What do Christopher Columbus, Mexico and Kimchi have in common?

by Heather Grell, 15/08/2007

Have you visited the mainstream sights of Seoul and looking for something different? It does not matter if you like or hate kimchi, the Kimchi Museum may be calling your name.

The Kimchi Museum provides good information, historical and nutritional, regarding kimchi. Kimchi is a form of pickling all vegetables and fish, not just cabbage, through fermentation. According to the Kimchi Museum, the spicy version of kimchi with the red peppers would not have been possible if Columbus had not discovered the new world and brought the red chilies to Europe. The red chilies made their way by land from Europe to Korea around 1700. Before the introduction of red chilies to Korea, Koreans ate only white or non-spicy kimchi, which is basically a pot of fermented salty vegetables with some garlic and other non-spicy seasonings. Today Koreans eat both "white" (not spicy) and "red" kimchi (spicy).

The museum curators make various claims regarding the health benefits of kimchi, among them that it helps with weight loss, lowers cholesterol, is high in vitamins, cleans your intestines, fights cancer and slows down aging. The displays fell short of encouraging you to apply kimchi directly to your skin to stop the effects of aging, which is good because a little red pepper in your eye could cause blindness! At times, it seems as though the kimchi museum was single handily taking credit for these health benefits. Some of the claims are difficult to accept since generally eating vegetables ? either fresh or fermented - is known to improve your health and loose weight.
Foreign visitors should be warned that if they have a weak stomach or are an animal lover, they may want to avoid the video exhibit accessible on a computer regarding cancer research that disclaims Korean rumors that kimchi causes cancer. The video focuses in on a researcher examining a dead mouse. The next view is a close-up of the entrails of dead mouse turned inside out! If you are sensitive, you may wish to avoid this video.

As you exit the museum, there is a kimchi tasting room with a sign stating that tastings occur at specific times or for “as long as the kimchi lasts.” When we came to this section around 3:30 in the afternoon, there were two bowls of kimchi that looked as though they had been sitting there all day. While I recognize that the kimchi I eat at restaurants in Korea is fermented and may have sat around all day, I decided to pass on trying the kimchi at the museum. I have decided that I prefer to not know where and how long my kimchi has been sitting all day!

How to get there: The Kimchi Museum is small and difficult to find, but was educational. To get to the museum, take the Line 2 subway to Samsung/COEX station, exit 5 and head for the COEX mall. To avoid aimlessly wandering the COEX (as I did) in search of the Kimchi museum, I recommend finding a map of the COEX and heading for the dental clinic. Upon arriving at the dental clinic, there is a large sign for the Kimchi Museum.

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