10 July 2009
Last Friday, the majority of my co-workers and I were invited to a student’s home for dinner. What was the menu was Chicken (English translation: Black Chicken) and Dog, a.k.a Kaegogi. I made myself a promise that I would try eating dog if given the chance.
There were two tables to choose from, one table for eating chicken and one table for eating dog. regardless of whether I did not want to eat dog (I did) the Principal informed me I was to sit at his table a his guest, which meant I was eating dog. The majority of teachers ate the chicken, they had no interest in eating dog and many verbally stated that they disliked the tradition. Some went so far as when asked by their elders to taste the dog they flat out refused. Which is a big no no in Korean culture. To make a blanket statement that Koreans eat dog is really misleading. Every young person I talk to thinks it is a terrible tradition and curse the thought of eating dog.
I did try the dog but, but I want to save that for last and discuss the Black Chicken, My co-teacher Eunji said that she didn’t like the taste of the chicken. I thought it was good, really flavorful if not a lot of meat on the bones. I would more than likely try/eat it again if given the opportunity. Now on to the dog.
I have no preconceived notions regarding this Korean tradition. Who am I to condemn them for something that they have done for generations? Besides, it is a waning tradition. Technically it is outlawed but, the police in Korea are a joke and I have yet to see them do anything other than drive around or hang out at a store. Bank guards are more effective.
But, I digress. I must admit I can’t use chopsticks to save my life and even when things are working I can only use them for a short time before my hand cramps up. So if you look at the photo that is a fork on my plate. I will talk about the dog. The smell was fine, the first taste was okay. There really wasn’t a taste to the meat. there was a lot of fat which is something I do not like so I ate around it. When asked what I thought of the meat my translator admitted that I do not like fat. So they put pieces of meat sans fat on my plate. There was more flavor to the meat and it had a similar taste to pot roast. However, I still felt that there wasn’t a lot of flavor to the meat. Dog meat is a delicacy in Korea. While illegal you can find many restaurants still serving the delicacy, Moran is a prime example, you can find dog vendors on every other street starting at street row number 7. Dog meat goes for around 70,000 won or roughly $65 dollars a plate. As a delicacy, I was really disappointed. Of course, the way Koreans eat the meal is completely different from me as I tend to shy away from vegetables (I don’t like the majority of my vegetables cooked). So maybe that enhances the flavor but, in my personal experience I wold say that the dog meat is similar to pot roast, another of my least favorite meals from back home (unless my ex-girlfriend cooks it, don’t know what she does but it is a pretty tasty meal).
Again, I don’t condone the culture for eating dog. Dog is a delicacy mainly for men as it is said that when you eat dog you are given “Strength” TRANSLATION: you are more powerful in the sack. Women who eat it are said to break out with acne (only one female teacher sat beside me and eat the dog, she is gorgeous so I doubt that she will break out). That said I think it should be mentioned how dog is prepared. This is not for the skittish, it may be pretty graphic: Koreans raise certain breed of dogs specifically for eating. They don’t just take Fido from of the street and prepare them for supper. The specific dog breed that is used in the Korean dish is hung from a hook by a collar, the person then takes a cane and beats the dog with the stick (REMEMBER this meal is prepared for men to improve their stamina during sex). This is done so that the dog releases endorphins into its body, the dog is suppose to become angry and although hanging from a hook attempt to attack the person wielding the stick (however, vain the attempt). Once the dog is beating to death it is then prepared however the cook chooses, sometimes in a soup or other method. My student’s family boiled it in a huge pot/kiln along with the chicken. I did what I set out to do while here in Korea, try dog. That said my curiosity is settled and I can honestly say that I am not impressed with eating dog. I will never condemn the eating of dog in Korea, but I will say that it is a rather bland meal.
I am not one to end on a low note so I will say that after dinner the family invited us to walk their property (it was a good size of property) and take whatever vegetables we wanted. I walked but did not take anything. They had tomatoes, sweet peas, avocado, and plumbs. There is a rule that teachers can accept gifts up to a maximum amount of 30,000 won. It thought that was interesting at first and then I remembered that at the end of the year when I taught in the United States that I often received gifts from students without a second thought.
After our walk I hung out with the single female teachers as they had heard that I had a few impressions of our vice-principal. She is very nice to me, but she gives many of them a hard time on a daily basis. I gave her the name Kim Jong Il, she very similar in appearance. The ladies laughed at my new name for her as well as my two impressions. I will more than likely use it in the teachers room when she isn’t looking to cheer them up.
I then was called back to the principal so that we could have a toast with soju (Korean vodka, but slightly weaker and worst tasting) and then another toast with soju and beer, where the soju is dropped into the beer via shot glass. I was told that due to my grandfather serving in the Korean war (a reason for coming to Korea) and his father fighting in the war. We were like brothers and my stock value rose in his and everyone else’s eyes. I have always been proud of my grandfather for serving in both WWII and Korea but, not until that moment did I ever really appreciate what my grandfather did and what American soldiers did and continue to do not just for my country but, unselfishly for other countries. It was a great feeling to know that your grandfather had such a profound impact on someone you would never normally meet and that his actions echo through history to this very day. While my grandfather is not alive, I believe that he was there with me when the words were spoken to me and that he would have nodded his approval (Grandpa Pat was not a man of many words).
One final note, we only drove for about 20-25 minutes to get to the student’s house. But we left modern Korea behind and entered a gorgeous lush greenbelt that had only a few homes and large greenhouses full of self-sustaining crops. Eating outside in a traditional setting was mind blowing. It was very peaceful and regardless of the meal an experience that I will cherish forever.