As the People’s Republic’s most populous metropole, and the very heart of commerce, finance and culture in Earth’s fastest-growing economy, Shanghai is China’s “showpiece” to the world. Visitors can spend weeks there and fail to cover all its sights. For starters, you could cruise the historic and fashionable colonial Bund district, feel like a dwarf beneath the Pudong skyline — home to the world’s most imposing skyscrapers — be literally one in a million in a single day at the Expo 2010, or wander through the countless parks, temples, markets and museums dotting its 2,401 square miles (6,218 km sq) of sprawl.
Or you could dedicate a full day to searching for a restaurant that serves dog meat.
[NOTE: If you came here for a moral assessment of the Chinese practice of eating dog — an animal that is most likely bred, reared, transported and slaughtered in grotesque, obscene and downright repugnant ways, all for what? for what, I challenge? — you’re barking up the wrong tree, pal! In contrast, if you came for our half-witted anecdote and some silly photos, mush on!]
Ask a Chinese person where you can fine dine on canine and you’re liable to get a scowl or even a derisive slur about uncouth villagers in the provincial, rural South. However, ask Google Maps and you get two pages of results. Among them we didn’t spy a McDoggies, so we went with what sounded like the next best thing: Dog Meat King.
Getting there only took us a couple hours. We rode the metro out of the city center, hopped off well beyond lao wai territory, passed a prison, turned right and began the long trek east, in search of dinner.
Giddy with anticipation, our pace was brisk. At one corner a grocery woman tried to interest us in a live fish, squid or yellowed beefslab from her sidewalk array. Hungry though we were, we paid her no heed and breezed on by, gazing down every street for the facade we’d seen on Google, constantly checking and rechecking the Mandarin characters on every awning with those we’d scrawled on our scrap paper. The butterflies fluttered higher with each passing block. We were getting closer.
What seemed an eternity later, Devon broke both stride and the silence. “Holy hell! There it is!” “Good god almighty,” Steve stammered, his body poised to sprint. Exuberant, we bounded across the intersection, panting, hollering like idiots, spanning the fifty-odd yards and halting a moment to kneel, catch our breath and contemplate the gravity of the moment.
There we finally were, in the court of the Dog Meat King.
Not exactly a Lonely Planet recommended eatery, the menu was entirely in Mandarin. The middle-aged woman running the place summoned her teenage daughter to deal with the whiteys, although her English wasn’t much better than mama’s. Really, all we had to do was play the matching game between the menu and our paper, yet somehow we still managed to screw things up. Seeing that Dog Hot Pot, the delicacy that earned this King his crown, was no cheap dish — $36 — Steve attempted to inquire about a different and much, much cheaper one. With the aid of her hands, she said it was vegetables. Right, but vegetables with dog? Confused, she pointed again at Dog Hot Pot, $36. “Dog.” Stupid laowais. Yes, but was there another, cheaper dog dish…? She turned to her family and joined them in their chuckling. A closer scan of the menu’s characters revealed that there was, for $12. “How about this one. Also dog?” “Yes, dog.” Although we were used to paying rarely more than a buck a meal, we agreed this was a special landmark in our lives, and thus justified the splurge. “We’ll do it. One, please. Nope, just one. Yeah, we’ll share.”
And so we waited.
Some time later, out came a dish. It looked like snowpeas, green beans and some other roughage; not like hot greasy chunks of chihuahua. Seeing our blank stare, she explained. “Vesh-uh-tuh-poh.” Then she walked back to her giggling family, shaking her head. Did this come with our dish? Hard to know. Regardless, there was food in front of us, so we ate it.
Eventually, sure enough, she returned, this time bearing a sizzling plate piled high with gleaming brown polygonal gobs, mixed with some leafy things, practically floating on a roiling sea of coagulating orangeish goop. Although some primordial intution, some innate knowledge that had heretofore lain dormant all our lives, instantly lit up with recognition, she set the plate down and told us what we already felt: “This… iss dog.”
Seeing it sitting there, all dead and gurgling, we suddenly hesitated. We sniffed it, poked at it a minute. It was real, alright.
Well, we realized. This is what we’d come to do. No turning back now. Never back down. Not for twelve bucks. So we fanagled up a chopsticksful a piece, touched them together, cheers. And together we supped.
Now, forum contributer Goldteeth of chinatravel.net will tell you:
“I believe dog meat in itself is rather unspectacular. Hence, way over-rated. But I must admit I have tried very nicely done dog meat dishes by good restaurants in Guangxi. Try it in winter and you will understand why people in the south of China likes it so much.”
Maybe so. Thing is, we didn’t try it in Guangxi, and it wasn’t winter. Didn’t matter.
It was the best damn dog we ever ate.
And we didn’t even get charged for those veggies!
Later, Devon’s girlfriend Margie g-chatted to Steve: “That’s not funny. That’s disgusting and rude. Dogs are man’s best friend. You ate my best friend, so now I hate you.”
Well, guess what, Margie? The moral of this story is…
Turns out you can pet your dog and eat it, too! At least in China.