Now before you stop reading out of disgust for the food or someone who would eat it, give it some thought. I love dogs myself, but when it comes down to it, they are soul-less mammals just like cows, chickens, and sheep. They can be cute, but maybe also delicious? I would like to hear your thoughts on this subject. Would you eat dog if you had the chance? Are there moral/ethical reasons to abstain? For the record, there are foods I would not eat. There is a restaurant in the building next to mine that advertises whale meat. I would not eat a food that threatens the existence of a species.
I should also add that Koreans love dogs as much as anyone. There are coffee shops that keep puppies around so you can play with them while you drink your coffee. The amount of clothes and hair ties Korean dogs wear is more sickening to me than dog-stew. Koreans keep their pet dogs strictly separated from their livestock dogs.
For better of worse, poshintang has given Korea a bad name. Dog meat is eaten in countries around the world, including many outside Asia. But western animal rights groups have chosen to make targeted protests against the Korean food. Extreme groups like PETA and Brigitte Bardot have spread awareness about dog-stew through online campaigns. In consequence, Korea's reputation has been tarnished worldwide. Samsung was even denied sponsorship of a UK dog show. 'Dog-eater' has become a racial slur in places like LA, where there are sizable Korean populations competing for jobs (recall the violence against Koreans during the Rodney King riots).
In response, image-conscious Korea banned dog meat during the 1988 olympics in Seoul, and strengthened the ban before hosting the World Cup in 2002. The restrictions, however, remains mostly unenforced. The only real effect has been to change the name of the dish. Korean dishes are mostly named after their main ingredient and Korean restaurants are named after their main dish. Apparently, big signs reading 'dog stew' was too much. So, what was originally gae-tang (dog-stew) has become poshin-tang (energizing stew). Also, Korea now has some homegrown animal rights groups that occasionally stage demonstrations against dog meat.
On a more individual level, Koreans people react in different ways to the controversy. I have heard some Koreans can be very defensive about poshintang. I personally agree that westerners should stop imposing (ethically indefensible) cultural norms on a foreign country. But mostly, when I ask Koreans about the food, they laugh at my curiosity. Most people haven't had it and wouldn't try it anyway. They are definitely aware of the controversy. The waitress at the restaurant I visited kept coming to our table with an amused look on her face, obviously watching our reactions to the food. Sometimes it is hard to separate facts, opinions, and misinformation when talking to Koreans. A teacher at my school told me that restaurant owners round up stray dogs for their meat in the summer. I have also heard dogs are tortured to death to improve the quality of the meat. Hardly believable.
If no one I talked to has eaten poshintang, you might not think it is not very popular. Maybe, but maybe not. I can say that there are three poshintang restaurants within a 5 minute walk from my apartment building. But also, the consumption of this dish reflects the generational differences among Koreans' eating habits. Poshintang is mainly eaten by older people, a group I don't talk to very often. Young Koreans would probably rather go for Mcdonalds, which poses a much larger long term threat to the dish than PETA. Older Koreans eat the stew for its supposed medicinal properties. The protein-rich meal is said to provide lots of energy, hence the new name. For this reason, poshintang is often eaten during the hottest days of Korea's humid summer. It is also eaten by older men who feel they are lacking a certain kind of energy... i.e. poshintang is said to cure impotence.
On to the food itself. I went to the restaurant with three other foreigner friends who wanted to give dog-stew a shot. One, I should add, was not able to eat it at all. The meal costs 7,000 won, roughly 5 dollars.
Before the main dish arrived, the waitress came with the side dishes. Side dishes, as I have said before, are always served with every meal. But this time, along with kimchi etc, we got a plate of meat. Dog-meat, apparently. We didn't really touch this stuff. It seemed to be the odds and ends of the dog, with a bone and a chunk of cartilage here and there.
On the whole, I was unimpressed with the taste. I blame this partly on the restaurant, which was just the closest hole-in-the-wall poshintang place nearby. I may go to another place which has a better reputation at some point.