Mrs. Jang said “We think it is very good for the throat.” I said that we tend to think all hot soups are good for he throat. My eyes felt swollen. During the stew of dog meat. I have no rational explanation for this. I don’t want to overstate the degree to which eating stew of dog was different than eating kalbi tang, because I didn’t choke on my soup or throw it back up, but it was somehow different.
I used to decide that I didn’t like certain things. I would look at a piece of lettuce and think ‘that must be just awful’ and so it would be. This is how I got by not eating anything green for a long time and I’ve learned now to taste the food first. So when we went out this afternoon, I expected it to be anticlimactic. I have eaten so many things that come out of the ocean that are slimy, pale colored creatures that never see light, and discovered that they don’t taste at all like they look. (Ok, some of them taste like they look, but I’ve actually come to enjoy a few.) I expected to be disappointed to find that dog meat just tastes like meat and that nothing would stir in my soul because I was consuming Fido.
I was instructed to put in some kind of powdered sesame and mustard. I tested the broth first. Spicy. Broth-like. My first reaction to the meat was “it tastes like meat.” Though the little curls of skin –dog skin– floating in the soup did put me off. Problem was, some of us had class in 40 minutes so I was trying to wolf the soup down because I always eat slower than Korean people, I don’t know how they manage it with those scalding soups, so I was eating lots of kimchi because its cold and not exactly dwelling on the flavor or the texture, although I did become annoyed that there was so much meat. I was like, is this a whole terrier in here? Why can’t my kalbi tang be so well endowed?
But then the waitress brought a platter of dog meat, the way you might serve turkey carvings at Thanksgiving. Dog meat does not look like other meat. It has the color, when cooked, of beef or ox, but it is sinewy and you can tell that the muscles are small. Mrs. Choi collected some meat and a ribbon of skin and dipped it in a soy based dipping sauce. It was about this time I began to feel like my eyes were swelling, teary the way that really dry air makes your eyes tear. I wasn’t upset, was no more able to connect the meat to the live animal than I am with pork or beef. It was very odd.
I only took one piece from the platter, there was something about that platter meat that tweaked me out, and I did sort of gag on it, but I don’t know why. The flavor was meat flavor, the texture was meat texture. I ate black pork sam kyop sal that still had hair in the skin, and right after we’d made friends with some cool pigs behind the museum that had eyes as intelligent as any dog’s, and while I found the crunch of cooked hair not entirely appetizing, it wasn’t weird.
There was no good reason that I should have had any reaction to eating the dog meat unless the trouble was the knowledge that it was dog. Eating live abalone, while not something that Americans do, really, would not get the same response (ew, gross) at home as “I ate stew of dog” (how could you!). I think the weirdness had less to do with how I feel about dogs as with the fact that it was, on some level, illicit.
Mrs. Jang commented that I would have a lot of stories to take back to America with me. I said a lot of people there wouldn’t be so open minded about my having eaten dog. “Of course, we don’t eat pet dogs,” she said. I should have told her about the SPCA. As we got in the car to go back, I made sure to point out the fluffy black puppy lolling its little pink tongue, tied up next door. A guy in rubber work boots had been playing with him when we first went in.
“You mean a kind of irony?” she asked. And then I told her about Rocky Mountain Oysters. I think she was scandalized by the word testicle.