Aside from hotels, corporate housing, an exhibition center, an aquarium, and a mall, Coex (we are staying in Coex) is home to the Kimchi Field Museum.
This one was a dud with the kids, even for Volucris, who can find something interesting in anything. There are only so many plastic models of someone else’s dinner you can look at before you begin to wonder why your mother dragged you there.
As it happens, I am feeling under the weather, and we all wanted to get out but stay close to home. The kids had more fun afterward in our building’s playroom, playing with the Wii.
I, however, found the museum fascinating, and not just because I’ve been doing some experimentation with fermented foods.
In Korea, kimchi is served with every meal. There are lots of different varieties of kimchi, and some don’t even contain cabbage. Kimchi is Korea, the same way Israelis identify with hummus and Americans with apple pie, only even more so. In some ways, Koreans see kimchi as the very underpinning of their entire civilization. There are folk tales that discuss “how we learned to make kimchi and became civilized”.
But there’s a foreign influence in today’s kimchi. And foreign is dangerous. (This isn’t just run-of-the-mill xenophobia. Korea has a history of foreign invasion that sounds remarkably familiar to anyone who has studied Jewish history).
You see… in modern times (modern meaning going back to the 18th century. Korea has an ancient culture), people have been adding hot peppers to kimchi. So much so that it’s become “traditional”.
But kimchi is Korean. And red peppers are not.
Much of the museum (and it’s not a big place) was dedicated to a talmudic-like discussion on why using a foreign interloper was acceptable in this most Korean of foods.
1. Kimchi already had garlic, and garlic is spicy, and hot peppers are also spicy, so it wasn’t such a radical change.
2. Red peppers turn the kimchi red, which is one of the traditional colors for food.
3. Red peppers increase the storage time of kimchi.
Who knew a simple ingredient could be so fraught with existential conflict?