Yesterday, I learned something about myself. I learned that the power of the mind will overcome any physical desire to do something. This is not some revelation, neither is it rocket science, but in my first and last Bosintang (eating dog meat in Korea) experience, this will go along into my forays into other scary foods like Balut, Hákarl, Hrútspungar, Pacha, Pachownie or even the venerable Cow Heel soup or Souse. I didn’t feel any older, wiser or different yesterday than I did the day before – but I did successfully complete a challenge to myself – even though I didn’t find the curry dog and roti … nor could I knowingly eat it, if it existed.
When I mentioned my little Seoul weekend to friends, it invariably got a look of … “whhhhyyyy???” … with an immediate …. “Well is you … no explanation required”. One Trini friend asked the obvious question … “Ah hear dey does eat dog there … is true? Yuh going to eat it?”. I think this was the question asked by anyone who knew even the slightest bit of trivia about Korea. With this in mind, I’m going to offer a couple facts/dispel some myths:
1. Gaegogi and chicken are not the same to Koreans. Koreans do not all eat dog all of the time. In fact it is a bit of delicacy and quite pricey.
2. You absolutely CANNOT find it everywhere. In fact, it’s like a little secret expedition. I think it’s more difficult to find Gaegogi than it is to cross the border. You do NOT find it in all restaurants and you have to know what to ask for to get it.
3. There is this perception, that they won’t eat any old dog off the street. I think this is like a Trini saying he won’t eat a yardfowl. If someone is hungry and they see a yardfowl and they have to intention … they’re going to eat it … especially the older folks. There are dogs are bred specifically to be eaten and are treated like other animals bred for slaughter like cows, sheep, pigs, chickens – you can decide whether our food sources are “humanely” sourced or not
3. Any controversy about how these animals were reared and, having read some websites today, I cannot say hand on heart that I am sure they are not mistreated these days, but can anyone say that about all their food?
4. Most bosintang (보신탕) restaurants still have an old-fashioned feel to them – there isn’t any upscale version of these. I checked. The few that weren’t put out of business before and after the 1988 Summer Olympics or 2002 FIFA World Cup or every other major event that’s happened here are still hanging on in the older non-renovated parts of the city
5. The high season for the meat is during malbok, the last of Korea’s three summer ‘dog days’. It’s super hot and it’s said that the meat helps with more stamina.
6. If looking to avoid eating Fido or Rover or Lassie, pass on the following gaejangguk (dog meat soup), gaesuyuk (boiled dog meat), gaesoju (a drink with dog meat and herbal ingredients), and gaegogi (literally, dog meat) as well.
7. Travelling around the world, one can find tons of crazy shit to eat (historically, this was due to necessity at the time) but I cannot get down with everything the locals eat in a country. For example, Bongdaegi (silkworm pupas) can be found and after seeing and smelling what it is … I almost threw up on sight … but this was only ever eaten because there was no other protein to be had. For those foreigners/tourists, who brag that they would eat the fermented skate or bongdaegi or bosintang on a regular basis and that they love it … I’ll call bullshit everytime.
Another thing, I thought long and hard about going to the specific market where you can see the meat and carcasses. I got the requisite information, but in the end, I couldn’t do it. I really wasn’t prepared for the visual.
Anyway on to my adventure … getting the information and communicating to a non English speaking cab driver was a challenge unto itself. Thankfully with the help of my trusty concierge sidekick Donald, we used one of those “Take me to” cards. If you’re doing this mission, I think this is absolutely essential to ensure that you don’t get a surprise with some shady crazy restaurant.
After haggling with a taxi driver, he dropped me off in a somewhat busy section of town but through sign language, only Korean and my Watson-like deductive skills, I figured I had to walk on a side street to find this place, and it looked exactly like what I thought it would look like. Off the beaten path, with a shady sign and no customers parked. This was like a food horror story waiting to happen … you know those moments in a horror movie, where some moron goes off alone to do his business and gets brained by a pick-ax/shot with an arrow/eaten by the woods … well I felt like that walking into this place.
The welcome into the restaurant wasn’t the greatest. In fact, it was downright creepy to start … but it wasn’t some shithole with flies and roaches everywhere. It was very clean and well put together. No chairs though … just mats for my fat ass to sit on.
Ordering the food was a nobrainer thanks to my preparation of getting a written translation of the food by Donald. This picture was instrumental in me getting the right stuff and even for the owners to serve me.
So now it was on to the food itself. On ordering the soup, it came with rice and all the usual assortments of Kimchi and this bubbling cauldron of s0up/stew.
For all the pictures can convey, I think it was the fact that I had a good spirit about it … Gramma in there was eventually quite pleased with my attempts and got quite the chuckle at my attempts. The videos will ensure some awkward hilarity – especially the fact that as the Soju hits me, more of the Trini accent comes out … the videos are unedited and obviously unscripted.
After the whole escapade here … I really needed to get some food that I was comfortable with … so I found a lovely street vendor and got a Korean street food primer. I had one of everything from her trolley and what was also amazing, is that no one attempted to overcharge me even with me offering double what I though the bill was. Everywhere I’ve been in Seoul, people have been super nice, cops have been uber helpful, finding places has been easy because everyone offered to help, if I asked – and this is in spite of the hard language barrier that exists.