DOG MEAT IN KOREA
Dog meat continues to be a consumed in Korea although its is eaten much more discreetly than it used to be. It is eaten mainly by old men on three designated days in the summer known as sambok. One of them told the Los Angeles Times, “Dog meat gives man strength and vigor.” It is estimated that between 1 million and 2 million dogs are eaten in South Korea every year. Dog meat is the fourth most common meat eaten there. Dog is also eaten in China, Vietnam, the Philippines and other countries.
According to the Korean Statistics Information Service, as reported by the Korea Observer and The Guardian, 892,820 dogs were being kept at more than 100 farms in 2010. Although only a small proportion of South Koreans regularly eat dog meat, thousands of restaurants and health food stores continue to sell it, mainly in soups and stews, or as a herb-infused tonic, according to International Aid for Korean Animals. [Source: Justin McCurry, The Guardian, February 28 2017]
Koreans have traditionally enjoyed dog meat soup. Paul Littlefair of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said: "Although Korean traditional medicine follows Chinese practice fairly closely,the Chinese eat dog in the winter for its purported warming properties, whereas in Korea dogs are eaten at the height of summer. This underlines the spurious nature of the claims of the dealers that dog meat has health benefits. The Korean minority in China must get very confused!" Among the taboos in regard to eating dog meat in China are: one should not kill dogs nor eat dog meat at festivals, weddings and funerals or house warming parties.
These days, many Koreans find the idea of eating dog as distasteful as non-Koreans. One Korean woman told the New York Times, "I know some people who eat dogs but I've been opposed to eating dogs all my life. If I meet someone who says he's eaten dog, I say please go away." Dogs are also popular pets in Korea but the dogs people keep as pets tend to be small and skinny. Still when a Korean says that he loves dog, it s not exactly clear what he means.
President Moon Jae-in and his predecessor Park Geun-hye both had dogs as pets. According to to Associated Press: While many older South Koreans believe dog meat aids virility, younger people generally are either against the practice or indifferent to it and there has been increasing pressure to ban it altogether.” [Source: Associated Press, July 27, 2018]
History of Eating Dog in Korea
The custom of eating dog is rooted in fact that Korea has traditionally been a country with few cows or pigs and poor peasant farmers ate dogs partly because it was only source of meat available to them. Archeological evidence seems to indicate that dogs have been slaughtered for food for thousands of years.. Some anthropologist suggest that ancient villagers took turns supplying their dogs for communal bowls of dog soup. The Mongolians regarded the Koreans as "barbarians" for eating dog. The Mongolians valued dogs for keeping predators away from their horses and sheep.
John M. Glionna and Ju-min Park wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Although Koreans have eaten dogs for centuries, the habit became more prevalent during the privations that followed the Korean War. It eventually spread from the poor and elderly to be adopted by the more affluent as niche cuisine.” [Source: John M. Glionna and Ju-min Park, Los Angeles Times, September 4, 2009]
Eating dogs drew negative international attention Korea during the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Korea banned dog meat during the Games invoking a law prohibiting the sale of "foods deemed unsightly." Since then the ban has not been enforced. According to The Guardian: International criticism of dog meat consumption intensified during the 2002 football World Cup, which South Korea jointly hosted with Japan. Some campaigners have launched online petitions calling for a boycott of next year’s Pyeongchang Olympics unless the country bans the eating of dog meat. [Source: Justin McCurry, The Guardian, February 28 2017]
At the 1988 Olympics, South Korean authorities tried their best to hide the dog meat eating custom. The custom was more open at the World Cup. Then, a group of dog meat restaurant owners planed to offer free dog meat sandwiches and hamburgers. A spokesman for the group said, “Our campaign is aimed at advertising our traditional food to foreigners to dispel their prejudices about our food culture.” The group also offered dog meat juice. The spokesman said, “The plan is to develop canned dog meat tonic juice, which football fans can enjoy in their stadium seats while watching games,..They will enjoy it instead of Coke.”
John M. Glionna and Ju-min Park wrote in the Los Angeles Times: In 2003, a local court rebuffed a lawsuit seeking to suspend sales of dog meat soup, ruling that eating soup made from dog was too prevalent a custom to prohibit. But activists successfully lobbied the government to outlaw the butchering of pet dogs that stray from their masters.” [Source: John M. Glionna and Ju-min Park, Los Angeles Times, September 4, 2009]
Dog Soup Restaurants in Seoul
Certain restaurants serve dog meat, usually in a soup called boshintang (which literally means “nutritional boost soup”) that goes for about US$10.00 a bowl. Boshin-tang is made with ingredients like soy paste, green onions, leeks, taro stalks, red peppers, carrots, sesame leaves, pepper, garlic and sliced dog meat.
