1. No cartoon dogs.
There are no cutesy animal cartoons on the walls or windows, a staple of many meat restaurants. Round-eyed pigs? Adorable! Cows in aprons? ^^ 귀엽다~~~!!! Now, wide-grinning dogs? None of those, at least at particular bosintang restaurant near Gaegeum in Busan. Not many pictures at all, actually, except for ones of the meat itself, which is a mysteriously brown sort of thing, rife with fat and surrounded by a dark palette of orange broth, green onions and red peppers.
2. The average age is maybe 55.
Arguably the product of eating at 6 p.m. in a cozy, off-subway line neighbourhood, but it’s worth noting that there were way more old folks than young ones. I would not be surprised if Korea’s younger generation, influenced by the Western world, were pulling away from eating dog meat in much the same way they are pulling away from whale. After all, bosintang literally translates into “invigorating soup”, and is accompanied by one of those old Korean wives’ tales of increased virility. (Something dogs apparently have in common with garlic buds.)
3. It tastes surprisingly bland.
Despite the globs of fat hanging off the reasonably expensive and tender meat itself, the whole experience is distractingly underwhelming. For either 15,000, 30,000 or 50,000 won you can get a decent-sized wooden block of plush marinated dog, including some ribs but mostly miscellaneous bits, called sooyook. Though the fat tears off easily, I was the only one who made any attempt to do so; my native co-teachers rubbed the whole thing around in their dishes of gochujang (chili pepper paste, ground perilla seeds, sliced ginger and a yet-unidentified-to-me floral herbs), presumably because the frankly lovely combination of flavours is the real treat amidst an otherwise kinda boring dish. The second-course soup, bosintang itself, was similar, and by this point I’d almost entirely forgotten that I was eating one man’s best friend. Dunno if it says more about the food or myself, but the best bit to my mind was the bokeumbap at the end, which is mostly rice fried in the spices of the small bit of remaining soup. Without meat.
I take credit for neither of the above photographs.