Waitress Pak Suk-kyun brings a bowl of dog stew to a table of hungry South Korean men and wonders why people are making such a fuss about eating whale meat at an international conference down the road.
ULSAN, South Korea Waitress Pak Suk-kyun brings a bowl of dog stew to a table of hungry South Korean men and wonders why people are making such a fuss about eating whale meat at an international conference down the road.
At the To Suk Chung restaurant, which specialises in dog meat stew, there is little sympathy for the calls of conservationists to curb, or ban, the whale meat trade being made at the International Whaling Conference, a short taxi ride away from her bustling eatery.
"Whale meat and dog meat taste really good. They are a part of our culture," Pak said. "I remember something my grandfather told me. He said there are 99 different tastes for whales. Whale is great."
Some animal welfare activists condemn South Korea for its tradition of raising dogs for the stewpot. But those Koreans who eat dog defend the dish as part of their heritage and say the animals are bred to be eaten.
Critics -- including many Koreans who do not eat the meat and dislike the tradition -- say some dogs are unlawfully beaten to death rather than humanely killed.
Dog stew is a popular summertime meal, mostly among Korean men, who say it provides them with vigour and energy to beat the heat.
Patrons and staff at the To Suk Chung have a message for those who think the practice is unseemly.
"They should come on in and give it a try. It's wonderful," Pak said.
Another patron, who is involved in the whale meat trade, said he did not understand the opposition to whaling.
"This is hurting us economically," said Lee To-gun.
Conservation groups such as Greenpeace say South Korean boats have been catching an increasing number of whales and declaring the catches as accidental. Greenpeace says it is no accident, but an attempt by some crews to cash in on the lucrative trade in whale meat. Ulsan, once a whaling port, still has a few restaurants that serve whale.
Many of the patrons wiping sweat from their brows as they munched on steamy dog stew said if a dish was tasty, eat it, and if the source of the meat was growing scarce, then protect it.
"If scientists can show that a species of whale is going to go extinct in a few years, then there is no way anyone should hunt it," said Kim Chong-kang, a retired oil company worker.
Dog stew in South Korea comes in many varieties. The speciality at To Suk Chung is a stew in which the dog meat is served with leeks and aromatic herbs. The meat, which is dark and a little fatty, is then dipped in spicy Korean soyabean paste, ginger and more aromatic herbs. A pot of stew sells for 13,000 won ($13) a person.
"Maybe part of the reason there is opposition to dog stew is that Western people may not have a palate that is used to this type of dish," said Bae Jong-do, a businessman.