On his visit to dog meat restaurant in Seoul, Bart Schaneman wrote in the Korea Herald: “With the heat index over 40, I met eight friends — two Korean, six from places where people eat questionable meat but not dog — at exit #2 of Hongdae Station. Our group was quiet as we walked up the street. We walked slow, barely talking, looking at our feet. A few people made bad dog puns. We were travelers, adventurers — of those who often said “I’ll try anything once.” Now we were forced to prove it and it felt grim, like being caged. [Source: Bart Schaneman, Korea Herald, July 18, 2008]
“On the sign out front a smiling woman held a large, white cartoon bone. Typically you would see a cartoon drawing of the animal you’re about to eat. As we came to the doors of the restaurant somebody said, “Looks a bit dodgy.” We walked in. The restaurant was empty with the faint smell of wet pooch. We took a table in the back and sat cross-legged on mats. The Korean man with us ordered dog for eight. (One of the group chickened-out, literally, and ordered samgyetang.)
“We waited for the food by sharing stories of the strangest food we had eaten. It was like we were at the zoo — people talking about kangaroos, crocodiles, testicles, buffalos, cats, etc. “We’re going to get some soju before this, right?” I asked. Despite the palpable dread, it was late in the evening and I was hungry. The first batch of meat came on plates in chunks wrapped loosely in steamed kale and seasoned with red pepper. We ordered beer and soju and I made sure I had a shot before we started. I used my chopsticks to pick up a piece of meat. It was dark, thick and about three inches long. “My mom used to run a dog restaurant,” the Korean man said. “I eat this many times.”
“I put the piece in my mouth and chewed. It was tough and tasted slightly of lamb. I thought about spitting it out, but like a good traveler I swallowed it. Then I understood how a Third World country would find eating dogs economical — after I ate a single piece I was no longer hungry. For the second course, the woman brought out bowls of red, steaming Bosintang. The broth of the soup tasted like other Korean meat stews. But I stayed away from the meat. I ate my rice and that was enough. The meal cost 14,000 won (US$13) and I walked out feeling little cooler than when I walked in.
Dog Meat: “Good for Stamina”
Dog meat, many Koreans and Chinese believe, can help drive away the heat and prevent heat exhaustion, and build up one's health. Koreans believe that dog meat, dog skin, and gall bladder stones warm up and energize the body and are especially useful for people who have a low body temperature and high blood pressure. Oriental medicine doctors say the medicinal form of dog soup, called poyak, generates most of its energy with ginseng and 30 other herbs not the dog meat itself.
One hundred grams of dog meat has 20 grams of fat and 19 grams of protein. As is true with most meat, it is high in iron, phosphorous, niacin and riboflavin. A waitress at a dog meat restaurant told the Los Angeles Times, “Doctors recommend dog meat. It is easier to digest that other meats. We have a lot of customers who are singers and performers who want dog soup to protect their voices, weak who need the nutrition..”
One man from Seoul told the Korean Herald, "I don't give much thought to dog meat being a tonic or its health value in any way. I just appreciate it as a delicacy." Another man told the New York Times, "I eat beef, pork, chicken and all kinds of meat. Sometimes I want a special taste and that's why I eat dog. The taste is different."
Julien Dugnoille of the University of Exeter wrote: “Eating dog meat is thought to regulate body temperature, and consumption reaches its annual peak during the summer. However, it is also consumed steadily throughout the year.” It is said the meat “enhances sexual stamina”. Goat meat is reportedly good for women's stamina. [Source: Julien Dugnoille, Lecturer in Anthropology, University of Exeter, The Conversation, March 23, 2016]
On Chobok: Beat the Heat with Dog Meat
According to Reuters Life!: “ Thursday was not a good day to be a dog in South Korea. That's because it was one of the three hottest days according to the Korean lunar calendar — and dog soup is one way to beat the heat. On "Chobok," people seeking to protect the body from overheating eat traditional healthy foods such as ginseng chicken soup, broiled eel, and "bo-shin-tang," literally "body preservation stew." [Source: Reuters, July 14, 2011]
“Bo-shin-tang, which consists of dog meat boiled in a mix of hot and strong spices and vegetables, is good for the health. It is considered a delicacy by some. "The reason why I eat dog soup is because it boosts my energy, even when I'm most tired," said 56-year-old Shin Gwan-sup, sitting in a dog soup restaurant. "Compared to other meats, it has more protein and less fat. I think it is healthy and clean, a more suitable meat for us."
“Korean dog meat connoisseurs remain undaunted,” by criticism from animal rights advocated, “with long lines forming on Thursday outside dog speciality restaurants. Beating the heat was painful for diners this year, though, with the price of the ginseng chicken soup, or sangyetang, jumping. Severe rain has also pushed up the price of vegetables used in the soups. The soup is traditionally eaten on the hottest days of the year. As with the chicken soup samgyetang, Koreans believe eating the hot food when the outside temperature rises makes the heat less noticeable.
