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Dog Meat: For Men and Minds

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Unusual Ingredients

Fall Volume: 2011 Issue: 18(3) page(s): 24 and 25

In ancient China, dog was one of six domestic animals called the 'six livestock.' Their bones were found in burial plots excavated in Anyang and elsewhere, and they still are controversial remains. Were they raised as pets or as animals for the dinner table?

For those who read Frank H. Wu’s 2002 Kiriyama Prize winner called Yellow published in New York by Perseus Books Group in 2002, they know that one chapter is titled: The Best 'Chink' Food: Dog-Eating and the Dilemma of Diversity. In it, one learns that dog was found throughout China, Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, and elsewhere in the Pacific Rim. However, careful reading finds its use metaphorical for assimilation and diversification, not necessarily for human consumption. So was it eaten in China?

Early use of dog is recorded in the Zhou Li. There, a dog keeper's job is preparing these animals for slaughter. Many assume they were prepared for human consumption, but this is never clearly delineated. What is known includes records carved on bones and/or on tortoise shells in the Shang Dynasty (16th - 11th century BCE). They say dogs are fed as tame animals and served in dishes; but for whom?

About circa 6500 BCE, there are reports that farmers kept dogs, domesticated them for hunting, and for priestly rituals and sacrifices. Quoting The Book of Rites, one reads "six kinds of tame animals, six kinds of poultries, and the cooking of dog meat soup."

In the Compendium of Materia Medica, it says dogs are divided into three types: Those with long muzzles good at hunting, others with short muzzles kept as watch dogs, and dogs with fat bodies fit for making dishes. It does not say who eats these dishes, but does say that fat dogs with yellow fur are the best, those with black fur second best.

Priests did consume dogs prepared for ceremonial purposes. It is believed others did, too, after they were used in these rites. They were also eaten by kings. One royal who probably did eat dog meat was Lady Tai; she died in 186 BCE. That assumption comes from dog meat found in her tomb, believed there as food for her afterlife.

The dogs under discussion are Canis familiaris; members of the wolf family. The Chinese call them and all dogs, gou or xiang gou. Many say they prepare them for slaughter similar to Sus scrofa, an animal related to the boar--so think pig. The dog and the boar are among the earliest of domesticated animals and bones of both are found in remains excavated at Yangshao and at Homutu. When radio-carbon dated, these dog bones are four thousand years old.

In the Shi Cheng, also known as the Book of Odes, dogs are discussed for hunting. This book says their suet is used for cooling in summer; the assumption here is that it is consumed as a cooling food. But, the Chinese consider dog a heating food that makes one feel warm. Is this a contradiction? We wonder why dog fat is eaten in summer when dog is touted good to eat in winter? The Chinese believe all dogs have male qualities, and are said to be yang. Many yang foods are touted as foods to consume in winter.

Mencius (379-289 BCE), his pinyin name is Meng Tzu, says that a gentleman who hears any animal cry can not bear to eat its flesh, yet in his time and even now, dog flesh or xiang rou, means 'fragrant meat.' Dog fat or suet was and is called sao, and some is considered pleasant but the term sao also means something unflattering. One pleasant association is that dried pheasant and fish are reported best cooked in dog fat. Other preparation pairings are calf and venison considered best cooked in pig fat, frog made in beef tallow, and goose prepared in lamb fat.

Chinese medical practitioners report the gall bladder of dogs are used for ophthalmic purposes. They clear vision and relieve itchy eyes. These medical practitioners also suggest dogs as valuable for testing the nutritional value of foods suggesting one can feed rice and other foods to young puppies and young kittens to see if they can stand up after a steady diet of same. These doctors say that if on a steady rice diet, these young animals legs bend so they can no longer walk. They test other diets on dogs for other aspects of health. One assumes they do not eat them.

Other general pairings of dog meat, known during Han and Zhou Dynasty times, speak about dog meat accompanied by liang millet and pork meat served with chi millet. More recently, in the 1950''s, a job for a chef in the Nanjing Hotel was created to cook dog meat and the hotel advertised for same.

We wondered what this chef would cook and searched for dog recipes in the Stony Brook University Chinese cookbooks housed in its Special Collections area. We did find one called Dog''s Meat Cooked in Casserole. We were amazed because we were once told that virtually all past references to dog as food did disappear after the Han Dynasty. We also found an earlier reference, but not a recipe, circa 725 CE. It was in the Pen Tao Shih Ii that says one should not eat dog in summer.

