Exploring the world’s food and drink museums
Because food has quite literally fuelled every human action in the history of our species, it’s only right that we treat it with reverence. For some, this means cooking with and sourcing only the best ingredients; others pay homage to the cuisine of a certain culture by reading up on it and cooking with traditional equipment. Others prefer to honour food by elevating it to the station of museum artefact. Food, after all, is a perfect medium through which to explore our past, present and perhaps even future.
“Food is a thought-provoking and enticing way to examine history, art and culture,” explains Abelardo de la Peña, Director of Communications at LA’s Plaza de Cultura y Artes, the cultural hub which houses the US’ first museum expressly dedicated to Mexican food, LA Plaza Cocina, in Los Angeles.
“Museums entice visitors to consider and enjoy the relationship between people, their place of origin and their history,” de la Peña tells Food Matters Live. “Museums are also cultural spaces that engage visitors to explore, begin a dialogue, and increase awareness to the complexities and beauties of food and beverage.”
Food museums around the world run the gamut from traditionally academic, to oddly reverential. While some seek to interrogate and explore the rich history of food in relation to a certain culture or era, others are based in novelty and cultural quirks – just take the Baked Bean Museum of Excellence in Port Talbot, Wales for example.
Why not visit some of the best museums dedicated to food and drink during your travels? There are several around the world, dedicated to all kinds of produce and cuisines.
LA Plaza Cocina – Los Angeles, US
Situated in California’s Los Angeles, LA Plaza Cocina is the city’s first museum expressly dedicated to charting the history and development of Mexican food. Thanks to its large population of Mexican immigrants and relative proximity to the border, the city of LA is filled with authentic Mexican cuisine, though until recently it had no formal space in which to document and explore its traditions.
Luckily, the recently opened LA Plaza Cocina offers such an environment, through exhibitions, cooking lessons, and events for people of all walks of life to learn from. Its current showcase is dedicated to maize – the versatile grain which forms part of the backbone of Mexican cuisine and culture. In the ancient societies that once called Mexico home, maize was prized as much for its spiritual connections as it was for the food it created.
Musée du Vin – Paris, France
Surely there is no more appropriate place for a museum dedicated to wine than France. The country has more than 2,000 years of wine-making history, ranging from primitive methods, to the highly sophisticated art form it is today. Located a stone’s throw from the Eiffel Tower, the Musée du Vin offers visitors the chance to dig deep into this history. The museum’s collection, alongside its on-site restaurant, is housed in a series of wine cellars of the Abbaye de Passy, which was once a convent.
Included in the prized, 2,000-object-strong collection are old fashioned grape presses, ancient serving jugs and a range of coveted bottles. Alongside the collection of objects from different ages, production and sale of wine throughout human history, the restaurant also offers dining experiences and wine tasting sessions.
Alimentarium – Vevey, Switzerland
Touting itself as the ‘world’s first’ food-themed museum, the Alimentarium has spent the last 35 years teaching visitors about nutrition and food. The museum offers more of a science-based experience than other establishments, and most recently has been dedicated to education on the future of the world’s food systems and how resilience can be built into them.
Visitors to the museum right now are invited to evaluate what they’ll be snacking on in the decades to come in its FOOD2049 exhibition. From liquified meat delivered via a feeding tube, to kitchens controlled completely by one button, the Alimentarium encourages you to think beyond what you are used to and consider solutions that might be harder to envisage.
Cupnoodles Museum – Ikeda, Japan
Though we might consider them only as a quick snack, pre-packaged noodles have a lengthy history, which began more than 50 years ago. The Cupnoodles Museum charts this history and that of the brands which have brought noodles to the masses. The museum organises exhibitions, installations (including an immersive instant noodles tunnel) and cooking and tasting sessions.
Visitors to the museum might want to spend time in the Cupnoodles factory, where they can make their own flavour to take away with them or eat onsite. Additionally, visitors might wish to see where the history of the snack started, in the museum’s replica of the work shed in which it is believed chicken ramen was invented by Momofuku Ando in 1958.
Museo della Pasta – Parma, Italy
Italian food is among the most popular in the world, and pasta is a core component of the cuisine. The Museo della Pasta is dedicated to the global favourite, and charts the food from its earliest recipes found in history. The collection includes historic pasta making machines, insight into the development of the different shapes and discussions on pasta’s rise to global acclaim.
Visitors can learn about the entirety of the pasta making process, from traditional wheat farming tools, to quirky kitchen pieces. If you’ve never seen a ravioli rolling pin or spaghetti guitar, this is the place to change that. The museum is also part of a series of institutions in the Italian city of Parma dedicated to local delicacies like Parma ham, parmigiano reggiano, salami and tomatoes.
Museum of Food and Drink – Brooklyn, US
With a concrete belief that food is a form of culture, MOFAD offers visitors an in-depth educational experience which examines the history of humanity and what we eat. It does this by examining the foodstuffs which have evolved alongside different cultures, for example those important to Jewish and black people, through exhibitions, talks and other events.
Its most recent exhibition charts the cuisine of black communities in the US, and at its heart is the Ebony Magazine test kitchen, rescued from demolition specifically for the museum. With its iconic 1970s decor, the kitchen played host to the development of recipes for the magazine for years.