Cruel Death of Eating Dogs in Korea
Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the Korean fondness for dog meat is the belief that dog meat tastes better and yields more nutrients if the dog is brutally beaten before it is killed. The dogs are usually killed by electrocution or a blow with a hammer between the eyes. Sometimes though they are beaten, burned and boiled before they are killed.
The Taepyeong-dong complex was South Korea’s largest slaughterhouse for dogs until it was bulldozed in 2018. According to the BBC: It was “ an important source of meat for restaurants across the country,” housing at least six slaughterhouses, holding several hundred animals at a time. Campaigners from Humane Society International (HSI) described conditions inside the complex as "horrifying". They reported seeing electrocution equipment used to slaughter the dogs, knives and a de-hairing machine.” [Source: BBC, 23 November 2018]
Julien Dugnoille of the University of Exeter wrote: A “perceived health benefit is that if a dog is hung and beaten to death over a fire, then an increase of adrenaline in its blood will increase the sexual stamina of the person who consumes the flesh, usually in the form of a soup or stew. [Source: Julien Dugnoille, Lecturer in Anthropology, University of Exeter, The Conversation, March 23, 2016]
“The violent method of slaughter for dogs is also technically compatible with Korean law. Dogs are treated as livestock, but peculiarly, as livestock that cannot be processed as food. A consequence of this is that it allows shopkeepers to use violent killing methods without having to observe legal slaughter regulations required for animals destined for food, ensuring the trade, which is seen as essential to the Korean economy, is not jeopardised.”
Dog Meat Consumers
Julien Dugnoille of the University of Exeter wrote: “Eating dog meat reaches its annual peak during the summer. However, it is also consumed steadily throughout the year, especially in the context of all-male social gatherings. Older men often take younger male employees to dog meat restaurants as a way of strengthening the social ties between company workers. These outings often start with a visit to a dog meat restaurant to enhance sexual stamina, followed by a trip to a strip club or brothel, or “love hotel”. [Source: Julien Dugnoille, Lecturer in Anthropology, University of Exeter, The Conversation, March 23, 2016]
John M. Glionna and Ju-min Park wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “On the year's final boshintang day, the regulars packed into Mr. Moon's Dog Meat Stew Restaurant, where the year-round menu includes not only boshintang, but also dog soup and dog served with vegetables and hot pepper sauce, along with non-dog dishes. Hong Sung-woo said dog stew is healthy. "It gives me stamina," said the former government worker, now 84. "How do you think I've lived this long?" [Source: John M. Glionna and Ju-min Park, Los Angeles Times, September 4, 2009]
“The cuisine also remains popular among some government officials, including Cham Lee, the German-born director of the Korean Tourism Organization, who also raises Korean Jindo dogs as pets. He elicited criticism when he held a private wine and dog-tasting seminar. His verdict: Dog goes best with a light Shiraz, or a nice Riesling. Parisians can eat horse meat because France is considered high culture, he said. But South Korea gets no such pass. "Westerners eat one type of animal and tell the world they can't eat another," he said. "I say, if you eat animals, you eat animals."
Dogs That Are Eaten in Korea
In the 1990s, about 2 million dogs were raised annually for eating, about the same that were owned as household pets. Some say the number is about the same today. Even in markets in Seoul, you could find stacks of caged dogs, next to cages of ducks and chickens, that were sold for meat. There were about 6,000 restaurants nationwide that serve do meat.
Koreans don't eat just any dog. They usually eat a particular breed that is about the size of a Labrador receiver and looks like a cross between a great Dane and a blood hound. There is a different word for dogs that are eaten and ones kept as pets.
John M. Glionna and Ju-min Park wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Canine cuisine enthusiasts say they distinguish between dogs they eat and those kept as pets. They say they reserve a special breed of dog for consumption, never mixing the two. Activists say the lines often blur. Many domesticated breeds, including collies and spaniels, are also consumed after being scooped up as runaways.” Some activists “rescues stray dogs as a way to keep them out of the hands of dog meat vendors.” [Source: John M. Glionna and Ju-min Park, Los Angeles Times, September 4, 2009]
Dog Farms and Markets in Korea
Many restaurants that offer dog soup purchase their meat from dog farms. Eating dogs are raised like other domesticated animals such as pigs and cows. They are usually kept in 2-x-3 meter cages inside of small barn or open enclosures, which are not unusual sights in the countryside. Dog breeders sell their animals for around US$200 a piece and dog meat sells for about US$7.00 a pound in the markets in Seoul. The were around 2.6 million dogs in South Korea in the early 1990s and it is unclear how many were pets and how many are raised for food.
