hot dogs

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 August, 2007, 12:00am

Nineteenth-century travel writers often humorously reflected that in China, in contrast to the west, people ate the dog and took their bird out for a walk - still an accurate observation in many parts of the country.

Not so long ago in Hong Kong, owning a dog was the exclusive preserve of either farmers or the very wealthy. Until the 1970s, most families were hard-pressed to adequately feed themselves, much less a non-working animal.

Gau yuk (dog meat), especially from black chow breeds, has been a favourite Chinese winter food for centuries.

Like mutton, the flesh is considered warming and is much-used in soups and hot-pots. Due to concerns about rabies, dog-meat consumption in Hong Kong was prohibited by law just after the Pacific war.

Long-established customs aren't stopped by legal fiat, though, especially ones that deal with something as close to the Chinese heart as food. Dog-eating continues in modern Hong Kong; my neighbours in the New Territories eagerly look forward to it every winter.

Just across the border, gau yuk can be purchased, ready-cooked, in most supermarkets. In some areas close to the West River, such as Hoi Ping - now a Unesco World Heritage site - dog is the acknowledged local delicacy and comes highly recommended to visitors.

With rising local affluence, by the early 90s cute little doggies, or well- bred large ones, became desirable accessories in Hong Kong. The craze for pedigree canines has continued to grow, despite the complete inappropriateness of a Rottweiler or Doberman Pinscher in the average poky Hong Kong flat.

If a particular type of dog is the latest accessory, then plenty of Hong Kong fashion victims simply must have one. Until, of course, the next must-have breed comes along.

Local demand for cuddly, furry baby animals peaks - unsurprisingly - in the lead-ups to Christmas and Valentine's Day. Not long afterwards, dogs are regularly found abandoned, as impulse-owners realise successful house training and socialisation involve more thought than the initial purchase.

As in many other aspects of Hong Kong life, a deep chasm stretches between official regulation and enforcement, and the majority of the local population fail to see the problem as a 'problem'. And so the cycle continues.