CHIANGRAI TIMES – Despite social taboos about eating dog meat, its consumption in parts of Thailand is a tradition that’s still thriving. Consumption of dog meat is tied to traditional beliefs and old habits despite being a social taboo in many areas of Thailand.
In parts of Chiang Mai, gaeng shadow is a northern delicacy equivalent in popularity but superior in taste, according to some food critics, to shark’s fin soup.
The central ingredient in the soup is meat of a black or dark brown dog, hence the name “shadow”. The clear broth is cooked in spices and chilli paste to overpower the natural, strong odour of the meat.
More men than women consume the soup, which is believed to be an energy booster and an aphrodisiac. It is mostly eaten during cold weather.
Malnourished children are also fed the soup, which is thought by some northern families to avert stunted growth.
A former chief of Mae Wang district of Chiang Mai said that despite the deep-seated beliefs associated with dog meat consumption, dishes are eaten at home on special occasions or in select eateries and are not widely available.
Communities are sensitive to the growing resistance from many sectors of society opposed to the eating of dogs, which are considered a loyal pet.
The former district chief is a native of Ban Thung Suiew in another Chiang Mai district called San Pa Tong, where dogs are still on the menu. The fact that he speaks on condition of anonymity illustrates his nervousness in going public on the subject of cooking and eating dog meat.
He admits he sometimes orders dog meat specials at his favourite food stall in Ban Thung Suiew. The dishes are cooked in black earthen pots believed by residents to help preserve the nutritional goodness of the meat. The dishes are ordered with an assortment of locally brewed ya dong liquor.
Eating dog meat is part of a tradition passed down through generations in some villages in Chiang Mai, especially in Ban Thung Suiew, Ban Pieang in Mae Wang district and some remote villages in Doi Lo district.
The dishes are mostly prepared in the cool season. Many families said the dishes keep them warm at night when the mercury drops to single digits.
The ex-district chief said most adults in the villages tasted dog meat in their early years. However, eating dog meat is now frowned upon by youngsters educated in the city who have been taught to have zero tolerance for consumption of pet animals.
“They think alike and now they are decrying the very culture they were brought up in,” he said.
The source said other common dishes made of dog meat are pad krapaw (stir-fried meat with basil leaf) and nuea kem (meat jerky).
For several decades, Tha Rae village in Sakon Nakhon was well known as a trading hub for dog meat. That changed two years ago after many public campaigns against dog meat consumption. Many Tha Rae restaurants stopped advertising their businesses and became rather secretive about what they offered customers, according to a local food critic.
As news emerged of the smuggling of thousands of live dogs to Vietnam, Sakon Nakhon’s chamber of commerce encouraged dog meat butchers to cease their trade, which some officials claimed was giving the province a bad name.
Previously, fresh markets in Tha Rae were filled with dog meat, with more than 10 major butchers dominating the trade.
Innards hanging at stalls were a common sight as shops displaying the sign Nua Hong Teh (Meat for the Emperor) did brisk business. Popular dishes included slow-boiled stew, the multi-herbal om clear broth and grilled meat.
Some residents remember a time when vendors raced to the supply trucks to get the best cuts of dog meat.
Although dog meat is eaten mostly by the working class, its price has been rising over the years. For them, dog meat dishes are reserved for weekend get-togethers with friends or special celebrations.
However, preparing dog meat is more complicated than it looks, according to a butcher. It needs experienced and highly skilled cooks to know the correct quantity and variety of herbs required to get rid of the meat’s strong odour.
The meat of black dogs is the most sought after by customers, who believe it has more aphrodisiacal properties than meat from other dogs. But as black dogs are harder to find, many eateries make do with meat from dark brown dogs.
Tha Rae has been watched closely by authorities for the movement of dogs through the area. Some dogs exported illegally overland to Vietnam are strays netted from the streets.
In Sakon Nakhon, dogs are put in illegal pounds serving as transit facilities for dog trafficking. The dogs are exported live and bound for slaughterhouses in Vietnam.
According to the Chiang Mai-based Care for Dogs Foundation, too many dogs end up on the streets because owners abandon them.
Some have cancer, kidney problems, parasites in their blood, inflammation of the uterus or skin diseases, said Antima Khuttiwung, the foundation’s coordinator.
Apart from catching stray dogs on the streets, illegal traders also steal or buy dogs from villagers.
The foundation houses 190-200 dogs in its shelter. Dogs are also put up for adoption.
Care for Dogs therefore has a growing number of cases that are likely to stay at the shelter for the rest of their lives if they do not find that long awaited new home. As well as taking the space that possibly other homeless dogs could use, the long term cases cost money to keep and are therefore a drain on resources.
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