Sunday, February 28, 2010

Tteok! Tteok! Tteok! Part 1

Seollal has taken its toll on me, New Years always make me feel nostalgic, for the good old days. This past fortnight I was simply not in the mood for anything else but FOOD, especially festive food. I tried out a recipe for tteokguk which was quite good but I was craving for tteokbokki, the spicy stuff sold by the street vendors Pojangmacha style. I was lucky to find a recipe which turned out just like the street vendor’s. Again I was lucky to find a packet of Garae tteok in the Korean section of my supermarket, a bottle of spicy Gochujang and fishcake from my local market. Ooh, it was simply delicious!

Think Seollal and what comes to mind immediately? Food, especially eating tteokguk first thing on Seollal morning, otherwise one cannot grow a year older. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again; there are few Korean rites in which tteok are not present in one form or another. Considering this and the impressive variety of tteoks, it’s safe to say that there is an undeniable love affair between the Korean people and tteok. I’ve been very intrigued by this “tteok culture” and that’s why today I’m going to take you on a tteok adventure discovering things about tteok.

What is tteok? Tteok is the traditional Korean rice cake which is made from glutinous rice flour and sometimes even ordinary rice flour. There are about two hundred varieties of tteok, from plain, to sweet, to rice wine flavoured, to rainbow coloured. These tteok are artfully made and sometimes look almost too pretty to be eaten.

Tteok is not only one of Korea’s most symbolic foods, but it is also one of its oldest. Korea has been producing tteok for about 2,000 years, going back to the Three Kingdom’s Period.

One has to fully understand the symbolic meanings of the Korean rice cakes, to really understand about the Korean people. Tteok has long been ingrained in the lives of the Koreans; they have always made rice cakes whether it be in good times or bad times. The shape, contents and colour may vary from region to region but the meaning is still the same. Each variety of tteok signifies different meanings The sharing of tteok among neighbours and friends has long been practiced and it reflects the warmth and kindred spirit of the Korean community. That is why the tteok has become an integral part of the lives of the Korean people. People from all walks of life can interact with each other, through these rice cakes and now I understand why the tteok plays such an important part in the lives of the Koreans.

Despite the enormous variety of tteok available, ultimately, there are only four basic methods of preparation. They are:- 

  • boiled Tteok: Most often encountered in gyeongdan, the small, powdered sticky rice cake balls that often come in many colors, depending on the powder. 
  • Steamed Tteok: Many forms of rice cake are steamed, including the Chuseok treat songpyeon. 
  • Pounded Tteok: Rice cake made from pounding rice with a large hammer — you can see this in action at many folk villages and folk festivals around the country. The most common pounded tteok is injeolmi. 
  • Fried Tteok: You can even prepare tteok in a frying pan — hwajeon, a rice cake often decorated with a flower petal design, is made this way.
The Institute Of Traditional Korean Food, located in front of the beautiful Changdeok Palace in Jongno-gu district, is a professional research organization established and devoted to the research, development, popularization and globalization of traditional Korean food.

The building comprises of ten floors: 
1. The main JILSIRU Café which offers patrons fifty types of Tteok, Hankwa
(Traditional Korean snacks) and thirty kinds of traditional Korean Teas
2. Tteok Museum-Tteokulture Exhibition
3. Tteok Museum-Tteok making methods
4. Research and Development Room Kyusudang
5. Sojubang-Recording studio
6. Sarangbang
7. Royal Kitchen
8. Culinary Department Library
9. Jilsiru-Tteok Research Room
10. Hanulchae

Professional courses offered here include the making of Tteok, Korean cookies, ritual, wedding and gift food, Royal Court food, traditional liquor and traditional tea. Terms are quarterly beginning in January, April, July and October. Night courses are also available. The total number of students enrolling during a year exceeds five thousand.

Tteok Museum
We shall be visiting the Tteok Museum on the 2nd and 3rd floors, as it is the best place to get all the information we need on tteok.
The Tteok Museum was opened in 2002, and is the only museum of its kind in Korea. The museum was opened to show people the many kinds of tteok and the disappearing tteok traditions. It is run by the Institute of Traditional Korean Food. 
The Tteok Museum 1st exhibition hall displays Tteok according to the seasons, Tteok, which are enjoyed during the major holidays and festivities in Korea. Rice cake soup or tteok-guk is made on the first day of the New Year. Azalea pancakes are made on Samjit day heralding the coming of spring. Sweet coated fried stuffed cake-Juak-is made on Yudu day. Various rice cakes, especially stuffed Pine cake are made on Chuseok-the August Moon Festival-when newly harvested cereals and fruit are available and so on.

