place.

According to a BBC News report in 1999, there are said to be more than 6,000 restaurants across SK selling boshintang. In Seoul, selling dog meat is “technically illegal”. (That’s what they say in the news and many articles I have read, but my husband tells me many Korean citizens don’t consider eating dog meat illegal, or even if it is, dog-meat eaters don’t give a damn.) It is, however, deemed hyeom-o sigpum (혐오식품: abominable food) based on a regulation issued by Seoul Metropolitan Government. South Korean Food Sanitary Law does not approve dog meat as a legal food ingredient. Apparently, the slaughtering of dogs and the preparation of dog meat for consumption are done in an unsanitary and “brutal” way. I watched a documentary on KBS about the dog meat industry in SK. It was shocking, but like many other documentaries and reality shows on Korean TV, most stories are “sensationalized” (like the many stories about the Philippines and how poverty-stricken the country is; maybe you have seen the regular TV show that features so much drama about “being a migrant wife” in Korea… “oh, she’s so poor she can’t even afford a ticket to see her family in her native land”… “her life is miserable where she comes from, good thing she’s enjoying a much better life in Korea now”… blah~blah~blah… as if all migrant wives are so poor and hopeless that they married a Korean and came here to better their lives… duh! And who can forget the documentary on foreigners “hitting on Korean women”, or vice versa. That documentary caused quite a stir in the expat community.) (Sorry for ranting… can’t help it… too much hormone medicine intake… ㅋㅋㅋ ^^)

Nowadays, dogs that are slaughtered for their meat are no longer killed “the barbaric way”, wherein they are hanged and beaten to death, or blowtorched to remove their hair while they are still alive. Hopefully, no one is really doing this in SK now that there are less inhumane methods to kill animals for human consumption, such as electrocution and the use of captive-bolt pistol.

There are a number of Koreans who do not favor dog-meat eating. In fact, the “Dog Meat Festival” in Seongnam last year was cancelled because of several protests from South Korean animal rights activists.

It has been estimated that around two to four million dogs are consumed in SK annually.

Despite the ban and the controversy there is to eating dog meat, many boshintang restaurants still operate in South Korea and like my husband said, dog-meat eaters just don’t care. I was asking my husband what his stand is regarding banning of dog-meat in SK. His quick reply was, “Why ban it? Don’t they eat dog meat in other countries?” (See the list of countries where dog meat is eaten.)

A dog-meat shop in Vietnam

Dog meat sold in a market in China

“Kilawin” or grilled dog meat in the Philippines

Spiced dog jerky in Thailand

In South Africa, a cook chops up dog meat for dog pepper soup.

Grande Boucherie Canine, Paris in 1910

In some regions in the Philippines, dog meat is also a delicacy, but it is usually prepared in the house, not sold in restaurants or markets, because it is illegal, too, except in the Province of Benguet. The government “specifically allows cultural use of dog meat by indigenous people” in Benguet.

When I was a little girl, sometimes my uncles would cook dog meat. I could never watch how a dog is killed, but I remember asking my Daddy once how the dogs were slaughtered. He never told me the details but he said that all of the dogs were killed in one blow, and they didn’t suffer much. My uncles are not crazy about dog meat, and dog-meat eating is not common in the Philippines, but at times, Filipinos want to try “exotic food”. I guess it’s the same thing for Koreans who  eat gaegogi. They don’t eat it everyday. They don’t eat it because they are cruel to animals. They don’t eat it because they are Koreans and Koreans are dog-eaters. Why do some Koreans eat dog meat? Well, I never asked a Korean that question, not even my husband. That is just a stupid thing to ask, don’t you think so? What if someone asks you, why do you eat beef or pork? (or if you’re a vegetarian) “Why do you eat only veggies?”

I would never eat dog meat or Boshintang, but if my husband or other family members would like to enjoy a bowl of dog soup this summer, I won’t raise an eyebrow.

Don’t get me wrong… I love dogs… I love pets. I am against animal cruelty… but why can’t we let the Koreans be on the issue of eating dog meat and being mean to man’s best friend?

After all, it’s not like they are eating their pet or any dog they see roaming around the street. There is a particular dog breed raised for meat, the Nureongi (누렁이), or Hwangu (황구), which is not raised for pets in SK.