A flavour out of favour: Dog meat fades in S Korea
For more than 30 years, chef and restaurant owner Oh Keum-il built her expertise in cooking one traditional South Korean delicacy - dog meat.
In her 20s, Oh travelled around South Korea to learn dog meat recipes from each region. During a period of South Korean reconciliation with North Korea early last decade, she went to Pyongyang as part of a business delegation and tasted a dozen different dog dishes, from dog stew to dog taffy, all served lavishly at the Koryo, one of the North's best hotels.
She adapted famous dishes to include dog meat, replacing beef with dog in South Korea's signature meat and rice dish bibimbap. But the 58-year-old's lifelong experience with a food eaten for centuries in Korea is about to become history.
Daegyo, the famous dog meat restaurant she opened in a Seoul alley in 1981, will serve its last bowl of boshintang, or dog stew, today, a reflection of the challenges facing a trade that is neither legal nor explicitly banned under South Korean laws governing livestock and food processing.
Opposite views on dogs as either for eating or petting have co-existed in the country's recent history, feeding a controversy that becomes most bitter in the summer. On three 'dog days', which are among the hottest times of the year, many South Koreans queue for the dish of shredded dog meat and vegetables in hot red soup, believing it gives strength to bear the heat.
animal rights activists
Animal rights activists protest nearby, urging people not to eat man's best friend. The closure of Oh's restaurant, dubbed by a local newspaper as the "Holy Land of boshintang" and frequented by two former presidents, Lee Myung-bak and the late Roh Moo-hyun, shows one view of dogs is gaining more traction among young South Koreans.
"There is too much generational gap in boshintang," said Oh. "There are no young customers."
Dogs are also food in countries such as China and Vietnam. The long tradition of eating the meat in South Korea is such that a respected 17th century book on Korean medicine extols its health benefits. But today it is an increasingly tough sell and a less attractive dining option for young South Koreans. Oh plans to reopen her restaurant as a Korean beef barbecue diner.
Animal rights groups have also highlighted that some of the 2 million or so dogs eaten in South Korea each year suffer painful and inhumane deaths.
Most young people eat chicken soup on a dog day and even those who eat dog tend to refrain from talking about it openly, according to Moon Jaesuk, a 32-year researcher who enjoyed eating dog meat before he moved to Seoul.