Culture Food Food Talk Lost in translation

Why do Koreans eat dogs? History of dog meat in Korea and around the world.

CONTINUED FROM Why do Koreans eat simmering hot samgyetang 삼계탕 on the most sweltering days of Summer? What is boknal 복날? Iyeol Chiyeol 이열치열? Boyangsik 보양식 “Health Food”?


Why do Koreans eat dogs?
Just some random market in Korea
Image by BigbrotherBB from Pixabay

It wasn’t until very recently that samgyetang became synonymous with “health food.” There always had been an undisputed No. 1 king – boshintang 보신탕. The soup, which uses dog meat as its main ingredient, has been believed to provide rich nutrients to the heat-weary Koreans while promoting stamina, as the name “invigorating soup” implies (the original name is gaejangguk 개장국 (“dog soup”), and boshintang is one of the less direct/offensive names people used). The soup is very similar to another Korean dish, yukgaejang 육개장 (made with shredded beef with scallions, fernbrakes, onions, and gochugaru (chili powder).


Pulmuone Instant Samgyetang with Whole Chicken – Stove or Microwave Reheating [Amazon]

Nongshim Soup Bowl Noodle Hot and Spicy [Amazon] – Try this ramyun noodles version of yukgaejang.

What is Boshintang 보신탕? Sacheoltang 사철탕? Yeongyangtang 영양탕?

However, with the hosting of international events such as the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics, voices grew for establishing a food culture that conforms to the global standard, mostly fueled by the condemnation from the Western media. As a result, boshintang restaurants had to take a renaming strategy into consideration because of city-wide ban and crackdowns of such “abominable food.” They chose to use different names such as yeongyangtang 영양탕 (“nutrition soup”) or sacheoltang 사철탕 “four-season soup” to stay off the radar. And this is when saymgyetang found the opportunity to jump in and become the successor to the throne, which used to be an alternative option for those who didn’t want to choose boshintang.

Today, boshingtang still maintains its existence, especially in the rural parts of Korea, but voices opposing dog meat are louder than ever. Partly due to the unsanitary environment and inhumane methods in the slaughter process, but the dramatic shift in the perception towards the domesticated animals, from livestock to family members has been the driving force. Considering that there are over 10 million pet owners in Korea, such change seems totally natural. And at this rate, many project that boshintang will soon disappear in Korea.


While Korea has been widely perceived as the only country in the world that eats dog meat (again, up your marketing/PR game, Korea!), there were and are many countries that ate and are still eating it in other parts of the world (hats off to Korea for taking the rap for other countries?). For example, in mainland China, over 20 million dogs are slaughtered for meat every year. In Taiwan, dog meat consumption used to be allowed, but was outlawed in 2001, and a law banning all consumption was passed in 2017. In the markets in Vietnam and the Philippines, dog meat is sold as regional delicacies.

Even in Europe, which vehemently opposes eating dog meat, there is a historical record of consuming dog meat, as part of the food culture, but mostly as an emergency source of food to survive special circumstances such as famine and war. Whatever the case, the most important thing is that these countries have a long history of banning dog meat from being sold and consumed, and are also calling for other countries to join in the battle for better treatment of animals. Dog meat advocates argue that it’s an imposition of Western culture on their unique food culture, but this argument is losing steam.

During the Siege of Paris (1870–1871), food shortages caused by the German blockade of the city caused the citizens of Paris to turn to alternative sources for food, including dog meat. There were lines at butchers’ shops of people waiting to purchase dog meat. Dog meat was also reported as being sold by some butchers in Paris in 1910.

Dog meat has been eaten in every major German crisis since, at least, the time of Frederick the Great, and was commonly referred to as “blockade mutton”. In the early 20th century, high meat prices led to widespread consumption of horse and dog meat in Germany. In the latter part of World War I, dog meat was being eaten in Saxony by the poorer classes because of famine conditions.

The consumption of dog meat continued in the 1920s. In 1937, a meat inspection law targeted against trichinella was introduced for pigs, dogs, boars, foxes, badgers, and other carnivores. Dog meat has been prohibited in Germany since 1986.

In his 1979 book Unmentionable Cuisine, Calvin Schwabe described a Swiss dog meat recipe, gedörrtes Hundefleisch, served as paper-thin slices, as well as smoked dog ham, Hundeschinken, which is prepared by salting and drying raw dog meat. It is illegal in Switzerland to commercially produce food made from dog meat.

In 2012, the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger reported that dogs, as well as cats, are eaten regularly by a few farmers in rural areas. Commercial slaughter and sale of dog meat is illegal, and farmers are allowed to slaughter dogs for personal consumption. The favorite type of meat comes from a dog related to the Rottweiler and consumed as Mostbröckli, a form of marinated meat. Animals are slaughtered by butchers and either shot or bludgeoned. 

(Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dog_meat)


To understand, it would be meaningful to explore how dog meat became a popular ingredient in the history of many countries, including Korea. First, cows were the most important farming tool and asset in agricultural countries and thus the slaughtering was regulated by law. Although beef consumption was quite substantial, it was difficult for ordinary people to enjoy unless it was a special occasion like someone’s birthday or a wedding. What about pigs? Pigs were also not a common food ingredient because it was a difficult animal to raise in private homes because what they eat completely overlapped with what people eat and they eat a lot (double the food expense!). They also provided no use for an agricultural society.

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Naturally, the ideal candidates for meat were limited to chickens and dogs. But because chickens are small in size and lay eggs every day, it made more sense to take eggs everyday than to eat them. Considering all that, dogs were a choice left for meat. If it’s any consolation, most of the dogs consumed for meat are the yellow mongrel breed named hwanggu 황구 or nureonggi 누렁이 “yellow one,” which is raised specifically for meat. As previously mentioned, with the abundance of other meat alternatives and improvements in animal rights, dog meat consumption is rapidly decreasing.

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