Here in Los Angeles, the city with the largest population of Koreans outside of Seoul, we boast just about every Korean food under the sun — except dog stew.
Called “boshintang” (directly translated as “invigorating body stew”), this infamous dog meat stew has given Koreans a bad rap, even though Korea isn’t the only nation with a history of eating dog meat. In an effort to clean up Korea’s “canine-vorous” reputation, the Korean government banned the sale and consumption of boshintang in 1986, but many boshintang houses still exist in Korea, selling the dish under several euphemisms, such as “nutritious soup” and “land sheep soup.”
A few decades ago in Los Angeles, you could have tried dog stew if you knew where to go. It would have been a surreptitious affair; restaurants offering dog stew would advertise their house specialties only in hangul (Korean characters) and refuse to serve it to non-Koreans.
Inevitably, someone found out and raised hell. The thought of boiling a dog outraged many who view it as an inhumane and barbaric act. To be fair, Koreans use a specific canine breed for culinary purposes — a wild creature that looks nothing like the beloved, cute four-legged Fido most people imagine. Dog cookery dates back almost a millennium in Korean culinary history, because until the mid-20th century many Koreans could not afford animal protein.
In any case, animal rights activists won and California now has a specific penal code banning the consumption of “any animal traditionally or commonly kept as a pet or companion.”
But dog stew-lovers have found a way to relive their gastronomic nostalgia with a less controversial protein: black goat.
Traditionally, dog stew was consumed mainly by men as a medicinal tonic (aka for virility). Meanwhile, women’s nutritional version of dog stew was a dark, intense medicine extracted from steaming herbs with black goat, the only indigenous goat breed to Korea. The drink was believed to be rich in protein, iron and calcium, which are essential to women’s health.
Thus, goat meat became the natural substitution for dog meat, especially because the texture of black goat is said to be very similar to that of stewed dog meat, although the flavor of goat is milder and sweeter.
Goat stew is mainly available in the Chungcheong Province, the central-west region of Korea, but it’s not a familiar dish anywhere else, as most Koreans found the distinctive caprine odor offensive.
Oddly, however, there are several black goat stew restaurants in Los Angeles.
Chin Go Gae, located in an obscure strip mall on Eighth Street, is one. If you weren’t looking specifically for this restaurant, it would be impossible to find because none of its signs are in English. One of the signs still reads “Boshintang,” perhaps a remnant from the older times when dog consumption wasn’t outlawed.
The menu at Chin Go Gae is minimalistic; although familiar dishes like bibimbap (mixed rice) and mandoo guk (dumpling soup) have English translations, the main specialties of the house — black goat stew and seasoned goat meat — are listed only in Korean.
But don’t be deterred. Once you firmly communicate with the servers that you genuinely want the meat of the house, they will serve it to you with pride and friendliness, painstakingly explaining to you the correct dining procedures.
The stew, a big simmering pot of goat chunks, green onions and spices such as Korean miso and red pepper paste, is meant to be shared among daring friends. The server will dump fresh dandelion greens and perilla leaves on top of the broth and instruct you to wait until the vegetables are wilted and drenched in the juices before digging in.
Though the broth is fiery red, the heat is mild and the taste is surprisingly clear. The piquant vegetables soak up all the flavors of the meaty, mellow-spiced soup and will be gone before you know it, but the servers will promptly dump in a fresh batch of greens.
The star of the dish, of course, is the goat meat. If you like gamey meat, you’ll love goat. It’s got a lean robust taste, and when braised well, like in this stew, the flesh is meltingly tender with a soft, luxurious texture like pulled pork.
Seasoned goat meat is a dry version of goat stew. The spices are slightly heavier, though the ingredients are the same. The meat looks a lot like shredded beef brisket but with a unique, hearty smell and flavor.
By the end of the meal, rice is stir-fried in the same stew pot with shredded toasted nori, more vegetables, sesame oil and red pepper paste, then left over heat to crisp until the bottom gets golden and crunchy — a wonderful, carby finale to a meaty meal.
Other than Chin Go Gae, Burocho on Eighth Street, Han Mi Jung on Pico Boulevard, Mirak on Western, Chung Ki Wa on Olympic and Nam Dae Moon Jip on Sixth Street also sell similar versions of this goat stew.
Boshintang might have caused a clash of cultures, but the prevalent black goat stew in Los Angeles leaves no controversies. It is delicious, plain and simple — and best of all, legal.
Sophia Lee is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism and East Asian languages and cultures. Her column “Cross Bites” runs Mondays.