Meal with too much bark seeks wine with noseAt Casa del Vino, a posh bar in southern Seoul, eight kinds of wine from all over the world were carefully chosen for Saturday’s special dinner party. The guests would decide whether a 2000 Chateau Cissac Haut-Medoc or a 1998 Chateau Petit-Figeac St. Emilion Grand Cru, among other wines, was a better choice.
The main course had already been decided. The question was: Which vintage would go with the dog meat?
Eating dog is nothing new in Korea. The tradition is centuries old. Yet the government has been trying to disavow the culinary practice since the 1988 Seoul Olympics. At the time, the sale of bosintang, or dog meat soup, was banned for fear of generating unsettling headlines in the foreign press.
Koreans who really want their dog meat during the hot summer, when the meat is believed to revive flagging energy, can still get it. But now, they appear embarrassed about it, especially with foreigners.
Oh Gyu-ran, a seamstress working in eastern Seoul, said she eats dog meat in the summertime but was shy about saying so. “You know, they say it’s good for you, especially women,” she said. “But I don’t eat it at home, because my children don’t like it and all. So a whole bunch of us friends or family members go up to the mountain behind my house and eat it there.”
It’s that sense of shame that Casa del Vino’s owner, Eun Kwang-pyo, wants to eliminate. He questions why the Korean tradition has to be enjoyed in secret or with a guilty conscience. A handful of epicures in town have tried to match their seasonal favorite with European wines, he said, but not as openly as he has.
“Why can’t dog meat be enjoyed in an elegant manner?” he said in an interview before the dinner. “Why do dog meat eaters have to go to dingy restaurants in back streets and be embarrassed about it when they enjoy it so much? Even if the event at my bar might cause controversies, I’m prepared to take the risk.”
Does he eat dog meat himself? “No, it’s not that I cannot eat dog meat, but I do not eat dog meat. I won’t be eating the meat even though I’m organizing the event at my bar,” he said.
He said he is a dog lover and chooses not to eat the animal, but he doesn’t think Koreans should be ashamed of a long-standing tradition.
The dinner would mark the first time in Korea that dog meat was served at a mainstream, upper-class establishment, but he expected and hoped that the event would “not be so serious and not so sensational ... because the event is about simply matching a Korean traditional food with a Western traditional beverage.”
Mr. Eun announced his bold plan to more than 30,000 subscribers to his Web site (www.bestwine.co.kr) a few weeks ago, telling them that his 32nd Wine Academy event on Aug. 14 would match dog meat with internationally reputable wines.
He chose a Korean-German TV personality who runs a consulting company and imports German wine. Lee Charm, better known as Lee Han-woo, has given numerous lectures on wine and food for local wine clubs.
About 50 participants, including wine enthusiasts and the press, turned up for the event at 3 p.m. on Saturday. Mr. Lee talked about the Taoist interpretation of matching tastes, closing his lecture by saying the reason why Koreans are so harshly criticized for eating dog meat is because “their cultural image is weak.” A few listeners broke into a loud applause.
Afterward, attendees were served a light course meal and eight of the world’s different kinds of wine: the Chateau Cissac, the Chateau Petit-Figeac, a 2000 Joseph Drouhin Gevrey-Chambertin, a 2001 E. Guigal Hermitage, a 2001 Castello di Fonterutoli Chianti, a 2001 Wolf Blass Shiraz, 2000 Catena Malbec and a 2001 Zimmermann-Graeff Muller Niersteiner Gutes Domtal Auslese.
Participants were then asked to fill in a grading sheet at the end, picking the wines that best suited the meat.
For the dog meat, Mr. Eun contacted a wholesale supplier he had found online. The precooked meat was again cured and cooked by the Casa del Vino chef, who regularly eats dog meat in the summer.
Instead of the soup version, which is heavily seasoned with strong spices, such as garlic, onion, ginger, red chile pepper paste and sesame leaves, the chef prepared simpler dishes such as cold cuts, in porridge and braised. All three dishes were elegantly garnished with beets, chopped chives and roasted sesame seeds and served on beautiful modern plates.
Mr. Lee, whose name was Bernard Quandt before he permanently adopted a Korean name, came to Korea 27 years ago and earned his Korean citizenship in 1986. A native of Bad-Kreuznach, near the famous wine region of Nahe in Germany, he said he grew up drinking and appreciating some of the finest wines in Europe and picked up cooking as a hobby during his teen years.
He found the practice of dog-eating in Korea to be quite natural. While living in Korea, he has eaten dog meat on many occasions.
“In East Germany, they too have a tradition of eating dog meat,” he said. “Also, the Korean-style dog meat is very similar to a traditional German dish called hasenpfeffer, which is made with a hare. The texture and taste of the meat and the preparation, except for some spices, are very similar.”
The restaurant that serves “probably the best dog meat in Korea,” he said, is on the road between Gyeongju and Mokpo in the south of Korea. After trying the braised dog meat at Casa del Vino’s dinner, Mr. Lee said, “Nothing compares to the meat there.”
Many dog meat lovers say the best meat comes from 1-year-old dog of a local mixed breed called nureong-i. It’s not a cheap meal ― some dishes can cost 30,000 won ($25) and up to 100,000 won per person.
“[The cost] is because it takes relatively more time to feed and care for a meaty adult dog,” Mr. Lee said.
When the reported cases of torture involving dogs were mentioned, Mr. Lee shook his head.
“In the old days people used to believe that if you beat the dog before it dies, the meat became tastier,” he said. “But they don’t do that anymore, because it’s scientifically proven that the fear hormone released upon the death of the animal actually ruins the taste of the meat.”
Among the audience, there were men and women of varying ages and degrees of dog meat-eating experiences.
Upon tasting the dog meat porridge, Lee Seung-eun, an interior designer, declared, “This is a historic moment for me. I actually came here because one of my female friends loves dog meat.”
She went on to share some trivia about dog meat. “Did you know that Koreans who are engaged in construction work never eat dog meat, because they are afraid of misfortune, like, their buildings might collapse?” she asked.
Ms. Lee said the porridge tasted very good and was fragrant with sesame oil, but she didn’t finish it. She said a full-bodied red would definitely go well with such a heavy meat.
Jamie Kim, the publisher of Winies, a wine business magazine, said she had eaten dog meat twice before, and she encouraged a reporter to set aside her own prejudices that were in her head and just try the meat. Ms. Kim said she preferred the porridge and marinated meat to the cold cuts.
Chi Sang-hun, who works as a sales director of a local electronics company, said he regularly eats dog meat. “Lilac-jip behind Palace Hotel in southern Seoul does it the best,” he said.
As for the dinner, he said, “Frankly, the meaty texture is gone because it’s been overcooked.”
An elderly Korean participant, Lee Sok-ki, whose business card read “wine connoisseur and senior wine adviser,” had been to Mr. Eun’s wine academy 30 times. He was obviously delighted with the unusual event. “Today’s highlight is the gaejuk [dog meat porridge]!” he said.
By 6 p.m., 29 participants voted for the best wine that matched with dog meat.
The Guigal Hermitage, based on the syrah grape, was rated the highest, and the Chateau Petit-Figeac, based on the merlot grape, was rated the lowest.
Throughout the event, the ethics of eating dog wasn’t something to debate at all. As the wine enthusiasts lingered over dinner for a few more hours, all that mattered was the taste of the food and their favorite wine.
by Ines Cho