the dog days of summer are kind of a big deal around korea. apparently, they are 3 set dates that occur every summer, and are supposed to be the hottest days of the year. i think i’ve figured out (through a series of halting, awkward conversations), that on these 3 days, koreans traditionally eat dog or dog soup. fortunately, that tradition is slowly fading (but far from obsolete), so to replace it, the koreans more openly admit to eating samgyetang, or chicken ginseng soup.
so, on wednesday, we had another teacher’s health day, in honor of the first dog day of summer. our office all packed up right before lunch and headed out to a local samgyetang restaurant (that was completely packed to overflowing, with dozens of people waiting, including us. go figure, when you have a traditional food that everyone eats once a year, you might want to make some reservations in advance.) but i was excited to eat the soup, because i’d heard good things.
when the boiling caldron arrived in front of me, i tried not to be too fazed by the young, cooked chicken that had come to his final resting place neatly inside. i’m not much for picking meat off of a whole bird’s body, but i was determined to enjoy this dish. i began tackling the chicken’s legs with chopsticks, trying in vain to pluck one of the legs away first. the little chicken and i (armed with only my chopsticks and a spoon) continued to battle it out, but i slowly took it apart, piece by piece (i would’ve given up my left foot for a knife and a fork). the soup was really good, with lots of rice and spices and dates inside (it tastes better than it looks – photo courtesy of wikipedia).
the most uncomfortable moment for me came when i spooned up an oval, pinkish disk. one of my coworkers leaned quickly over to me and said “don’t eat that.” my curiosity peaked, so i asked “why?” he gave a glance around to his coworkers to make sure they weren’t listening to our conversation, and admitted, “dog. ear.” me: “whaaaaohhhhkay.”
apparently, some places still chuck in one of fido’s ears into the chicken soup, whether for luck or remembrance of the good old dog days gone by, i’m not sure. i’m just grateful that he told me.