Thursday, June 9, 2011
Bow-Wow Soup in Korea or "What's for Dinner?"
Seolmi and I angle our chopsticks into the various dishes spread across the table. We use them like tiny extended hands to pick up long strands of fried noodles, udon-infused squares of fishcake, and pieces of delectably tender sushi. Our conversation drifts in and out of various topics. I take a bite of the sushi and rave about its deliciousness.
"Mmm, this fish tastes great!" I enthuse.
"Have you had dog or cat?" Seolmi asks.
"No, no! Never!" I protest.
In the shadow of its other culinary offerings, Korea has a reputation for serving bosintang or meong meong soup (the latter of which translates to "bow wow" or "woof woof" soup) in a few, select restaurants tucked away in some of Seoul's poorer alleyways.
Images flash through my mind of all the dogs who have reached cult-like status via Western movies and TV: Beethoven, Benji, Toto, centuplicate (+service) Dalmatians, and the most classic canine of them all, Lassie. It didn't matter how many times little Timmy fell down that well (being so very accident-prone as to make viewers wonder whether he harbored latent suicidal tendencies), the border collie Lassie was always there to save him. No one should ever have Lassie for dinner.
"I would never do that!" I proclaim emphatically. "I would never have dog or cat. For me, it would be like eating a baby!"
I pause in the midst of my raving and look more closely at Seolmi. She has a strange expression on her face that I can't quite read, and her mouth hangs open slightly.
Quickly, I switch the nature of my speech. I've been so insensitive. Maybe Seolmi's parents raised her on woof woof soup. Maybe her grandparents had resorted to eating it due to lack of better food options during the war and the tradition carried down a few generations. Who am I to judge another person's culture, especially someone who is trying to be my friend?
"It's okay if you eat dog," I amend apologetically. "We're from different cultures. I understand that."
Then there is silence. A long silence.
Finally, Seolmi speaks.
"Not eating dog or cat," she says. "Having dog or cat. For pet."