Oftentimes when Korean food is the topic of discussion, someone invariably brings up the question of whether dog is actually cooked and served in Korea. Many wonder if this has simply become some gruesome tale or unsavory myth. But the answer to whether dog meat is part of the Korean diet is both yes and no—it all depends on geography, generation, and traditions.
Never a part of the mainstream diet, dog meat, known as Gaegogi, originated during Three Kingdoms of Korea period from 57 BC to 668 AD. Korea is the only Asian country that breeds dogs specifically for the dog meat trade. Due to animal rights issues and sanitary concerns, however, the consumption of dog meat has become controversial over the past years and consequently has been in decline.
History of Eating Dog Meat
Toward the end of the Goryeo Dynasty (AD 918 to 1392)—when the consumption of beef was banned because the state religion was Buddhism—eating dog was introduced by nomadic war refugee Khitans. At the same time, the Mongols invading Korea lifted the beef ban and enforced meat consumption. During the following dynasty, the Joseon government addressed the feral dog problem by feeding dog meat to the poor; some government officials argued that dogs were for human companionship and not consumption, unsuccessfully attempting to ban dog meat.
In 1816, a prominent politician and scholar named Jeong Hak-yu wrote the poem Nongga Wollyeongga, which has become an important part of Korean folk history—in it, there is a reference to a menu including boiled dog meat. A book written by Korean scholar Hong Seok-mo in 1849 includes a recipe for bosintang, a soup containing dog meat, green onion, and red chili pepper powder. This recipe has remained part of Korean culture and some choose to eat it on the anniversary celebration of Sambok.
Proponents of Dog Meat
There are some areas of Korea that still do feature dog meat as an ingredient. However, it is not a regular part of Korean cuisine. It typically isn't served in one's home, but there are specialty “dog meat” restaurants in Korea where it is advertised on signs in the eatery's windows.
Even though a fair number of Koreans (anywhere from 5 to 30 percent, depending on whom you ask) may have tried dog meat before, it is only a very small percentage of the population that eats it regularly. Eating dog meat seems to be popular among a particular group of older gentlemen for its supposed power to enhance stamina and virility. There are a couple of traditional dishes made out of dog meat (the most common is boshintang). Dog is also eaten in other parts of East and South Asia, including certain regions of China and the Philippines.
Anti-Dog Meat Position
Although it is not illegal to serve dog meat in Korea, it is officially classified as "detestable." There is a large and vocal group of Korean people that are against the practice of eating dog meat and want the South Korean government to enforce laws making dog meat illegal. Dogs are increasingly being viewed as pets and thus the tradition of eating dog meat is becoming taboo, especially with the younger generations.
A Divided Issue
But there is also a gray area. A large population of people in South Korea that don't eat or enjoy the meat feels strongly that it is the right of others to do so. There is a smaller but still vocal group of pro-dog cuisine people in South Korea who want to popularize the consumption of dog meat in Korea and the rest of the world.