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Destination: Kimchi Museum (Seoul)

January 8, 2013 - Chris Backe

IF there was an award for the food most likely to be worshiped in Korea, it would be kimchi. Neither condiment nor main attraction, kimchi connects hyper-modernized Koreans with their traditional past in a distinctively Korean way. People say ‘kimchi!’ instead of ‘cheese’ when their picture is taken. When kimchi prices go up, there are headlines in the newspapers. When Japan began promoting its ‘kimuchi’ in the mid-1990s, Korea raised a diplomatic row. In 2010, the boy band TVXQ took some heat for saying ‘kimuchi’ while being interviewed by a Japanese program.

So yeah, you can safely expect nationalistic pride to pair nicely with the propaganda.

A model of salted kimchi from the Three Kingdoms period.

A model of salted kimchi from the Three Kingdoms period.

 

You’ll be served at least one version of kimchi at any Korean restaurant – if you go to a place known for hanjeongsik (한정식, or the royal court meal that comes complete with a tableful of side dishes), you’ll see quite a few! If fresh, the fermented veggies with red pepper paste actually look and taste pretty good (though some varieties can be a bit spicy). The spiciness balances out the relative blandness of the traditional rice and soup meal. Although there are hundreds of varieties, most are made with napa cabbage, radish, cucumbers, or even roots.

Chonggak kimchi, AKA Pony-tail radish kimchi.

Chonggak kimchi, AKA Pony-tail radish kimchi.

Since 1986, the Pulmuwon Kimchi Field Museum has aimed to bring the culture of kimchi to anyone that enters. There’s a lot to learn, for what it’s worth – Koreans have been making kimchi for hundreds of years, using a variety of ways and techniques. On display are dozens of regional varieties of plastic kimchi, along with a small room offering to chance to try kimchi for yourself. Either way, there’s plenty of information about the side dish to be found – much of it in English. Explore the different regional varieties, or just get some pictures of you standing next to displays of plastic Korean food – your call.

Gochu sobbagi (stuffed red chili pepper kimchi) - which actually looks pretty good.

Gochu sobbagi (stuffed red chili pepper kimchi) - which actually looks pretty good.

 

Beyond the models of kimchi is a ‘tasting room’ – and this is where it begins to get a bit weird:

Grab a toothpick and try some kimchi, just in case you haven't gone to a Korean restaurant yet.

Grab a toothpick and try some kimchi, just in case you haven't gone to a Korean restaurant yet.

 

Making kimchi (kimjang) displayed through several models.

Making kimchi (kimjang) displayed through several models.

 

A number of pots on display - now that they're in the museum, perhaps it's time to take off the tags?

A number of pots on display - now that they're in the museum, perhaps it's time to take off the tags?

One interesting note: a number of English-language books went along nicely with all the English on the signs and such. Without knowing a word of Korean, you'd do pretty well in navigating and enjoying the museum.

One interesting note: a number of English-language books went along nicely with all the English on the signs and such. Without knowing a word of Korean, you'd do pretty well in navigating and enjoying the museum.

 

Because Korea loves cartoon characters, even the microorganisms that facilitate fermentation of kimchi become cute.

Because Korea loves cartoon characters, even the microorganisms that facilitate fermentation of kimchi become cute.

 

Called 'sotdae' (솟대), these are tall wooden poles with carved birds on the top - ducks, in this case - that aimed to protect a village from calamity. If this sounds similar to a jangseung, then you'd be right.

Called 'sotdae' (솟대), these are tall wooden poles with carved birds on the top - ducks, in this case - that aimed to protect a village from calamity. If this sounds similar to a jangseung, then you'd be right.

 

Even though it’s inside the COEX mall – one of Seoul’s most popular attractions – its location in a lower basement means you’re unlikely to stumble across it. Make it part of the trip if you’re going to COEX, or bypass the mall and head there specifically.

Ratings (out of 5 taeguks - How do I rate destinations?):

Ease to arrive:

Foreigner-friendly:

Convenience facilities:

Worth the visit:

Address: Seoul-si Gangnam-gu Samseong-dong 159 B2 (AKA the COEX Mall)
Korean address: 서울시 강남구 삼성동 159 지하2층 – 코엑스 몰
Directions: Samseong station, line 2, exit 6. Follow the signs to the mall’s entrance – if in doubt, just follow the masses. Once inside, walk straight; at the first major fork, bear right. From there, turn left just past the 7-11 and head down the escalator to your left
Hours: 10am-6pm (last admission is at 5:30pm) – closed Mondays and major holidays.
Admission: 3,000 won
Phone: 02-6002-6456
Website: http://www.kimchimuseum.or.kr/foreigner/english/intro.asp

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