Korean Food Myth: Do They Eat Dogs?

Posted on 04. Mar, 2015 by in Cuisine, Korean food, Uncategorized

Dog soup is a rare and quickly aging delicacy in South Korea. (Photo courtesy of http://mmerong41.egloos.com/58453)

Dog soup is a rare and quickly aging delicacy in South Korea. (Photo courtesy of http://mmerong41.egloos.com/58453)

Walk past any food stand selling an unidentifiable mea and the joke is its probably dog.  In Korea, it isn’t.  Westernized views of minorities are filled with this perception: Koreans eat dogs and the Chinese eat dogs and cats (and snakes and monkey brains).  Although the consumption of dog (among others things) does exist, the practice is not a norm in Korea.

In fact, in my own grassroots research, I would argue a higher percentage of Western expats living in Korea have eaten dog than the percentage of overall Koreans.  Dog meat (개고기 수육) and dog soup (보신탕) is quickly fading out, if it hasn’t reached near non-existence.  Aging generations–let’s say, arbitrarily, those born before 1970–have a tendency to go for boshin-tang in times of sickness or, as they quite literally call it, the dog days of summer.  The soup has a well-being (양영탕) stigma that so many older Koreans love.

The basis for eating dogs does not have strong evidence of beginning in times of famine or during the Korean War.  In fact, the existence and popularity of the more practical and more quickly prepared budae-jjigae (부대찌개), or “Army-base stew”, shows that the origins of eating dog was not in necessity for survival but in the archaic belief that dog meat is beneficial for good health and a long life.  The soup generally works as a stamina during hot, post-monsoon days, similar to sam-gye-tang (삼계탕), an in-bone chicken soup with ginseng, or daeji-guk-bop (돼지국밥), a pork stew that is similar in look, but not in the essential ingredient.

The meat and soup is not cheap by Korean standards.  Typical prices for meat or soup can go for between 15,000 and 30,000 won ($13-$22).  But the profits have dropped since the 1980s and Korean modernization.  Furthermore, since the beginning of the century, Korean pet ownership has taking off.  Though previously the traditional Korean white breed of dog from Jinro region in the south has been a source of national pride, current trends of pet ownership have been on the rise.  A small dog, a tea-cup Maltese, for example, can look a little too close to a bowl-sized plate of dog meat.  (However, only one kind of dog is normally used for boshintang, a yeallow dog called noranke [노란개].)

But 2 million or more dogs are estimated to be eaten each year.  Two former presidents, Lee Myung-bak and the late Roh Moo-hyun, were known to eat dog.  Legally, serving dog is somewhere in a grey area in Korean law, a space between food processing and lawful livestock.  The consumption itself is generally not frowned upon as much as the inhumane treatment and slaughter of the dogs in captivity.

From personal experience, I can say the meat has the texture of a roast beef.  However, these restaurants are filled not with people looking for a roast beef-like stew, but elder Koreans looking for a health boost.  (Koreans overall consume pork, chicken, beef, duck, and many kinds of seafood much more often than dog.)  The elder generations are the last vestige of boshintang soup eaters, which means the ill-fate of boshintang restaurants is near.

Dog meat is not readily available at markets for home cooking.  But as a younger Koreans replace the old, all signs point to dog meat consumption moving from a marginal practice to a thing of the past.

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Changyeong Palace Video Tour

Posted on 26. Feb, 2015 by in Culture, History, Korean Tourism

Image by el_ave on www.flickr.com

Image by el_ave on www.flickr.com

Tour one of Seoul’s Five Grand Palaces – Changyeonggung – in this short video. It was destroyed twice by the Japanese, but has been somewhat restored and is a nice place to spend an afternoon in the Korean capital.

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The Five Grand Palaces of Seoul

Posted on 24. Feb, 2015 by in Uncategorized

The last kingdom in Korea was the Joseon Dynasty (조선왕조), which lasted from 1392 all the way until 1910. Over the reign of Joseon, Seoul became the capital city and center of state affairs. Throughout the years, the kings had many grand palaces built here – five of them are currently open to the public. For those looking to explore the history and culture of Seoul, a tour of the Five Grand Palaces is a great way to spend a few days. Here’s a rundown of all five for those planning a trip to Seoul:

Gyeongbokgung (경복궁)

Gyeongbokgung from above.