animalpeoplenews.org reported: “Evaluating the limited available official statistics, plus the photographic documentation of the Moran Market obtained in May 2001,ANIMAL PEOPLE has estimated that from 1.1 to 1.3 million dogs are eaten in South Korea each year, along with 100,000 cats. "I think your figures may be about right," opined Royal SPCA representative Paul Littlefair. "I met with the head of the dog meat traders association in November 1999. “He told me that consumption had halved over the decade since 1990, and I don't think there were ever more than 2-3 million dogs a year killed for food. [Source: animalpeoplenews.org]
Moran Dog Market in Seongnam near Seoul is the largest dog market in South Korea. Dogs are kept in a cage before they are slaughtered sometimes under inhumane conditions involved electrocution, hanging and beating. National laws prohibit eating dog meat, but the government rarely enforces them. Dog markets are rarely, if ever, inspected for health and sanitary conditions.”
Justin McCurry wrote in The Guardian: Moran market in Seongnam sells more than 80,000 dogs, dead or alive, every year and accounts for about a third of South Korea’s dog meat consumption, according to local media. At Moran market, customers typically select live dogs which are then butchered in plain sight of shoppers. The smell and noise... prompted complaints from nearby residents. For decades, dog meat sellers have taken advantage of a legal grey area: livestock hygiene laws do not apply to the killing and sale of dogs, making it difficult for authorities to regulate the industry. Activists point out, though, that the animal protection law, while not expressly outlawing the slaughter of dogs, does prohibit “brutal” methods and the killing of animals in the open. [Source: Justin McCurry, The Guardian, February 28 2017]
International Efforts to Curb Dog Eating in Korea
Brigitte Bardot and other animal-rightist have spoken out against the Korean dog eating. They asked the South Korean government to forbid the consumption of dog meat during the 2002 World Cup. When little action was taken on her request, Bardot threatened to distribute photographs of maltreated dogs at the event. “Korea needs to listen to what foreigners say about eating dog meat as it harms Korea’s image,” she said.
Other animal rights activists called for a boycott of the World Cup over the dog meat issue. Partly in response to foreign criticism, a Seoul district court ruled that dog meat was an edible meat along with pork and beef and that its consumption was protected by a Korean "tonic food" law although selling cooked dog meat is illegal. Legislation was introduced to formally legalize dog-meat eating but outlawed brutal dog raising and killing methods
Animal rights have made some headway appealing to Korean dog lovers to speak out on the issue but even they bristle at the thought of foreigners telling Koreans what they can and cannot do. Most protests were dismissed as the unwanted opinions of outsiders.
Korean Animal Rights Target Dog Eating
Julien Dugnoille of the University of Exeter wrote: In South Korea, an increasing number of people are considering animals as pets rather than sources of food and there is a growing (but often mocked) animal welfare movement. One charity even runs a vegan restaurant where customers can go to meet rescued animals and adopt them.” [Source: Julien Dugnoille, Lecturer in Anthropology, University of Exeter, The Conversation, March 23, 2016]
On the three days each year when many South Koreans traditionally eat boshintang, activists stage street protests in which they lie in cages portraying captive dogs hanged for their meat. "Pets are now objects of emotional interaction, just as in Western society," Joo Eun-woo, a sociology professor at Chung-Ang University in Seoul, told the Los Angeles Times. "Some people sleep with their dogs. For them, seeing these animals as food is taboo."
Reporting from Seoul, John M. Glionna and Ju-min Park wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “As Lee Won-bok arranged his posters one Saturday at a busy outdoor pedestrian mall, passersby peeked over his shoulder in dismay and horror. Some covered their eyes. But hundreds also clamored to sign Lee's petition to outlaw a traditional culinary practice here: the eating of dog meat. Each weekend, the 45-year-old animal rights activist stages a graphic photo display of dogs kept in cages, hanged and butchered, their meat prepared for market. He knows the images are hard to look at. But that's precisely his point, to show the harsh treatment of an animal that many South Koreans now view as companions, not cuisine. [Source: John M. Glionna and Ju-min Park, Los Angeles Times, September 4, 2009]
“In recent years, at least nine domestic groups against eating dog have been founded to stage street and online campaigns nationwide. "People don't comprehend the suffering these dogs endure," Lee said. "They may vaguely realize that people still eat dogs. But they need to know what happens to the animals." Lee, founder of the Korea Assn. of Animal Protection, gets in people's faces. He has barged into City Hall to confront an official who favored consuming dog meat and brazenly displayed his photos at a local dog market as a vendor tried to choke him. He represents a new breed of animal rights activist: a South Korean who aggressively questions the traditions of his own culture.
