The Best Dish in North Korea, “Sweet Meat Soup”

The rainy season has almost gone, so sizzling days are on their way to the Korean Peninsula. During the hottest season of the year, there are three dog days, on which Korean people like to enjoy traditional restorative foods, notably samkyetang, boiled chicken with ginseng and rice, and boshintang, dog meat soup. Traditionally it is said that these foods are effective at warding off sickness and fever.

North Korean people are no exception to the tradition. North Korean dog meat soup is absolutely excellent. Nothing is wasted. Slow-cooked dog meat falls off the bone, and the innards are employed, with a wide range of Korean seasonings, as a delicious, rich sauce.

It used to be called simply “dog meat soup,” but a decree was handed down by Kim Il Sung in the mid 1980s which changed its name to “sweet meat soup” so that foreign visitors would not be disturbed.

In any case, the middle dog day is tomorrow, July 24. Famous chicken restaurants in Seoul are already crowded with Korean people and foreign tourists, all keen to make the best of the tradition. It reminds me of my mother’s dog meat soup. She cooked it every July or August until the March of Tribulation. I cannot forget seeing her toiling before the boiling pot, let alone the taste.

In North Korea, there is an old saying, “On dog days, even a drop of dog meat soup dabbed on your foot is a tonic.”

There are many people who refuse to eat dog meat, and some even have a hatred of others eating it, in other countries around the world, including South Korea. But there is no time for North Korean people to be reluctant, for they can hardly find any other meat.

Until the late 1980s some miners, high officials, generals or special agents received beef occasionally, but the general citizenry could not so much as even see it. People cannot raise and butcher cows privately because butchery is a grave offense, carrying the threat of execution.

Before the March of Tribulation, most households in North Korea set a day for cooking dog meat soup every single year.

In cities, workers who belonged to enterprises or who operated in farmers’ markets ate the “sweet meat soup” in restaurants, while rural residents cooked it for themselves with their own dogs.

In work places or farms, neighborhood or mobilized work units, after evaluation meetings or other kinds of gatherings, they cooked and shared it altogether.

This “sweet meat soup” was one of the favorite foods for North Korean people, especially as a restorative tonic, but its popularity was greater than that.

However, since the March of Tribulation, the sweet meat soup has been relegated to history books and daydreams.

During the March, there were no dogs to be found in the streets, and since then people have been raising them to make money.

Before 1995, a 15kg dog cost around 150-200 North Korean won in the cities, and around 200-350 won in rural areas.

However, these days, they sell for up to 30,000 won, out of the range of even high officials. A food for the super-rich, North Korean style.

Ms. Kim, who talked to me from Hoiryeong, explained, “I raise dogs at home to breed and sell in the jangmadang. A 50-day old puppy is around 5,000 won. General people like me cannot dream of eating dog meat. It is even hard, these days, to eat our staple foods!”