Gyeongbokgung from above.

This is the granddaddy of ‘em all, so to speak – it was the first to be built and also the largest. King Taejo had this palace built in 1395 and gave it the name “Gyeongbokgung,” meaning “Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven.” This auspicious name didn’t exactly work out, though, as the palace has been ransacked by the Japanese twice throughout the centuries. Restoration efforts began in 1990 and continue to this day, but so far they’ve done an excellent job of bringing this former royal palace back to life. In addition to the historical architecture and beautiful gardens, you can check out The National Palace Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum of Korea here. Also of interest is the changing guard ceremony that takes place outside of the main gate every hour from 10am-3pm featuring guards in traditional Joseon attire. For more on this palace specifically, check out our post from last month.

Changdeokgung (창덕궁)

Image by Republic of Korea on www.flickr.com

Image by Republic of Korea from www.flickr.com

The Joseon kings sure were clever with their names – this one means “The Palace of Prospering Virtue.” Built in 1405, it was the second royal palace in Seoul and was actually home to the kings longer than any of the others. This is partly due to political strife within the kingdom, but also due to the fact that its construction was more harmonious with nature and it retained many traditional elements that the other palaces were missing. It too was destroyed and repaired on many occasions through the centuries, but even through so many reconstructions it has managed to retain much of its original design. This palace’s most notable feature is its “secret garden” (비원), a beautiful place to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Changgyeonggung (창경궁)

Image by el_ave on www.flickr.com

Image by el_ave from www.flickr.com

The “Palace of Flourishing Gladness” (there they go again with the awesome names) was built in 1483 by King Sejong for his retiring father, King Taejong. It was renovated and enlarged by a later king, and the name was changed from Suganggung to the current Changgyeonggung. During Japanese colonial rule, the temple grounds were turned into a zoo and botanical garden to undermine its royal status. Those have since been removed and the royal splendor of this former palace has been restored. As they’re only separated by one wall, it’s very easy to visit Changgyeong in conjunction with Changdeok. If visiting, make sure you don’t miss the two lovely ponds in the rear of the palace grounds.

Deoksugung (덕수궁)

Image by travel oriented from www.flickr.com

Image by travel oriented from www.flickr.com

There’s an interesting story behind Deoksugubng – it wasn’t a palace at all to begin with. After the Japanese invasion in 1592, all of the royal palaces had been destroyed or at the very least heavily damaged. A temporary palace had to be chosen from the royal houses, and this was it. King Gwanghaegun named it Gyeongungung and made it an official royal palace. It didn’t get its current name – Palace of Virtuous Longevity – until 1907 in a doomed attempt to ensure the longevity of Gojong. He was the last Joseon king and first emperor of Korea, and he died in 1919 at the palace. This palace is unique amongst the five for having many western-style buildings. It also has lovely forested gardens and an art museum on site.

Gyeonghuigung (경희궁)

Image by travel oriented from www.flickr.com

Image by travel oriented from www.flickr.com

Perhaps the most overlooked of the five thanks to its small size, the “Palace of Serene Harmony” was built in 1623 as a secondary palace  – that is, the place the king moves to in case of an emergency. Once upon a time this palace was quite large, composed of around 100 buildings. It even had an arched bridge connecting it to nearby Deoksugung. However, it was leveled during the Japanese occupation (noticing a theme here?) in order to build a middle school. While there may not be a lot to see here these days, it’s a great place to experience local culture – more locals than tourists come here to go for a walk, practice martial arts, or just chill out. Inside the palace grounds, you can also visit the Seoul Museum of History. Best of all, it’s all completely free!

 

As far as the other four temples go, you can buy separate entrance tickets to each, or you can just buy an all-inclusive ticket that gets you into them all. These can be bought at any of the palaces and you have a month to use them. While most people choose to see just one or two of them, it’s definitely doable to hit all five over the span of a few days. If you’re feeling super energetic, you can even do it all in one long walking tour. Check out this guide for more info on the route. If you feel like you’ve already read enough in this post, just go ahead and watch the video:

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