Exotic food for athletic performance?Macho Man needs Slim Jims, Tony needs his Cornflakes and Popeye needs his spinach. Everyone has his own favorite yummy that makes him tick. Nothing new about that.
And now, admit it. You too are thinking of dog stew a la Seoul. With mad cow and all the poultry crossed off the menu, you are in a corner with little room left to dodge. Man’s best friend is here to the rescue.
Korea’s reputation for exotic dishes is rock solid. Especially, when it comes to dog meat, the peninsula is the undisputed leader in that category. Or so it seems.
It certainly looked that way when an e-mail correspondent wrote: “Why do Korean athletes eat dog meat or other exotic dishes? Do they really believe it boosts their performance?”
To be honest, I am no expert on this matter; nor do I think there is a single person on the peninsula who has done a scientific study on this particular question. But although perplexed by it, I’ll give you my five minutes of wisdom here because it may be a question popped by others.
While a layman might think that edible dog meat is sold over the counter in Korea like beef, that’s not quite the case. Nor are restaurants that serve dog meat dishes flooding the country like the countless McDonald’s restaurants here.
Speaking of dogs, the pet industry is growing exponentially and veterinary clinics are spreading like mushrooms. All these things serve to preserve the health of pets so that they can die a natural death and have a long relationship that is of mutual interest to both parties. Having said that, you might wonder: What is all this dog talk about?
Summer is a time when demand for dog meat is higher than any other time of the year. In accordance with the traditional delineation of a year’s 24 seasons, every year around July and August there is a date designated as chobok (this year it’s July 20) that marks the beginning of the hottest period, which ends on Aug. 9 this year, a date that is called malbok. Chobok means the beginning of the summer heat, while malbok means the end.
Now, old folklore has it that because during those hot summer days one gets easily exhausted, he should take care of his body by eating dog meat. That was thought to boost stamina. Chicken soup with ginseng is another alternative, but let’s concentrate on the dog.
The word bok here derives its meaning from Chinese characters of which one stands for “dog.” The fact that the same period is called the Dog Days in English since the Dog Star rises and sets with the sun, tells us there is some correlation (one I just found out).
Now, if it tasted bad, I would think that this long tradition would have vanished a long time ago. That it has not brings us to the fact that at least partially, it’s part of our culture. People from different cultures might find it an alien dish but then this should not be the only one.
So here is my answer to why Korean athletes eat dog: because some of them happen to like the taste of it. It’s that simple. And there is really no distinction between athletes and non-athletes.
Personally, I have never tasted it but that’s because I never had the chance to do so. And if for some psychological reason someone thinks he gets an extra boost, so be it.
It’s just part of the Korean culture.
by Brian Lee
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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