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."


  1. OMG, that is a hilarious story!!! Hahahaha, I can only imagine what must've been running through her mind when you said that about the dogs and cats!

  2. @Kyle - It was so funny when it happened, from my dramatic negative reaction to then backpedaling and telling Seolmi it was ok if she ate dog, to Seolmi finally explaining what she really meant. I started laughing soooo hard at the end of all this, but she ~ did not. Oops.

  3. LOL! Too funny! Do you think you could ever take the plunge? I don't think I (knowingly) could.

  4. @Oneika - Food or friend? My heart would break if I (knowingly) ate a type of animal I've had as a pet, which means cats, dogs, and rabbits are off limit for me. So long as I never get a pet cow, I'll be good. (I really like the taste of beef!)

  5. My Korean students often tried to explain to me that the dogs used for eating were not cute pet-like dogs and it was the same as killing cows to eat ... which I kind of get, but I still don't want to try it! (and yeah a friend of mine had a semi-tiny-farm once, with two cows, has never eaten a scrap of beef since!)

  6. Funny mixup! I used to hold the typical American view about eating dog until I saw a truck of dogs that were going to be sold as meat crossing the Laos-Vietnam border. It was such a strange feeling I had at that moment. It was an awful sight and an awful smell, but I really couldn't judge because I eat meat. I've had rabbit, but I really can't ever see myself eating dog or cat (willingly, as Oneika points out :P).

  7. I thought for sure this would have a tragic ending, especially with the picture of the cute puppydog. I'm glad the only tragedy was a red face! This made me smile. Thanks! :D