When I lived in Seoul, I ate a number of strange things. Squirming octopus tentacles, pizzas with sweet potatoes and mustard, oxtails in a milky broth, and steamed silkworm larvae, to name a few.
There is one thing, though, that I could never -- would never, for any means -- partake in:
보신탕; 補身湯. Literally, "invigorating soup."
Bosintang. Korean dog soup.
There are supposed medicinal properties of the soup, giving the one who eats it great vigor and virility. It is also supposed to keep you cool in the summer. Dog has been eaten throughout the world for ages -- it's a cheap, readily available food source common to many cultures.
Unfortunately, these mythical, totally unfounded supernatural properties are allegedly achieved if the dogs are slaughtered only after enduring horrible pain and abject fear. The hormones released when the dogs are terrified are supposed to increase the health-boosting properties and give the meat more flavor.
A warning about the hyperlink above: It is a news report on Korean dog markets, and it is terrible to watch if you at all love animals.
South Korean government officials officially outlawed consumption of dog meat in the capital city of Seoul in 1984, but only loosely enforced the ordinance before taking an official stance during the 1988 Summer Olympics, closing down restaurants serving dogs and urging the people to not eat dog meat in an effort to avoid negative sentiment from visitors.
There are still thousands of restaurants throughout Seoul that are serving dog meat soup, though. My friend Phil ate it, and he confessed that the last few bites were fatty, stringy bits of meat that, according to him, both tasted and smelled like wet dog. I also saw a Korean television show while riding the subway that had the host giving dog soup to a dog, to see if the dog would eat it. It didn't.
South Korea is a fantastic country, full of wonderful, friendly, welcoming people and amazing food, but this is an archaic and cruel practice. In truth, young people have been moving steadily away from eating this dish for years.
Like most places, Korea has a number of funny, persistent cultural myths. There is the phenomenon of "fan death," for example. Apparently, being in a room with no open windows or doors while there is a circular fan running will remove all the oxygen from the room, and it will kill you. No joke. Some fan manufacturers print warning labels on their products, much like smoking and drinking warning labels on cigarettes and alcohol in the U.S.
To be fair, though, 41 percent of Americans believe in extrasensory perception, 42 percent believe in ghosts and almost half of our country believes the world was started by just two people 6,000 years ago, so we certainly aren't excluded from the irrational beliefs category ourselves.
Whenever I passed a place that I knew served dogs, I admit I was tempted, on some level. I love to try new things, but this was just one that I couldn't suffer. I always thought about my own dog, Scooter, as a three-month-old puppy, sitting on my teen-aged feet while I read a book in my back yard. He's an old boy, now, but I still love him.
I'll eat pig, cow, seafood and fowl, but I just won't do dog.
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