South Koreans wield more influence than foreign activists, said Lee, who has been a vegetarian for 20 years. "People can no longer say, 'Outsiders can't tell us what to eat.' Now Koreans are telling Koreans." On some weekend days, he is able to collect more than 1,000 signatures. He says he has amassed 300,000 over nine years. He uses the signatures he collects to make the case to legislators that the public is on his side."We are a new generation of Koreans, and it's up to us to stop this practice," said Won Ji-yeon, 17, who stood in line to sign Lee's list. "Dog eating in Korea is not going to end in one day or one year," he said. "But it's only a matter of time."
Animal Rights Activists Close South Korea’s Biggest Dog Meat Market, Festival and Slaughterhouse
South Korea’s biggest dog meat market — Moran market in Seongnam — was shut down about a year before South Korea hosted the 2018 Winter Olympics as the country sought to head off international criticism over its practice of eating dogs. Justin McCurry wrote in The Guardian: “Officials and traders began removing butchery facilities and cages in which live animals are kept before they are slaughtered. The decision to close the market came after animal welfare campaigners highlighted the inhumane conditions in which the animals were kept and the methods used to kill them: electrocution, hanging and beating. [Source: Justin McCurry, The Guardian, February 28 2017]
“The market’s closure has met with opposition, however. South Korean media reported that a handful of the 22 dog meat sellers who initially agreed to the move last December now oppose it, and are demanding compensation to make up for the loss of business. “Almost 80 percent of our customers visit our shops to buy fresh dog meat, so what are they going to do if we cannot provide it for them? Is the government going to pay us?” Shin Seung-cheol, a Moran trader, told the Korea Herald. Officials in Seongnam said traders would be given financial support to refurbish their premises and open new businesses – part of an effort to remodel the open-air market and end its long association with the dog meat trade.
In 2011, the Seongnam dog meat festival — which planned to “showcase canine food products, including barbecued dog, sausages and steamed paws” — at the Moran market was shut down after animal rights protests. AFP reported that animal rights advocates and many Internet users conducted several online campaigns that forced the event’s cancellation. “This is making our country an international laughing stock, and making the whole world mistakenly believe that all South Koreans eat dogs,” Park So-Youn, head of Coexistence of Animal Rights on Earth, said. “We couldn’t possibly go on with the plan due to endless phone calls of complaint...now there are few willing to rent us a place for the event,” Ann Yong-Geun, an adviser to Korea Dog Farmers’ Association and a professor of nutrition at Chung Cheong University, told AFP. [Source: Huffington Post, August 28, 2011]
In 2018, South Korea’s largest dog slaughterhouse — the Taepyeong-dong complex in Seongnam — was razed over two days and converted into a public park. "This is a historic moment," Korean Animal Rights Advocates (KARA) said in a statement. "It will open the door for more closures of dog meat slaughterhouses across the country, expediting the decline of the overall dog meat industry. This really feels like a landmark moment in the demise of the dog meat industry in South Korea, and sends the clear message that the dog meat industry is increasingly unwelcome in Korean society." [Source: BBC, 23 November 2018]
Korean Sensitivity on the Dog Meat Issue
South Koreans became very upset when Jay Leno made a joke, saying that Kim Song Sung, the Olympics speed skater denied a gold medal in 2002, must have been so upset he kicked his dog and then eaten it when he returned home. Politicians called Leno an “ignorant son of a bitch” and a consulting firm was hired to sue the comedian.
South Korean scholars have looked very hard and uncovered evidence of eating dog meat in Europe. They found that the French ate dogs as well as cats and rats into the 20th century and that dog meat sausage is still popular in some parts of Switzerland. A group of 176 prominent intellectuals, academics, and trade unionists issued a statement that western criticism of dog eating was “ethnocentric”: and critics of the customs were the “real barbarians for not understanding the relativity of culinary culture,” adding “We do not understand the snail-eating, horse-meat eating cuisine that some Westerners seem to like.”
Making the same point, a young woman told the Los Angeles Times, “We Koreans have to defend our traditions. I read once that the queen of England eats pigeon for breakfast. Now that’s disgusting.”
Dog Eating Declining, Pet Ownership Rising in South Korea?
The Wall Street Journal said that dog meat soup “is not as popular as most news stories make it seem. A minority of people eat it regularly.” The number of dog meat restaurants is going down and growing number of Koreans are opting for samgyetang (chicken soup) instead of dog soup the three days in summer when South Koreans traditionally consumed dog meat dishes.
The BBC reported Seoul once had 1,500 restaurants serving the dish, but this had dropped to about 700 by 2015. It is now estimated around million dogs are consumed every year, down from two million in the 2000s.
