No reservations - Joel Hall

When the news reports came out that China had put a moratorium on the sale and distribution of dog meat during the Olympics, I was really disappointed. I believe that, to get the real of experience of traveling to any country, you have to experience it for what it really is.

To Western sensibilities, eating dog seems barbaric, but in many places, it's just part of the culture. I don't think it's something they should have to hide just to put Westerners at ease.

There are much crazier things to eat in China, instead of dog. Along with canine cuisine, the savvy diner can find themselves snacking on bird's nests (I'm assuming that's why the Olympic stadium is shaped that way), goose tongues, '1000-year-old eggs' (a euphemism for extremely preserved duck eggs), and live octopus.

When I moved to Japan four years ago, something about the taboo of eating dog, however, made me extremely curious. I asked myself, why does the idea of eating dog make some people cringe? What if dog tastes like pumpkin pie, and I am totally missing out?

I made it my personal mission to, at some point in my time abroad, find a place in Asia that served dog. I figured that I would never know what it was like unless I tried it myself.

Even before the Olympic ban, finding a place in Asia that sold dog for consumption was difficult. In Japan, people tend to take the Western approach to dog, although horse, fish sperm, and liquor bottles filled with poisonous snakes, weren't too difficult to find.

In Korea, dog is eaten in some places, but it is done behind closed doors. You really have to be in the in-crowd to find a restaurant that serves dog in Korea. Most of those places are not keen to Westerners.

I wanted to find a place where I could enjoy my dog and not have to eat it in shame. By the time I was able to visit China, I didn't care what type of dog I ate, I just wanted it to be well-prepared.

In 2005, I had a chance to visit southern China, particularly Guangzhou, still referred to in English as Canton. I was staying with a friend who taught English in the rural outskirts of the city, so I knew I had struck gold in my search.

My search was aided by the fact that the same week I was visiting my friend, the Harlem Globetrotters were in Guangzhou doing an exhibition. Everybody thought my friend (who is six feet, six inches tall) and I were professional basketball players gone astray.

Because our reputations preceded us, I was able to try the best of everything. At a late night noodle stop, after a night club hopping, I finally found a place that served dog.

Starving and not in a mood to be fickled, I paid a few yaun (Chinese currency) for a steamy bowl of noodles and dog meat. Resembling ground chuck, the presentation wasn't as scary as I thought it would be.

After getting over the mental hurdle of consuming the first bite, I was pleasantly surprised that it was not that bad, at all. It's probably not a meat I will bring to my next barbecue, but it definitely beat the mystery meat served at the school cafeteria when I was a kid.

While dog meat definitely isn't for everybody, my midnight hunt was probably one of the most fun nights of my life. I was saddened to know that the wave of foreigners visiting China right now won't be able to share that experience.

I hope when the Olympics are over, visitors will be able to experience the full menu of China.

Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News-Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at jhall@news-daily.com.