Farther afield: Alimentary Athenaeums

Sierra Holt Furniture & Decorative Arts

Katarzynka mould and leaf-shaped gingerbread, Toruń Gingerbread Museum, Toruń, Poland. Photograph by Krzysztof Deczyński.

Toruń Gingerbread Museum (Muzeum Toruńskiego Piernika) 

Toruń, Poland

Gingerbread made in the medieval city of Toruń in north-central Poland is considered by many cookie connoisseurs to be the best on the Continent. The Toruń Gingerbread Museum sits inside a nineteenth-century baked goods factory and is run in cooperation with the confectionary firm Kopernik, whose name honors Toruń’s most famous native son, sixteenth-century polymath Nicolaus Copernicus, who first described the heliocentric solar system. Exhibits take visitors through multiple eras in Toruń gingerbread history, and through the gingerbread making process. (Fun fact: some Polish gingerbread has no ginger in it; the spicy snap comes from black pepper.) Artifacts on view include a 1960s industrial bakery oven, a Communist-era Żuk delivery van, and a large collection of beautiful, intricately carved wooden gingerbread molds. Guests so moved can join a baking workshop and make some gingerbread themselves. (muzeum.torun.pl/muzeum-to-runskiego-piernika)

Pile of Irish-made butter sticks at the Butter Museum, Cork, Ireland. Photograph by Roland Paschhoff.

The Butter Museum

Cork, Ireland

Since the 1700s, butter has been one of Ireland’s most important export products, and anyone who has tasted a pat of Kerrygold butter will understand why. The Butter Museum in Ireland’s second largest city details the “commercial, social, and domestic life of Ireland” through dairy-related objects and exhibits. The museum is housed in the former Cork Butter Exchange, which opened in 1770 and closed for business in 1924, and was the place where farmers brought butter to be weighed and tested for quality before sale. Visitors can chart the course of the “butter roads” along which it traveled to market, try their hand at churning, enjoy the wonderful graphic designs on the museum’s collection of twentieth-century butter wrappers, and observe a variety of dairy-related artifacts. The most curious of these is a keg (hand-hewn from a single log) of thousand-year-old “bog butter”—a relic of the days when prehistoric Celts buried casks of butter in cool peat bogs, likely as a rudimentary form of refrigeration. (thebuttermuseum.com)

Moroccan Culinary Arts Museum (Musée d’art culinaire Marocain)

Marrakesh, Morocco

Amidst the frenetic pace of downtown Marrakesh sits the Moroccan Culinary Arts Museum, located in a riad—an eighteenth-century palace—bedecked with zellige tiles and ornate fountains. This beautiful site is a learning center that celebrates Moroccan food, a cuisine developed from Arabic, Berber, Mediterranean, and Jewish influences.

Guests walk through exhibitions focused on traditional Moroccan dishes, such as pastillas, couscous, and mint tea, and displays of artisan-crafted table settings. They can see and learn about the importance of preservation jars and antique cookware, such as the famed conical-shaped tagine that has become a symbol of Moroccan cuisine. Visitors can also participate in cooking demonstrations and classes led by a dada, a teacher the museum describes as a “traditional Moroccan cook” who acts as a “guardian of our culinary traditions.” (moroccancam.com)

Tteok Museum exterior, Seoul, South Korea. Photograph by LittleT889 on Wikimedia Commons.

Tteok Museum

Seoul, South Korea

Through the Korean diaspora, dishes such as bibimbap mixed rice, fermented kimchi, and tteok, a steamed rice cake, have become culinary favorites around the world. The latter is often eaten as a shared dessert and has been a part of Korean foodways for centuries. This small cake is so culturally significant that it has its own museum, located a short walk from the fifteenth-century Changgyeonggung Palace. There, by highlighting traditional cooking techniques, the museum hopes to create a space where Koreans “can feel the life and breath” of their ancestors.

On display in six themed exhibitions are items traditionally used in crafting and serving tteok, including shiru steamers, brass serving bowls, and a collection of hangari pots used for fermentation. Utensils and cookware are staged in ways that visitors feel they have wandered into a traditional Korean kitchen, or onto a jangdokdae (patio) used to store food. When finished with the tour, guests also have the opportunity to make their own tteok and get a taste of this small dish with a big history. (tkmuseum.or.kr)

Muller mixer, conical roller kneader, and mechanical shearing-folding pasta machine at the Pasta Museum, Collecchio, Italy. Photograph by L. Rossi.

