Animals on Travels

Travel is one way to add colour to your life, whether you're a man or a mouse, woman or wombat. I'd like to share with you a few of my encounters - of animals on travels.

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5. Food for the Seoul

There's not a single dog in Thailand that would give up life in its tropical paradise (albeit a meagre existence for some) for a better salary and an array of pickled vegetables in Korea. Sure, people like making fun of Far Eastern cuisines including cats and dogs on their menus, but having lived in South Korea for 2 years, let me tell you: in all my time there, I only once ever heard of someone's grandmother who long ago cooked up a bit of cat stew, and that was during the Korean War in the 1950s when meat was pretty scarce. So generally, the modern Korean cat is safe as houses. As for dogs, well, one animal's paradise is another animal's hell. To get the facts straight, please note that not all dogs are eaten willy-nilly in Korea. There is a particular breed of canine specifically bred for the purpose of consumption, just like other cultures would breed chickens, ducks, ostriches and frogs for consumption, I guess. Look, I'm not making a political statement here, nor am I avoiding doing so. Just reporting to you on my experiences of animals on travels.

It might surprise you to know that Korean people love having dogs as pets (and they don't eat them after they've played with them). Another interesting fact is that dining on dog flesh is an expensive activity - it is a delicacy that is considered to be very healthy and particularly efficacious in healing fevers or preventing flu's and colds. What I mean to say is that nobody will sell you a burger made of dog flesh and try to pass it off as a beef burger, not in Korea anyway. But no, in case you're wondering, I didn't indulge; partly because I have an ironically unadventurous palate for a traveller. Korean food is great otherwise. The only other dish I was unable to stomach was the ever-popular steamed or boiled octopus. Actually there are numerous ways to prepare Mr Octopus (perhaps 8 ways - a different recipe for each tentacle), but one that sticks in the mind, if not in the gut, is the way they do it at a well-known restaurant in what is essentially the artists' district of Seoul, namely Insadong. Read on...

An acquaintance told of an occasion when he hosted some colleagues from Canada and after work he decided to take them to this restaurant for dinner for the full Korean experience. He had the entire night out planned, starting with octopus and soju (Korean fire-water), followed by a systematic bar-hop all the way down Insadong into the early hours of the morning. The party would move finally onto a karaoke joint, with more soju consumed to the sound of local hits belted out with drunken bravado, until sunrise. Just your typical Korean weeknight out.

Our Canadian guest - let's call her Candy - gushed at the sight of the lovely oriental interior of the restaurant and marvelled at the detailed sketches of octopuses in flight adorning the papered walls. She squealed with delight when she sat down on the calligraphy-covered scatter cushions on the floor, as she tried to figure out what to do with her legs and how her Korean colleagues were managing to sit so comfortably on the floor at the low table. She clapped her hands enthusiastically when she saw the burner in the centre of the table and it was explained that their meal would be cooked right at their table. She hiccupped cutely after she downed her first shot of soju and felt the rush of heat surge pleasantly through her body, ending up on her cheeks as a blush. Then the pot arrived - a large stainless steel pot with a glass lid, containing the wonderfully exotic ingredients of their main dish. The burner was lit and the pot took its place.

After several minutes, Candy became curious and wanted to peek inside the pot as its contents slowly heated up. She was just barely hoisted up on her knees when EEEESSSHHLLLPPPP! The octopus! In the pot! Was alive! Trying to escape! Had its suckers up against the lid, pushing at the lid!! Well, Candy lost her curiosity (and no cats got killed in the process) and instead leapt up onto her feet, with an otherworldly shriek, and ran out of the fancy restaurant. The octopus didn't follow her. That was one 8-legged animal coming to the end of its travels. I think they should have warned Candy though. Apparently she ran straight into a dog restaurant and had some hearty stew instead. I heard she was cured of her shakes and shivers after that.

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