Restaurants & Bars

Dog in Seoul (Long!)

Alan Divack | May 31, 200109:14 PM     8

Below is a report from a friend of mine who is spending this semester in Korea, about a visit to a restaurant in Seoul specializing in dog. My friend was timid about posting it on his own, but said it was OK for me to do it for him. Mind you that this is from a person who, until not too many years ago, couldn't (and wouldn't) even eat with chopsticks. Now he has truly gone where I would not dare.

I've just returned from an excursion to a dog restaurant. It's near the Blue House, and was located in an elegant building -- thatched roof, stucco walls, interior courtyard, elaborate plantings. It's either an
old private home or was modeled on one. Most of the patrons seemed to be businessmen or politicians with a sprinkling of young families and couples, in other words a typical crowd for an upscale restaurant. Dog meat is a delicacy here, and an expensive one at that. We were the only westerners & attracted lots of stare. My friend brought his driver, Mr. Lee, and otherwise I'm sure we couldn't have gained admission and couldn't have figured out what to order.

Ever since the Olympics dog restaurants in Seoul have kept a low profile. They've been removed from main streets, signs are smaller, and the younger eneration's been turned off the practice. Another price of westernization. Dog restaurants in the countryside are much more open, I'm told; also dog restaurants in Seoul no longer hang carcasses in plain view (as other restaurants do duck & lamb carcasses, e.g.) . There is a steady barrage of letters in the English-language Korean press attacking dog-eating, thus showing the limits of westerners for cultural diversity. One result is that dog meat is apparently the only kind of meat that's not subject to government inspection, for doing
so would give ammo to the practices opponents. Having no government inspection is a way of pretending it doesn't really exist. Koreans are hyper-sensitive about the country's image.

(Koreans also complain that the younger generation is losing the taste for kimchi. There may be SOME reason for this concern, but mostly I see it as evidence of uneasiness about "westernization" -- with westernization in this context meaning less an imposed hegemony than various Koreans own choices of new social directions. It's a question then of internal Korean conflicts. So one middle-aged Korean blamed the problem on working wives. They don't have time to make kimchi (perhaps one whole day of preparations for a month's supply), they get home late from the office so they buy fast food, they don't have time to prepare their children to accept its taste (by starting them off with mild varieties, then introducing hotter and hotter types), they put the responsibility on their own parents, who?ve already done this all their lives. One can get prepared kimchi at supermarkets, but the traditionalists are horrified by this. There's more fermenting here than just vegetables.)

We had two dishes, both cooked on the gas burner in the table. One was a kind of grill -- with the meat being cooked with greens (scallions, except much longer and tastier than ours, and a kind of green). You take up one green, put it in a hot sauce, add some meat, then some of the other greens, mix it around, and eat it. Sort of like bulgogki. The hot sauce consisted of a red pepper-laden concoction, mustard, and a granulated powder that was various shades of brown and black.

The other dish was the famous dog stew that boiled down into a thick, viscous mass. It was also eaten with a dipping sauce. Both were very good, though I referred the grill. Then the waitress brought in rice & dumped it in the soup pot. She added dried seaweed & some kind of hot pepper & mixed the remains of the stew in it, & we ate the rice. Among the best rice dishes I've ever tasted -- surprisingly delicate and complex. According to Mr. Lee, who should know, this was a good dog restaurant.

Dog meat itself is dark & resembles a combination between beef and dark turkey, except it's juicier & is much more tender. It comes in small hunks. There wasn't much of a smell-- that's apparently a sign of a good cook because at some places it smells good but has no taste. This was delicious -- and all the better with the spices. Also, though Korean food is famously hot, great skill is involved in blending the spices and, more important, in not having them overwhelm the freshness of the ingredients. That is especially apparent here.

If we can get together again, we're going to try for a kind of restaurant that serves (I think) soltang -- it consists of a cow's carcass that boils for a day or so & is mainly marrow. Supposed to be fantastic.

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