A feast for knowledge in Korea
Turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce are just a few of the dishes you will see in a typical Thanksgiving or Christmas meal. Many expats in South Korea crave these delicious comfort foods during the holidays and are reminded of special times with friends and family. Although quite different from traditional foods back home, South Korea has its own diverse range of traditional foods and dishes they enjoy not only during holidays but which are prepared as part of everyday life. Every province in South Korea has its own set of traditional foods and their own unique ways of serving them.
Traditional cuisine plays a huge role in Korean culture and history which might explain why there are several food museums around the country. South Korea may be small in size but their traditional cuisine—and appetite—is anything but. One food museum is simply not enough to cover the entirety of Korean cuisine, with collections focusing solely on single dishes or on foods from a particular region. However, visit one of your choice to see the dishes on show and you may even be inspired to make your own Korean side dishes to accompany this year’s Christmas or Thanksgiving meal.
The Institute of Traditional Korean Food is located in the artsy, tourist area of Insadong, which is popular for its teahouses and traditional Korean restaurants. The Jisilru Café on the first floor of the museum specializes in rice cakes and serves over 30 different kinds of tea. Learn how to match your rice cake with the correct tea or even enjoy a rice cake dinner, and add a blend of savory and sweet rice cakes to end the meal. If rice cakes aren’t your thing, you can head straight up to the second and third floors where the permanent exhibits display rice cakes that are traditionally eaten on Korean holidays and the utensils used to make them. Another display shows traditional foods used during rituals and the clothes that were worn during these rituals while the rooftop boasts cooking classrooms. Here, instruction on how to make rice cakes, kimchi, and many well-loved Korean main dishes such as bibimbap or japchae are conducted. The museum offers up to 3-month certificate programs to become a Korean cuisine aficionado with some courses specializing in traditional wedding and gift foods, royal cuisines, and medicinal foods.
Aside from South Korea’s well-loved traditional foods, each region also focuses on its own unique ways of serving them. The Namdo Traditional Food Museum in Gwangju showcases traditional foods from the Namdo region, including charcoal broiled meat, ddeokgalbi and mulberry leaves and fried kelp. There is an experience hall where you can learn how to make these unique dishes and listen to lectures about the foods special to this region. There is also a multimedia exhibit where information about Korean eating habits dating back to the New Stone Age is shared. The museum shop also stocks home brewed liquor made in this region, including Namdo folk wine – a very popular selection for visitors to take home as a souvenir.
And of course, no Korean meal would be complete without Kimchi: the one side dish you will see without fail in each and every Korean restaurant. Unsurprisingly, a museum all about kimchi, Kimchikan, is billed as one of the world’s top 11 food museums, which is also located in Insadong. The museum is fully equipped for visitors from all around the world and it is advised to pick up an audio guide in English before heading in to see the exhibits. Prepare to have your mind blown away by all the kimchi knowledge ahead.
For gamers, the fourth floor has interactive digital games that teach about the process of making kimchi and for the pickled food fanatic amongst us, the fifth floor not only displays a wide variety of different kinds of kimchi but also all those familiar pickled foods that end up on our table as side dishes. What better way to end your visit to Kimchikan than by making your very own kimchi? On the 6th floor, classes to make your own kimchi are given and you can even take the finished product home with you. However, don’t forget to book a class at least 3 days in advance as a minimum of 5 other people are needed for the class to run.
The peninsula’s traditional cuisine is without a doubt one of the most important parts of South Korean culture. It is also one of the only things that remain largely unchanged in a country where everything seems to be changing at the speed of light. Learn more about South Korea’s traditional foods at one of their fascinating food museums and who knows, you may be inspired to add some of these traditional dishes to your own Thanksgiving or Christmas meal this festive season.
Institute of Traditional Korean Food
Address: 164-2 Waryong-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Phone number: 02-741-5447
Opening Hours: Monday to Saturday 10pm -5pm / Sunday 12pm to 5pm
Admission: adults : KRW 3000 / students: KRW 2,000
Directions: Jongno 3-ga Station (Line 3 and 5, Exit 1)
Namdo Traditional Food Museum
Adddress: 477, Seoljuk-ro, Buk-gu, Gwangju
Hours: 9am – 6pm
Website: namdofoodmuseum.go.kr (Korean only)
Phone number 062-575-8883
Directions: From Gwanju, take Bus 30, 56 or 57 and get off at Namdo Folk Food Museum or take Bus
07, 15, 26, 29, 38 and get off at Ilgok Sageori Bus Stop
Address: 35-4 Insadong-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul-si Insadong maru Level 4-6
Opening hours: 10am to 6pm
Phone number: 02-6002-6456
Admission: Adults KRW 5000 won / Children and teens KRW 3,000 won / Children under 6 KRW 2,000
Directions: Subway: Jonggak Subway (Line 1, Exit 3) or Anguk Station (Line 3, Exit 6)
Bus: From Jongak Station, take bus 0015, 7022, 7023, 401, 406, 704, 5500, 9400, 9402.
From Anguk Station, take bus 1012, 7025, 109, 151, 162, 171, 272, 601, 6011