Tteok Museum 03  Tteok Museum 01 
Tteok Museum 2nd exhibition hall is dedicated to tteok and other foods used for different rites of passage. Typical foods served during major events of a person from birth to death and to ancestral rites, are introduced along with the particular meaning those foods have in relation to life.

Tteok Museum 04
About 2,000 tteok (rice cake) related items and old Korean kitchenware in terms of theme, material and usage so as to compare food culture and kitchenware between the past and the present. The articles may not be regarded as such high-valued cultural remains but are very important due to the fact that the articles may just disappear in no time.

Tteok and Kitchen Utensil Museum 01
The displayed utensils are handmade household necessities that are ingenuous, yet reveal the lifestyle of the working class. The old cooking utensils for rice cake may be inconvenient and coarse, as compared to the modern utensils, but the name and the shape show sentiment. The elderly may relive fond childhood memories and the younger generation can experience the wisdom of their ancestors through these rare kitchen utensils.

Tteok Museum

Indeed, one of the things most fascinating about the displays is the mind-boggling diversity of sizes, shapes and colours in which tteok manifests itself. And the color is important, too — quite often, rice cakes are chosen for particular occasions thanks to their colour and the role they play in Korea’s traditional yin-yang cosmology. Take, for instance, the white garae tteok commonly consumed sliced in tteokguk soup on New Year’s Day. New Year’s Day is traditionally considered a day with a lot of yang, or positive energy. White, too, symbolizes yang, hence the use of white garae tteok. 
Other colours have their uses, too. Red, for instance, was commonly believed to be effective in scaring away ghosts, goblins and all other manners of things that go bump in the night. On Dongji, the winter solstice, red-bean porridge with rice cakes was served —the long night and its attendant beasties requiring culinary caution. Likewise, on the table of a first birthday, or dol, you’ll find rainbow-coloured tteok. This symbolizes the hope that the child’s dreams will grow like a rainbow.
Region plays a major role, too. Take, for instance, songpyeon, the half-moon shaped rice cakes with chestnut paste eaten during the Chuseok holiday. Its colour and even shape will change from place to place — along the North Korean coast, for instance, they take the shape of a clam shell, in the hope that the rice cakes will bring in a good catch, in that shell-fish dependent region.
The spring Dano festival, for instance, is nowhere near as celebrated as it used to be. Yet through the museum, we can learn about the unique food that used to be consumed on this important holiday, including the bright green charyunbyeong, made from a kind of marsh plant. The summer Yudu, on the 15th day of the 6th lunar month, was at one time celebrated with outings to local mountain streams and waterfalls, accompanied by fortifying meals that included sanghwabyeong rice cakes.

Learing Programs for Foreigners, Tteok Museum
If you’re interested in doing more than just looking at the exhibits, you can also enroll in one of the Institute of Traditional Korean Food classes. The institute has classrooms on the fourth to 10th floors of the building, and offers three classes for foreigners — a tteok-making course (30,000 won), kimchi-making course (50,000 won) and traditional food making course (70,000 won). In the last one, you learn to make two kinds of food, and a translator is provided (the other two classes require the student to bring his or her own translator). You also get to wear a hanbok throughout the class.

Patrons can enjoy an assortment of different tteok and cookies at the Jilsiru Tteok café. These are traditional and new recipes that have been developed by the Institute of Traditional Korean Food. Thirty different types of tea are served in this cafe.

So, now that you have seen the museum and perhaps even tasted the delicious tteok at the Jilsiru Tteok café, you will probably know a lot about tteok now as compared to before. I shall now mention the names of some of the tteok made for the different rites of passage and see whether you you can still recall them from your visit to the museum.

All Koreans go through several rituals in the course of their lives. These rituals have standardized ceremonies, and each ceremony is always accompanied by special types of food, which somehow or other will include the tteok.

Samch'il-Il is the day to celebrate the 21st day of a baby's birth. Relatives and family members get together, celebrating the birth of the newborn baby. The foods used for this celebration include miyeok guk (sea-weed soup) and baekseolgi (steamed rice cake). The baekseolgi symbolizes holiness, separating a mother and a baby from the mundane world. So on this occasion people will only share the rice cakes with their own family members, and not with neighbours and friends.