Julien Dugnoille of the University of Exeter wrote: “I spent over a year in South Korea observing the cat and dog meat trade and the strongly ingrained idea of a connection between meat consumption and its perceived health benefits....Dog meat restaurants are still seen as ideal settings for male dominated professional outings, and social pressure to attend these gatherings is high. Many resident animal welfare advocates confessed to me that they had consumed cat or dog meat when in their thirties because of family and professional pressure. It is therefore quite possible that young people who are actively opposed to the trade today might end up embracing the practice later on in their lives for similar reasons. A number of South Koreans remain in favour of dog and cat breeding for meat, and some remain in favour of continuing violent slaughter, despite the bad taste it leaves in the mouths of international opponents. [Source: Julien Dugnoille, Lecturer in Anthropology, University of Exeter, The Conversation, March 23, 2016]
More and more South Koreans — roughly one-fifth of the population — are choosing to keep dogs as pets. In 2005, one in four South Koreans was a dog or cat owner. In addition, the number of pet shops and animal-themed television shows have risen. [Source: John M. Glionna and Ju-min Park, Los Angeles Times, September 4, 2009]
Dugnoille wrote: “Despite the gradual appearance of some Western inspired notions of animal welfare, the line between those animals treated as pets and those treated as food remains blurred. Some dogs in Korea are bred specifically to be used as food, yet many more animals bought and sold for their meat are actually family pets that have been caught in the streets — or simply sold by their owners at the market. Some customers specifically look for “pedigree” cats and dogs because they are thought to have purer blood than “non-pedigree” individuals and can fetch up to ten times the price.
Animal People News has estimated that around 100,000 cats are eaten in South Korea. “For cats the figure also seems reasonable or maybe a little high, given that there are only a handful of cats offered for sale alongside the dogs at markets like Moran, Chung Ang, etc. [Source: animalpeoplenews.org]
Cat is consumed as a treatment for arthritis and other illnesses. Julien Dugnoille of the University of Exeter wrote: Cat meat, on the other hand, is mostly consumed by middle-aged working class women, again for its perceived health benefits. Because cats are agile creatures, their meat and bones are thought to cure rheumatism - and working women need to ensure they remain in good health long into their sixties or seventies in order to support themselves financially.
Cats are boiled (sometimes alive) in pressure-cookers and it usually takes ten cats to produce one small bottle of cat soju (goyangi soju), an alcoholic elixir thought to keep arthritis at bay for a few weeks at a time. I also observed some shopkeepers adding cat meat to dog meat meals because cats are less expensive than dogs. This substitution helps keeps the production cost down in a market where a cat costs about the equivalent of £10, while a dog is about £100.” [Source: Julien Dugnoille, Lecturer in Anthropology, University of Exeter, The Conversation, March 23, 2016]
Snake Soup in South Korea
Some Koreans believe that eating snake increases male stamina. In the late 1980s, I new some doctors and lawyers who ate snake regularly for this reason and dished out up to US$1500 for snake potions. The best time to eat snake, Korean say, is in the winter. Apparently they are more nutritious when they are hibernating. Rare white snakes are believed to be able to save dead people. People lucky enough to find one can sell it for tens of thousands of dollars.
In 2010, South Korea will crack down on restaurants that serve snake soup as a popular summer dish, "A nationwide crackdown against restaurants selling snake meat or soup will be carried out between June 16 to July 15," Son Sam-Gi, deputy director of the environment ministry, told AFP. [Source: AFP, 18 June 2010]
According to AFP” Poaching or smuggling snakes is illegal and punishable by a jail sentence of up to one year or a maximum fine of five million won (4,090 dollars). However, the consumption of snake soup soars in the summer because of a widespread belief that the dish is cooling and enhances virility. "Occasionally, some celebrities and sports players were reported bragging about their consumption of virility-boosting food like snakes, but they should know it's all illegal," a ministry official told Yonhap news agency.
Insects as Food in Korea
Vendors in some neighborhoods of Pusan sell large, live red ants on the streets. The ants are wrapped in newspaper and people saute them at home. Around Kjongju, women sell roasted grasshoppers. Restaurants throughout South Korea serve roasted silkworm pupas as a side dish. Beondegi (Silkworm Larvae) can be steamed or boiled and is often heavily seasoned. They are a popular street snack and are sometimes served like peanuts with alcohol. Roasted crickets are also sold on the streets.
There appear to be few published records of insect consumption in Korea. According to food-insects.com insects consumed in Korea include: A) Lepidoptera: 1) Bombycidae (silkworm moths); 2) Bombyx mori (Linn.), pupa. B) Orthoptera: 1) Acrididae (short-horned grasshoppers); 2) Acrida lata Motschulsky, adult; 3) Oxya sinuosa Mistshenko, adult; 4) Oxya velox (Fabr.), adult [Source: food-insects.com/book ]
“Silk moth pupae (Bombyx mori), a by-product of the Korean silk industry, are almost always present in the Seoul markets (Pemberton 1994). Canned silkworm pupae, presumably Bombyx mori, with labeling entirely in Korean and imported from Korea, have been found for sale since 1988 in an Asian foodshop in Madison, Wisconsin. According to the shopkeeper, they are a favorite of the Korean community in Madison (and, presumably, elsewhere in the United States.)
