Travel inevitably involves food, but sometimes you want a behind-the-scenes look at how your favorite dishes came to be, instead of just stuffing your face on vacation every day. So the next time you visit cities like Tokyo, Seoul, and Taipei, you might want to make a pitstop at one of these unusual museums for a little background on (and free samples of) popular foods like ramen, kimchi, and rice cakes.
Anyone who’s crazy about cup noodles will probably want to stop by this mecca of instant ramen for a look-see. The museum’s got two locations, but since Osaka is hailed as the “birthplace” of Chicken Ramen — said to be the first-ever instant ramen in the world, invented in 1958 by Momofuku Ando – true purists should head there.
Inside, you can explore the Chicken Ramen factory and try your hand at kneading, steaming, and seasoning the wheat flour. Later, head to the Cupnoodles factory to create your own original packaging and continue on to find out more about the brand’s history. Other attractions include an exhibition on instant noodles from around the world, an interactive theater, and a shop displaying limited edition items you may not be able to find anywhere else.
Of course there’s a mayo museum in Japan. Because why not? Opened by Kewpie, the country’s beloved brand of classic Japanese-style mayo, the place gives visitors an introduction to the background of the creamy dressing before guiding you on a tour through a simulated Kewpie factory so you can see how the stuff is made. Then in the “Kewpie Kitchen,” guests can get their hands dirty to create mayo-based sauces and try ‘em all.
Free samples are doled out at the end, and if you’re not mayo-ed out by then, you can stock up on more Kewpie at the gift store. Don’t forget to make a reservation before you go, though, because the tour’s pretty popular.
Kimchi is ubiquitous in traditional Korean cuisine – you really can’t go more than a few steps in South Korea without stumbling across a restaurant serving the fermented vegetables. So it’s no surprise that Seoul dedicated an entire museum to its famous delicacy. First opened in 1986 and subsequently moving to the more touristy area of Insa-dong, the exhibition space starts off by walking you through the history and evolution of kimchi over the years.
Next up, a look at what goes into the making of the Korean staple and a chance to try it out yourself. Plus, don’t forget to arrive ready for a snack, ‘cause the tour will feed you different varieties of kimchi along the way.
Billed as “the world’s first food-themed amusement park” when it opened in 1994, the ramen attraction presents the assortment of noodles, soups, toppings, and bowls in all its glory at the gallery. After you’ve stepped back in time for a peek its history in the country, you can head down the stairs and stroll through the streets of late ‘50s Japan at the replica of Shitamachi, the old town of Tokyo.
Various ramen restaurants have set up stall here, each one specializing in a recipe from a different part of the country, so come hungry. It’s quite the touristy experience, but since you’re here, you might as well sample a bit of everything by ordering the mini versions of each dish.
Who knew fish balls were such an in-demand commodity that they’d warrant an entire museum devoted to them? Yet here we are, spotlighting the snack, which is made of fish paste and boiled in broth or deep fried. The Teng Feng Fish Ball company was set up in 1950, gradually expanding to produce a range of fish paste products, and its museum arm debuted in 2004.
Naturally, the exhibition space tells you everything you ever wanted to know about the making of fish balls, including the species of fish involved, and a factory processing area that allows you to taste some of its products.
Rice cake, another staple of Korean food, gets the limelight at this museum, where 2,000 old school Korean kitchen utensils and tteok-related items are on display. From special holidays to the daily lives of Koreans, this dish is always present, and you’ll get to see about 50 types of tteok at the exhibition.
Pop by the café for a sample, or sign up for a class to learn the art of making it with glutinous rice flour. Kimchi workshops and sessions on traditional Korean cuisine are also available here.
Malaysia’s obsessed with its cuisine and it shows – especially when you visit Penang’s food culture museum, which features larger-than-life replicas of favorites familiar to anyone who’s gone on a food tour in the country.
From popular street food to massive carvings of Penang’s signatures, Malaysia’s culinary heritage is showcased in all its mouthwatering glory, starring dishes like Penang laksa (tamarind fish noodle soup), teh tarik (milk tea), chicken rendang (a slow-cooked, spice-laden coconut milk curry), wanton noodles, durians, and loads more. The dishes on exhibit may be plastic, but they’re not any less fantastic (or realistic), and they’ll elicit those hunger pangs in no time.