Baekil is an occasion marking the 100th day after a baby is born. One hundred is a number symbolic of completeness and maturity; therefore, baekil is an occasion for congratulating a baby on completing this phase and wishing him or her continued growth and good health for the future.

Baekil food
susupot tteok     Songpyeon 01

At a baekil celebration, a table is set with a bowl of plain rice, seaweed soup with beef broth and green vegetables. Steamed white rice cake, glutinous millet dumplings rolled in red bean powder and songpyeon (half-moon shaped rice cake) in five different colors are also prepared. On this day, rice cakes were shared with others. In particular, it was believed that rice cakes prepared for baekil should be shared with one hundred families in order for the baby to be blessed with good health and longevity. The families who were offered rice cakes would in turn give a bundle of white cotton thread or rice instead of returning the dish empty. White cotton thread and rice signify longevity and wealth.

Dol or doljanchi is a Korean tradition to celebrate the birthday of a one-year-old baby. This ceremony blesses the child with a prosperous future and has taken on great significance in Korea.
The traditional celebration has four major components:-
1) Praying and giving thanks
2) Making and wearing the birthday clothes   
3) Preparing the table and performing the Toljabee 
4) Sharing the food with the guests and neighbours
Traditionally, Koreans would pray to Sanshin (a mountain god) and Samshin (a birth god, also called Samshin-halmuni "grandmother")

praying table
To prepare the praying table, the parents will place a bowl of steamed white rice, seaweed soup (miyeok-guk), and a bowl of pure water on the table. Next to the table are placed the samshin siru (layered red bean rice cake). This rice cake would not be shared outside the family because they believed that sharing this particular item with people outside the family would bring bad luck to the child. 

After the table has been prepared, the child's mother or grandmother would pray with two hands together. Rubbing her palms together, she would ask for her child's longevity, wish luck to the mountain god, and and give thanks to the birth god. This would be acomppanied by repeated bowing. Male family members would not be allowed to join in this ceremony. Only female family members would be  allowed to participate.
Seoulites perform this ceremony early in the morning on the child's birthday whereas residents of some other areas do it the night before the birthday.

The clothes worn for the tol (tol-bok) are colorful, dressy clothes. They differ depending on the child's sex. Both boys and girls wear a long tol-ddi (a belt that wraps around the body twice) for longevity and a tol-jumuni (pouch) for luck. Silk cloth is used to make the tol-jumuni, folded at the top with a colorful thread pull-string to open and close. For the child's longevity buttons are not used.

 beak-il bok   Boys clothes for Tol-bok

Boy's Clothes
-pink or striped jogori (jacket) with puple or gray paji (pants)
-striped durumagi (long jacket) and a blue vest printed with a gold or silver pattern or a striped magoja (jacket) and a jonbok (long blue vest) with a gold or silver pattern and a hongsadae (traditional belt) over it
-bokgun (black hat with a long tail)
-tarae-busun (traditional socks)
-yumnang (traditional round shaped pouch)

Girls clothes for tol-bok Girls clothes for tol-bok 01


Girl's Clothes
-striped jogory (jacket)
-long, red chima (skirt)
-gold and silver printed jobawi (hat)
-tarae-busun (traditional socks)
-yumnang (traditional round shaped pouch)


The parents prepare a special Tol table to celebrate the child's birthday. The main food includes tteok (rice cakes) and fruits. Over 12 different kinds of tteok are prepared, including baekseolgi (white steamed rice cakes), susu-kyongdan (rice cakes coated with rough red bean powder), chapsal-tteok or chal-tteok, mujigae-tteok (rainbow colored steamed rice cake), songp'yeon (half moon shaped rice cakes), injeolmi (coated glutinous rice cakes), and gyep'i-tteok (puffed air rice cakes). Among these, baekseolgi and susu-kyongdan are always included. Fruits can vary according to the season of the birthday. Different colors of seasonal fruits can be prepared and displayed in a row. Also, a bowl of rice, seaweed soup, and many other various foods can be displayed.