According to Pemberton (l994), rice-field grasshoppers, primarily Oxya velox (Fabr.), called metdugi, were formerly a common food ingredient in Korea, but their use as food declined as insecticide use increased during the 1960s and 1970s. Metdugi ceased being found in the Seoul markets whereas silkworm pupae (Bombyx mori L.) are almost always present. In Chahwang Myun (a district in Sanchung County) insecticide spraying began to decline in 1981, allowing metdugi populations to begin increasing. In 1982 some metdugi began to be collected and sold again in the local market at Sanchon.
“Pemberton states: "The decline in insecticide use and the desire of some Koreans to eat pesticide-free rice led to the development of organic rice farming in Chahwang Myun. This was economically viable because the yields of rice were the same in unsprayed fields as in sprayed fields, and organic rice sold (and still sells) for higher prices." In 1989, the Chahwang Agricultural Cooperative began buying dried metdugi from farmer-collectors. In 1990, more than 600 families sold 1744 liters of metdugi to the Cooperative at 5000 Won per liter (US US$6.98). The Cooperative sold them for 6500 Won per liter (US US$9.08); much of the 1990 sale went to a supermarket company in Pusan which divided the metdugi into 0.2 liter packages and sold these for 3000 Won (US US$4.19). By 1992, the Cooperative was paying US US$9.91 per liter for metdugi and selling it at bulk rate for US US$12.03 per liter. In addition to selling to the Cooperative, farmers sell metdugi at the local five-day markets (open one day every five days) and on the street.
“Metdugi are most commonly collected by older women, and usually from mid-October to early November. The collected metdugi are steamed or boiled, then dried in the sun for one day and in a room for two more days. For two women studied by Pemberton, the average collection rate was about 0.25 liter per hour, with a best rate of 1.0 liter per hour. During 1990, the income per hour for these women for collecting metdugi ranged from US US$1.75-6.98, excluding the time spent in processing and marketing.
“As to food preparation of dried metdugi, they are sometimes eaten dried without seasoning, but they are usually pan-fried with or without oil after the wings and legs have been removed. The author describes further preparation as follows: "During or after cooking, they are flavored with sesame oil and salt, or sesame oil and sugar, or soy sauce with or without sugar. I have also seen live ones fried whole. These turn red like shrimp as they cook. Many of these preparations produce a product with good snack food essence. They are bite-sized, crispy, crunchy, and salty and/or slightly sweet. . . ." According to Pemberton, many Koreans consider metdugi to be a health food, and, for older Koreans, it brings nostalgia - a taste of the past.
“A one liter package of metdugi purchased from the Cooperative was found to consist of three species, Oxya velox (84.5 percent), Oxya sinuosa Mistshenko (14.8 percent) and a single Acrida lata Motschulsky, a large species not expected to be found in metdugi although it is one of the species eaten in Korea.”
Unusual Korean Seafood Dishes
The ultimate in bizarre Korean eating experiences is downing live octopus (sannakji) with soju in an orange drinking tent. The octopus (a tender baby one called a nachi) is taken out of a tank and cut up into little pieces before your eyes and served on a plate. Not only is the octopus slimy and clammy it is still wiggling around and the suction cups on the tentacles still work. Sometimes you have to use a chopstick just to pry a piece off your plate. But once they are inside your mouth the pieces stick to your cheeks and crawl on your tongue, and sometimes emerge, sticking to your lips. The octopus is fresh out of a tank, quickly gutted and chopped into pieces. There is some danger. The suckers on the tentacles continue to function even when they are swallowed and people have choked to death after the suckers became attached to their throat.
In towns along the eastern coast of Korea you often see clotheslines strung with thousands of drying squid and boats with lanterns used luring squids in nets. Shredded dried squid eaten with peanuts is the national snack. The organs of squids, which are not eaten, are used for fertilizer and paint ingredients. Sea slugs are a delicacy in Korea and China, where they are regard as a folk medicine and aphrodisiac.
In China, Korea and Japan people enjoy eating jellyfish, which salted and dried, and the stingers are removed, after being caught. Jellyfish is usually served in a sweet, vinegary soy sauces and tastes bland and rubbery. It is also considered a treatment for bronchitis and high blood pressure.
