Off the menu

Get your food fix at these museums across the world. Just don’t eat the exhibits, warns Joanna Lobo

The Herring Era Museum, Siglufjörður, Iceland

If you plan your holidays around food, chances are you’ve already sought out the restaurants, markets, streets stalls that offer the best culinary exploration of the place. But, there’s another way of learning about local food, one that doesn’t involve scarfing down unfamiliar dishes or discovering you’ve ordered the wrong item because of your terrible translation. Just throw away the napkins and take a tour of the nearest food museum.

Here is a collection of the world’s most innovative food museums, from the delicious to the downright disgusting. 

The Herring Era Museum, Siglufjörður, Iceland

The largest maritime and industrial museum in the country has exhibits that tell the story of ‘silver darlings’. The museum is spread across different houses (part of an old Norwegian herring station) and brings alive Siglufjörður’s history as the herring-fishing capital of Iceland through stories of summers where people flocked to this tiny village to earn a living. The Boathouse recreates a 1950s harbour and gives a sense of harbour life and a deeper look inside fishing boats. Róaldsbrakki showcases a salting station and a bunkhouse, which shows the gutting and packaging of herring. In Grána, a 1930's herring factory tells the story of herring meal processing.

Visit http://www.sild.is/en

China Watermelon Museum, Beijing
China Watermelon Museum, Beijing

 

China Watermelon Museum, Beijing

Trace the birth of everyone’s favourite summer fruit at the world’s juiciest exhibition, the China Watermelon Museum. Established in 2002, the building is shaped like the fruit (a dome and two leaves). Exhibits spread over 4,000 square metres show the origins of the fruit in southern Africa to its ascent into space. There are wax watermelons, statues, books, comics and photos that talk about growing methods, different varieties, and how the fruit spread across the globe. Look for ancient Chinese poems that reference melons, and a watermelon reactor. If it’s all fake fruit inside, outside there are real watermelons growing, samples of which are available for tasting.

Wieliczka Salt Mine, Poland
Wieliczka Salt Mine, Poland

Wieliczka Salt Mine, Poland

One of the greatest mining museums in Europe is also one of the oldest mines in the world and today, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The subterranean tunnels and chambers reveal a Saltworks Museum besides a salt lake, a spa and four chapels carved entirely out of salt – of note is a replica of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper and a statue of Pope John Paul II. On display are mining technology, a look at treadmills for horses (used to lift equipment), Neolithic utensils used in production, paintings and sculptures, and mining lamps and tools. It’s a good lesson in the production of salt and the mining industry in the olden days. Everything underground is made or carved out of salt, from the chambers, the walls, the pillars and even the flooring.

Visit https://www.wieliczka-saltmine.com

SPAM Museum, Austin

Hormel Foods Corporation created the porky canned meat in 1937 and it quickly gained popularity. The original factory was turned into a museum and a couple of years ago, shifted to a larger space. The new location has nine SPAMtastic galleries. There are SPAM recipes from 44 different nations; a World War II-themed exhibit explaining the meat’s importance as a staple for American troops; an exhibit displaying the evolution of the can, an amphitheatre that hosts live cooking demonstrations, a mock assembly line for canning SPAM, a Monty Python tribute, and interactive games to test visitors’ knowledge. The only edible product that can be bought is the 12 varieties of SPAM.

Visit https://www.spam.com/museum

Licorice on display at the Disgusting Food Museum, Malmo, Sweden
Licorice on display at the Disgusting Food Museum, Malmo, Sweden

Disgusting Food Museum, Malmo, Sweden

One of the newer food museums in the world, the ticket here is a vomit bag. It’s for visitors with delicate stomachs, who may not be able to handle the smells of the fermented shark meat, the Asian ‘vomit fruit’ or surströmming (fermented Swedish herring). The world’s first exhibition dedicated to weird foods was started to showcase how disgust is a cultural construct – one man’s vomit-inducing food is another’s delicacy. On display are 80 foods from across the world – the most come from China. The disgust is also reflected in the way food is produced, focusing on animal suffering. The museum uses fresh food or photos/plastic models for food that is difficult to find or sourced unethically. Guests get the chance to try some of the dishes.

Visit https://disgustingfoodmuseum.com/

Korea-Kimchi-Museum
Korea-Kimchi-Museum

Kimchi Field Museum, Seoul, South Korea

The museum, established in 1986, has everything kimchi. It offers an insight into the making of this traditional Korean fermented dish. The three sections display the history of kimchi in the Korean peninsula, show how the dish is made, and explain how varieties of kimchi differ by season and region. There is a detailed process of kimchi-making using dioramas and documentaries, models of 80 different kinds of kimchi and recipes, regional varieties and the history of spices, and pottery forms used for the fermentation and storage. Guests can take photos, observe the Lactobacillus bacteria in kimchi through a microscope, and read books or access movies about kimchi. There are samples available for those keen on a taste. There are also kimchi-making classes.

Visit https://www.kimchikan.com/en/

The Burnt Food Museum, Arlington, Massachusetts

This museum was set up 20 years ago by a professional harpist, Deborah Henson-Conant, at her house, with the aim of celebrating culinary disasters. The ‘carbonised culinary artwork’ is available for private tours and is showcased under glass and on plates with cheeky titles like ‘Don’t try this if you’re not from California’, ‘Why Sure, You Can Bake Quiche in the Microwave’, and ‘It might have been lasagna’. Or just guess the original food item – is it a torched mushroom or calcified green beans? Ask, and the curator-cum-guide will even play a tune on the harp and narrate the story of her Free Standing Hot Apple Cider that led to the creation of the museum.

Visit http://www.burntfoodmuseum.com

Shinyokohama Raumen Museum

Founded in 1994, the museum doubles up as an amusement park and is dedicated to the popular noodle dish. Get a glimpse into the history of ramen noodles, and instant ramen, in Japan. Exhibits go into the history of ramen, from its creation in China to its present-day usage in restaurants. An interactive display showcases the variety of noodles, soups, toppings and bowls used across Japan. The real experience though is underground. There, spread across two floors, is a detailed replica of 1958 (the year of its invention) streets and houses of Shitamachi, the old town of Tokyo. Here are nine restaurants, each featuring a ramen dish from a different region of Japan, which can be customised according to portion size and toppings.

Visit http://www.raumen.co.jp/

 

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