Pasta Museum (Museo della Pasta)

Collecchio, Italy

Within the courtyard of a medieval farming complex in Collecchio, Italy, sits a museum that celebrates what is perhaps the heart of Italian cuisine: pasta. The Pasta Museum is an education center created by the Food Museums of the Parma—a group of seven associated museums dedicated to Italian culinary staples ranging from salami to porcini mushrooms—that collects and shares knowledge on the history and cultural significance of the noodle. A vast collection of artifacts from pasta factories and shops have found a new life in curated exhibits that, according to the museum, tell the story of pasta from “the raw material, the grain of wheat, [to] its transformation in the tradition of home cooking through to industrial production.” No item is too small or big: the museum showcases grand machinery like a Palmenti grain mill as well as a dainty handheld tagliapasta used to cut fresh noodles. Within the displays are copies of historic paintings that make reference to, or feature, pasta. (pasta.museidelcibo.it)

House of Peruvian Gastronomy (Casa de la Gastronomia Peruana)

Lima, Peru

Just as a cultural tour of Peru that will take you from the Incan citadel Machu Picchu to historic and contemporary art from the world over at the Museo del Arte de Lima, Peruvian food is a fusion of the ancient, modern, and global. One Peruvian dish can include Quechan grains, Spanish-derived meats, and East Asian flavorings and be prepared using African cooking methods. This intermixing of culture with history through food is the focus of the House of Peruvian Gastronomy, a museum dedicated to documenting Peruvian cuisine and culinary traditions, with a mission to strengthen the country’s food culture and gastronomic tourism for “the benefit of farmers, producers, entrepreneurs, innovators, and vulnerable populations.”

The museum’s permanent collection is divided into eras of Peruvian history, beginning with pre-Columbian civilization and continuing to Spanish colonization and post-In- dependence. Exhibited are cookware and dining artifacts, ranging in size from small guinea pig–shaped drinking vessels to large piscos used to ferment grapes into brandy, in displays that transport guests to Peruvian markets and town squares. At the end of the tour, visitors are greeted with six table settings designed to represent periods of Peruvian history. Behind the display is a wall-to-wall image of diners staring back at the visitors, who look as if they are waiting for you to join them for a meal. (museos.cultura.pe)

Bread Museum (Museu do Pão)

Seia, Portugal

Bread Museum exterior, Seia, Portugal. Photograph by VDT2021 on Wikimedia Commons.

In Portugal bread seemingly comes in an almost endless variety: from crustless broa de avintes, and the cross-scored pão de trigo em padas, to the sweet potato flatbread bolo do caco, and so much more. Thus, naturally, the country is home to the Bread Museum, which stands near the Serra da Estrela hills in the northwestern town of Seia, a three-hour drive from Lisbon. Inside are more than five hundred objects used in or by bakeries, like a bicycle equipped with huge woven panniers for delivering bread, as well as artworks that depict bread in a variety of forms. Exhibitions utilize historical items to document the relationship between bread and Portuguese culture by exploring topics like labor, religion, and politics. Also housed in the museum is a restaurant that serves traditional Portuguese cuisine and, of course, lots of pão. (museudopao.pt)

La Cité du Vin

Bordeaux, France

Visitors at the permanent exhibition Dinner is Served! at La Cité du Vin, Bordeaux, France. Photograph by Anaka.

The name of the museum La Cité du Vin suggests a city made from wine, and, in a way, that’s correct: its XTU Architects-designed building rises 180 feet high in a shape inspired by “gnarled vine stock, wine swirling in a glass, eddies on the [River] Garonne.” Cité du Vin’s mission is to educate the public “on the cultural and intellectual dimension of wine,” and where else would it be located but Bordeaux, France, a UNESCO World Heritage site known as the wine capital of the world?

Perhaps surprisingly, rather than engage in regional wine chauvinism, the museum examines vinicultures from the world over. Inside visitors find immersive mixed-medium exhibitions exploring wine’s history, geography, and cultural influence. In the permanent collections, guests can walk among artifacts and art that illustrate the making of wine in early civilizations, and try out aroma stations to compare the “nose” of different wine varietals. When guests want to have the full, in-the-mouth wine experience, they can enjoy a glass in the building’s panoramic eighth-floor tasting room, which provides a stunning view of the actual city of wine. (laciteduvin.com/en)

European Asparagus Museum (Europäisches Spargelmuseum)

Schrobenhausen, Germany

Thanks to the country’s abundance of potatoes and wheat, German cuisine is well known for its almost never-ending list of starch-heavy dishes and for beer-drinking during Oktoberfest. There is another crop in Germany that has similar iconic status but provides a lighter bite than its hefty peers: asparagus. The stalk veggie is so intertwined with German culture that in the town of Schrobenhausen, epicenter of the vegetable’s growing area in Bavaria, stands the European Asparagus Museum, an institution that “shows everything to do with asparagus: history, botany, cultivation, art and curiosities.”

Exhibits are divided between three floors of a former prison that dates to the fifteenth century. Showcased are agricultural tools used in cultivating asparagus and a 1664 edition of the New Complete Herbal Book by Jacob Tabernaemontanus, which explains the medicinal value of asparagus, asparagus-infused water, and even wine made from asparagus. The decorative arts collection includes crockery with asparagus motifs designed by art nouveau great Emile Gallé and asparagus tongs created by Carl Peter Fabergé in 1890 that were once owned by the famed Russian dancer Anna Pavlova. Although a plate of asparagus can only be enjoyed outside the galleries, an array of porcelain-lidded boxes in the veggie’s distinctive spear shape, including examples by Meissen and Sceaux, provides a feast for viewers’ eyes. (schrobenhausen.de)