Good Doggy

Unusually straightforward Chinese name – “dog meat hotpot”

What it really is – a dog meat hotpot

Location – Backstreet restaurant

Everyone knows how English people are sentimental about dogs. Given the choice to either contribute to a charity for the homeless or to one for homeless dogs, a significant majority of the public opted for the latter. The idea of eating them seems to actually offend people who never think twice about eating other meat. During the 2002 world cup people actually went over to Seoul to protest about it.
I don’t see anyone protesting about the eating of bacon, though pigs seem to be in every way more intelligent than dogs. Besides that I’ve never been attacked, threatened or snapped at by a pig.
So when I met up with my ex-girlfriend last week and she mentioned a place that served dog meat I insisted that she take me there so I could try it. The restaurant was tiny and down a series of backstreets. Here it is, and here she is:

As you can see, it wasn’t anywhere near as classy as the previous restaurant. When I first came to China I’d have probably even been scared of eating here, but now I’ve come to love these places. The prices are cheaper, the staff friendlier and the food often just as good or even better.
By the time the food had come we were joined by various acquaintances of my ex. They ordered a very expensive, very bland fish. Then the dog hotpot arrived. As with the duck parts there was an oil-lamp fire underneath, and a covered container on top.

After a couple of minutes the top was taken off to reveal the meaty hotpot goodness. Besides the meat itself there were big chunks of ginger and nothing else, no vegetables, no rice. When you’re eating a carnivore you might as well dispense with garnish.

There was a side-dish, though – a very small saucer which contained some fermented tofu. Fermented tofu is the Chinese equivalent of blue cheese – it smells even stronger and more sock-like than a ripe gorgonzola. The taste is also surprisingly similar. Most people have trouble getting past the smell. I mashed it up, took a bit of dog meat, and dipped.

I put a little into my mouth and chewed. The first flavour was the fermented tofu, sour, pungent, cheesy and delicious.

The meat itself was pretty good. The texture was like beef, but not quite as tough, and quickly softening. The flavour, under the tofu, was surprisingly mild. I’d been told to expect a strong, bitter taste, but it just wasn’t there. It was just like eating a nice piece of beef, but leaner and more tender, and with more small bones.

There was even a segment of tail in the pot. It had been skinned and cooked for a while, but I just wasn’t really up for trying that yet, so the ex ate it instead.

She was loving it.

The more I ate the dog hotpot the better it got. The ginger in the sauce complimented the meat perfectly. I’ve never really been a fan of really red meat – it’s always seemed to me to be too chewy and gristly to be really enjoyable. The dog meat was just generally nicer. The meat came right off the bone and tasted very good – mild, sweet and delicious. The ex and I polished it off in no time.

Because there were so many smaller bones in the pot, the leftovers ended up filling up a bowl. The fermented tofu had to be rationed – don’t know how I ever thought twice about eating it. There was a stray dog wandering about – I asked the ex whether she thought it would eat the bones if we gave it some. She thought it would know, somehow. I thought she had some very strange ideas. Don’t worry, we didn’t give it any.

So, all in all, dog hotpot is the heavily recommended. Don’t listen to people who say it is poisonous – that’s just the liver. Don’t listen to the people who say it tastes foul, they are evidently just eating the wrong dog. Don’t listen to people who make jokes about unidentified meat in low-priced restaurants being dog, either. It’s one of the more expensive meats and if you serve it you’d want to advertise the fact.

Update: 10/1/2007

Since I wrote this a couple of months ago there have been more comments than I can deal with. Since I haven’t the time or the inclination to reply to all of them here are some further points:

Vegetarians vs vegetarian-haters – I choose to eat meat, some people choose not to. This is all fair and good. Any further arguments are unneccecary, surely?

People don’t really normally eat dog – Around here they certainly do. I see dogs hanging up in butchers’ windows pretty much every day.

Dogs are treated cruelly – This is a tricky one, and a lot more complex than at first sight. The main problem here is getting independent information. There are a fair few sites on the internet with grisly details but these seem to all start with the premise that ‘eating dog is wrong’ and work from there. Aside from this they are all based on the Korean dog trade – I’m a long way from Korea and Cantonese food is as different as, to take an example, Italian food is from Scandinavian. This doesn’t mean they are treated well, of course, just that it is near impossible to say. Local friends have re-assured me that many of the horror stories don’t apply down here, but until I know more I won’t be eating dog again.

Personal insults – If you have something to say I’d be a lot more willing to listen to it if you stay calm and don’t resort to name-calling.

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