In Seoul, at one time and maybe is still going one, stores sold dried fish laced with gold dust and restaurants. A single dried corvina wrapped in gold leaf sold for US$156. Some people who consumed the gold did so because they believed that the gold would cleanse their bodies. The Korea Food and Drug Administration banned the practice on the grounds that it “stirred up resentment against the rich.” [Source: AFP]
Jamie Frater wrote in KoreaTaste.org: “ [Source: Jamie Frater, Listverse, KoreaTaste.org, May 1, 2011 “Hongeo (Fermented Skate) “is one of the strongest smelling” fermented fishes “will find in the world. Skate doesn’t urinate like other fish – it passes its uric acid through its skin. When it is fermented, the uric acid breaks down into a compound which smells exactly like ammonia. The smell of this fish is so strong that some people recommend breathing in through your mouth and out through your nose to reduce your exposure to the odor. Gaebul (Live Spoon Worms) are marine animals that resemble penises. “When consumed, they are cut into bite sized pieces which continue to move (like sannakji) on the plate. [Source: Jamie Frater, Listverse, KoreaTaste.org, May 1, 2011]
Offbeat Korean Meat Dishes
Jamie Frater wrote in KoreaTaste.org: Sundae (Boiled Intestine Sausage) has no relation to western ice cream sundaes. “Sundae is a cow or pig’s intestine, stuffed like a sausage with various ingredients. They are a type of blood sausage and can be stuffed with seafood to give you a squid sundae (I bet you never thought you would hear that) or a dried pollock sundae. Typically, the dish is boiled or steamed. Sundae is a very popular street food in both South and North Korea, and you should try it if you get the chance. [Source: Jamie Frater, Listverse, KoreaTaste.org, May 1, 2011]
Gopchang (Barbecued Intestines) is similar to sundae, except that the intestines (small and large) of a pig are grilled without any stuffing. The texture is very chewy, and while the dish is often served cooked alone, it can also be used as an ingredient in other dishes such as stews. Gopchang really is incredibly delicious and it is usually very fresh, so you can be sure of the best taste. When eating it you often have a dipping sauce along side. Despite what it is, this is something most westerners should not have too much difficulty eating.
Dak Dong Jib (Chicken Gizzard): A gizzard is part of an animal’s digestive tract which functions to grind down food. It is made of thick muscular walls. Dak Dong Jib is often wrongly referred to as chicken rectum, but this is not accurate. It is actually a form of sundae and is very common (and popular) in North Korea. Because it is such a heavy dish, it is very popular as a drinking side dish as it helps to absorb alcohol. While it is very common in North Korea, you have to hunt a little harder in South Korea to find it.
Dakbal (Chicken Feet) is a popular Chinese-style dish found in Korea. The texture of this dish is very unusual to western palettes – it is sinewy and chewy. Once you get past the idea that you are eating feet, this dish is truly delectable and I couldn’t recommend it enough.
Unusual Korean Dishes That Arose from Hard Times
Jamie Frater wrote in KoreaTaste.org: Budae Jjigae (Army Base Stew): After enduring the second world war, and then the Korean War, the Korean people were left hungry and in need. In order to feed their families, many parents who lived near US army bases took surplus supplies of army goods such as spam and canned frankfurters and added them to a basic kimchi stew. The end result was Army Base Stew. This stew, which can have virtually anything in it – including eggs and ramen noodles – has spread across South Korea and is wildly popular to this day. [Source: Jamie Frater, Listverse, KoreaTaste.org, May 1, 2011]
Dotorimuk (Acorn Jelly): While acorns are poisonous, the toxins can be removed by cooking. In parts of Korea (especially mountainous regions), acorns grow in huge numbers. During times of hunger in the past, the people living in the mountains discovered that acorn could be cooked and powdered to provide a starch that can be cooked. The result is a jelly with a very subtle and slightly bitter flavor. When seasoned with soy based sauces and vegetables it becomes a truly delicious side dish. [Source: Jamie Frater, Listverse, KoreaTaste.org, May 1, 2011]
Cheonggukjang (“Dead Body Soup”): Dead body soup is so-nicknamed in the west because its odor is so strong and repellant to many. In fact, there is a story (undoubtedly an urban legend) that states that some Korean students living in Germany cooked this soup in their flat, only to have the neighbors call the police fearing that they were keeping a corpse in their home. The soybean paste used for this soup is only briefly fermented (unlike typical soybean paste), means that much of its strong ammonia smell remains. It has largely whole soy beans which stick together with a slimy, gluey substance. But, despite the dreadful description and smell, it is incredibly delicious. Before you think to refuse it on the grounds of its smell, think of how so many of us love to eat blue cheeses, and the strongest of the French soft cheeses like Livarot. [Source: Jamie Frater, Listverse, KoreaTaste.org, May 1, 2011]
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.
Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.
Updated in July 2021