We also learned that Sima Qian reported about a butcher and dog meat before Liu Bang founded the Han Dynasty. That story says the butcher moved east to the lake to avoid a royal coming for free dog meat to consume for his meals. Some time later, the butcher found a tortoise, expressed his anger and cooked it with dog meat. The resulting dish had a special fragrance. Therefore, dog meat from Pei County, where his shop was, became famous.

During the Yuan Dynasty, a Fan descendant (circa 1297 - 1307) started a shop selling dog meat and his business blossomed. He sold a dish called Pei Gong Dog Meat, and the recipe he introduced was and is still cooked with tortoise.

Another cookbook, soon to be donated to the above-mentioned cookbook collection at Stony Brook University, is called Jiangsu Delicacies, Unforgetable Flavour. Edited by Sun Dei Ning and published in 1985, this cookbook has three recipes for dog. One of them is printed below; the others are titled: Dong-Po Style Dog's Meat, and Dog's Meat Cooked in Casserole. They both use a puppy or young dog.

Incidentally, this Jiangsu volume, printed in Chinese, English, and Japanese, has a picture for each of these completed recipes and provides a few sentences of history about each of them. The last sentence before the recipe below says it is cooked with soft-shelled tortoise. Several chefs we spoke to said it still is but not one of them could tell us in what restaurant nor what country we could go to and eat it. Be advised that we did not prepare nor can we vouch for the taste nor technique used for the dish below. However, other recipes made from this book are delicious even though their instructions are not always clear.

Most Chinese we speak to these days tell us they hate dog meat with a passion. We know not if they ever tasted any, if they have a pet dog, or if they are Buddhist, Mongol, or Yao. We do know Buddhists do not eat dog and say that doing so is contrary to divine wishes. The Yao people say they are descended from a dog ancestor so they never eat dog; and Mongol people abhor dog meat, reasons not known.

Those who admit to eating dog, southern Chinese most, eat it in winter and are male. They tell us they do so for virility. Contrary to earlier advice given above, they tell us that in China black dogs are more nutritious and that meat from them costs more than meat from yellow dogs. The sale of dog meat in the United States is not legal and dog meat we did see in China did cost more than pork.

Other Chinese claim dog meat inferior to pork. Among those who do eat the flesh of dogs, say they prefer ham or leg meat from dog, not from pig. Others in China that we spoke to have no notion, good or bad, as they cannot afford this high-end protein. A few of them told us they wish they could decide for themselves. Some non-canine consumers point out that dogs eat human waste so to eat them is a no-no. Those same men did not mention that pigs eat garbage, too.

Circa 1950, we and another Chinese research scholar did see dog meat hanging in a meat market in New York City''s Chinatown. Then, folks there told us it was sold by many Asian butchers, but we never saw it again. Last month, in that same meat market, we inquired about purchasing dog meat and the butcher said they never had any.

Dog is popular in several Asian countries, Korea among them. Within very few years, it will no longer be available in China, nor will the Chinese eat cat meat. So should you want to try some, get to Guangzhou or elsewhere, and soon.

We have been to China many times and had dishes names cat's this or dog's that. Almost all of those dishes such as 'Cat's Ears' and 'Dung Po Dog' were made of pasta, though many said that some Dung Po meats are made with pork. In years past, we did taste both cat and dog, but do not recall what either tasted or smelled like.

The recipe below is from the book mentioned above, and is as given in English. We provide it for historical and illustrative reasons, and remind that it is one of three found in the above-mentioned Jiangsu book, no corrections made.
Pei Gong Dog's Meat
MAIN MATERIAL: 1,2500g dog meat
OTHER MATERIAL: one soft soft-shelled tortoise (about 650g)
CONDIMENTS: 100g soy sauce, 15g salt, 5g sugar, 50g Shaoxing wine, 100g shallots and ginger, some aniseed, a little wild pepper, 100g brine
1. Clean the dog meat, marinate the meat in a plate with salt, sugar, and Shaoxing wine. Steep in clean water. Then return to boiling water in wok and boil thoroughly. Put in an earthenware pot and add some brine, salt, Shaoxing wine, sugar shallots and ginger, aniseed and wild pepper and bring it to the boil. Then move to low heat and cook throughly. Take meat out. When it is cool, bone and cut into pieces for use.
2. Kill the soft-shelled tortoise. Scald it with boiling water. Scrape off the black membrane. Take out the meat and cut into pieces. Cook with the dog meat.
3. Overturn the dog meat with the tortoise into a bowl. Steam for a while before eating. Take the meat out and overturn onto a plate. Pour the sauce over the dish and serve.

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