Monday, July 18, 2011

Kimchi Field Museum

In one of the COEX mall's sub-basements lies the Pulmuone Kimchi Field Museum.  Pulmuone is a Korean food company that produces, among other things, kimchi.  I don't know why the place is called a "field" museum; perhaps because if you're there, you're in Korea, which constitutes being in the field for a scholar of kimchi studies.

Kimchi is a blanket term for vegetables soaked in brine and fermented and/or pickled.  I'm convinced it all began as a food preservation strategy because I can't bring myself to believe they did these things to enhance flavor.  There are something like 200 different kinds of kimchi but the most common sort is made with napa cabbage and red pepper paste.  When someone says 'kimchi' this is usually what they mean.  I end up eating it just about every day and it's probably the only kimchi you can find outside Korea, wherever you are.

Like most waygooks, I don't like kimchi.  Koreans think this is because it's face-meltingly spicy, which shows you how parochial their palates are.  Having eaten food from all over the globe as well as countless kilos of kimchi, I can assure you your first thought after chopsticking a slab of kimchi into your mouth will not be "this is spicy."  An average burrito is spicier than kimchi.  So are many other Korean dishes.  No, the reason waygooks dislike kimchi is that it tastes bad, viz. like fermented cabbage that's been soaked in salt water.

Korea's been trying to talk its way onto the world stage in recent years.  One of its tactics has been the promotion of Korean culture abroad.  See, for example, the humorously inapt Visit Korea Year (2010-2012) and various attempts to convince foreigners that Korea can make unique contributions to world culture.  If you ask a Korean what Korea has to offer the world, they'll probably mention the two products of Korean culture they're most nationalistic about:  Hangeul ("the world's most scientific alphabet") and kimchi ("the food of the future").  Hence the kimchi museum being bilingual.  Let's have some pictures.

Ironically, this ancient kimchi recipe is written with Chinese characters.

And so it came to pass that the first picture of me on my own blog was this ignoble self-portrait.

Kimchi village villagers make kimchi.

Step 1:  gather cabbage.


Perform magic trick.


When asked to explain extensive blood-colored staining of hands, claim to have been making kimchi.

Fermentation process will destroy evidence.

Sometimes you can tell when a kid's going to grow up to be a subway molester.

Kimchi, the food of the future, is exported to satisfy the demands of a world hungry for the good life offered by briney lactobacilli-infested cabbage.  (I.e. Japan's Korean minority.)

A sign encouraged me to open this refrigeration unit and look inside at a slice (pile) of heaven (kimchi).

You can simulate your own expression of kimchi feeling by imagining what it would be like to eat a cold chunk of salty fermented cabbage.

Isn't she precious?  This is why I take her places.

Patriotic Korean family studies the wisdom of their ancestors in the kimchi library.

I read a news article some time ago about a cultural outreach program that hired a European chef to evaluate Korean cuisine and how it could best be promoted in the West.  His advice was to "stop talking about fermentation" because "it isn't sexy."  The Kimchi Field Museum did not get the memo:

Fermenting cabbage releases odorous funk...

and then an explosion! of vitamins.

Fermentation exorcises cabbage demons...

and lactobacilli sweep out your pooper.

Kimchi also prevents cancer...

is a fountain of youth...

and the best way to get a beach body.

So all things considered, kimchi breath is a sign of healthy well-being.

Smell that?  It's kimchi's victory over cancer.

I know an apotheosis when I see it.  Nothing sums up the museum quite so well as the cartoon of a steaming, evidently high-fiber deuce releasing a cancer-punching kimchi genie.

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