Apprehension, dismay, sadness, and excitement were a few of my emotions before I decided to eat bosintang (보신탕), or dog meat soup. Ever since I arrived in South Korea I have been waiting for the perfect moment to delve into this unique and taboo dish, well I leave in 2 weeks so I figured the time was now. I have ate all kinds of disgusting, nasty, filthy foods, and dog meat was not this, but I had the hardest time eating keigogi (dog meat). As I had spoon in hand with a nice chunk of meat, delicious soup, colorful vegetables, and the always ubiquitous beautiful white rice I just could not stop thinking. I was thinking about the half butchered dog I saw a week prior at my local market strung up by its foot, I was thinking about my beloved furry friends back home that have been there for me through thick and thin, I was thinking that this meat is no different than the billions upon billions of other animals slaughtered every year for their flesh. Although I had all of these inescapable thoughts rolling around in my head, nonetheless, I calmly placed the spoon in my mouth and chewed.
The meal itself was quite good, yet eccentric. The flavors were flamboyant and outrageous as usual. The colors on the table were akin to a rainbow. Yet above all, this tame looking meat stood out. The meat was stringy, fatty, and chewy, yet surprisingly good. The taste is similar to sheep, with hints of beef introduced, I can see why Koreans also call dog meat soup jiyangtang (지양탕), or land sheep soup . The soup was full of peppers, spices and greens that were robust and had quite a kick of heat. There were the typical banchan, rice and flavorful sauces that complimented the meat so very well. The dish as a whole was quite cooling and comfortable I completely understand why Koreans regard this dish as health food. The gist of the meal is that it was surprisingly delicious, plain and simple.
As someone that is a very strong believer in animal rights as well as a strong believer in a countries right for cultural autonomy, I am on the sidelines about the consumption of dog meat. The fact remains that dog meat has been consumed in Korea since antiquity and will likely remain so for quite some time, although declining rapidly. The other idea that fervently sticks in my mind is the idea of a predator and its prey. Typically, prey is hunted by the predator, and at the prey’s dismay it is caught, killed and eaten. Unlike this typical approach, with dog the predator seems to lovingly pat it’s hand on it’s knee, while kneeling down as to love on the “prey” then capture and kill it. There are many strange dichotomies involved, but culture remains. As a foreigner, I can not pass judgement. As a interculturalist, I must assimilate and learn. As a animal rights believer, I lower my head in shame. As a pet owner and lover, I squeeze my loved ones tighter. As a human, I keep marching on in confusion. Push it!