A side dish here serves as centerpiece

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A side dish here serves as centerpiece

How long have Koreans been eating kimchi? Well, they were eating salted vegetables, the primitive form of kimchi, even before Christ, historians say.

But did you know that kimchi in its modern form, seasoned with red peppers, didn't appear until the 18th century?

You can find out about the origins of kimchi and other kimchi trivia at the Kimchi Museum, founded by Pulmuone Inc., a local food maker.

The compact museum of about 540 square meters is in the Coex Mall, in the southern part of Seoul. The mall is always bustling with people, especially foreign businessmen and tourists from the adjacent World Trade Tower, Convention Center, Air Terminal and various nearby hotels. "About a third of our visitors are foreigners," says Moon Sun-hee, an official at the museum. "They're always surprised by the long history of kimchi."

The first hall of the museum exhibits old books from the Goryeo dynasty (918-1392) and the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910), which contain recipes for the kimchi of those times. The hall also displays representations of old kimchi, based on those books. There you will see white kimchi more than red kimchi, because red peppers were introduced to Korea in the 17th century and seasoning kimchi with red peppers began in the 18th century.

The second hall shows representations of special kimchi, such as pomegranate kimchi, which is made of radishes and cabbage to resemble a split pomegranate, and nabak kimchi, a watery kimchi made of radishes that Koreans put on the holiday tables for ancestor-memorial services. You will also see models of kimchi specific to each region of Korea, including such exotic variations as pheasant kimchi from the North's Pyeongan province and abalone kimchi from Jeju Island.

In the third hall, you can observe the kimchi-making process through illustrations and old kitchen utensils, such as a small wooden mortar and white-porcelain grater. You will also see various jars in which kimchi is stored and fermented. The hall even has a wooden jar, which was used in mountain villages where it was difficult to get pottery.

In the fourth hall are displays about kimchi's nutritional benefits and about the details of the fermentation process, which you can actually view taking place through powerful electronic microscopes.

The museum also has a tasting room, where visitors can sample all sorts of kimchi, and an educational room for occasional lectures.

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. It is closed on Mondays and major holidays.

The tasting room is open and dishing out kimchi five times a day: 10, 11:30, 1:30, 3 and 4. So you have to time it right.

Admission is 3,000 won ($2.50) for adults and 1,000 won for children.

For more information, call the museum at (02) 6002-6456 or check out www.kimchimuseum.co.kr.

by Moon So-young

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