Toljabee items
Along with food, other items are needed for holding the Toljabee event. Items such as a large bundle of thread, a brush, a Korean calligraphy set, pencil, book, money (10,000 won bills), bow and arrow (needle, scissors, and ruler for girls) are arranged on the table to predict the child's future.

dol boy
dol girl

The birthday child will be placed at the table so that the other guests can face him or her. Parents often sit the child on the bolou (Korean traditional mattress) and several bangsuk (Korean cushions). Since the child is small, this allows for getting better pictures. For the background, a Korean traditional screen is used at the hotel or other banquet hall.

1st birthdayToljabee Event 
In this event, the birthday child goes around the table and picks up items that attract him or her. The child's future is predicted according to what he or she grabs. After placing the child in front of the table, the child's father becomes the guide for the child to go around the table and grab whatever he or she wants. The first and second items the child grabs are considered the most important. Usually Korean parents place the items that they want the child to choose near to the edge of the table. The child's future is predicted according to the items:-
  • bow and arrow: the child will become a warrior or have a military career 
  • needle and thread: the child will have a long life
  • jujube: the child will have many descendants 
  • book, pencil, or related items: the child will become a successful scholar 
  • money or rice: the child will become rich 
  • ruler, needle, scissors: the child will be talented with his/her hands 
  • knife: the child will be a good cook 
  • cakes or other foods: the child will be a government official
Note: Interpretations can vary from one region to the other.
After the Toljabee, the parents share most of the Tol food with the guests and relatives. It is a Korean custom that when the guests and neighbours receive the food they say kind words and wish for the child's longevity and good fortune. They also give presents such as a gold ring, clothes, or toys.

Ch'aekryae (Text Completion Party)
This ritual has disappeared these days. In the past, when a child went to a Korean traditional type of school (seodang) and finished studying a book, the mother usually brought rice cakes and other foods that she prepared to celebrate. The teacher and other students shared the foods together. The rice cake used on this occasion was a small sized osaek songp'yeon.
The wedding ceremony is one the most important events in one's life, marking the uniting of a man and a woman as husband and wife. According to tradition, before the wedding the bridegroom's family sends a box containing chaedan (wedding presents sent by the bridegroom's family for the bride's family) and a written marriage oath to the family of his bride. This box is called ham. Once the ham arrives at the bride's house, it is placed atop a rice-cake steamer in which bongchaetteok (steamed glutinous rice cake sprinkled with red bean powder) has been prepared and opened only after the family has bowed twice to the north.

Bongchaetteok is made with three measures of glutinous rice to one measure of red beans. The ingredients are placed in separate layers in a steamer, with the beans forming a topping upon which are placed seven jujubes in a circle at the centre.
Bongchaetteok is prepared to wish the couple a relationship that is as fast and tenacious as the glutinous rice that it is made from. The rice cake has two layers to symbolize a couple. The red beans are to ward off misfortune whereas the seven jujubes represent seven sons to wish the couple many sons and prosperity.

mangsang for 60th birthday 
The Hwaegap, or 60th birthday, has also been considered an especially important birthday celebration, for this is the day when one has completed the zodiacal cycle. In addition to the 12 animals are the 5 elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. Together, they form a 60-year (12 x 5) cycle in which the world moves. As such, a person's 60th birthday represents an extra special occasion. Even more important is the fact that, in the past, before the advent of modern medicine, not many people lived to be 60 years old.
Hwaegap Food 01
Hwaegap Food 03
Hwaegap Food 04
Hwaegap Food 05
Hwaegap Food 07 
A Hwaegap was therefore a time of great celebration when children honour their parents with a large feast and much merrymaking. . Relatives (usually led by the wife of the eldest son) prepare a big birthday table. They must set a sumptuous table of food called mansang, which means "a table to gaze at." This is the most extravagant of Korean table-settings. Fresh fruit, pan-fried fish, dried beef or fish, rice cakes, traditional Korean baked goods and many other foods are piled in 30-60 centimeter-tall round stacks, which are then placed in 2-3 colorful rows. Rice cakes include injeolmi (square rice cakes coated with bean flour), kaksackpyun (rice cakes with different colours), and julpyun.
With the parents seated at the main banquet table, sons and daughters, in order of age, bow and offer wine to their parents. After the direct descendants have performed this ritual, the father's younger brothers and their sons and then younger friends pay their respects in the same manner. While these rituals are being carried out, traditional music is usually played and professional entertainers sing songs, urging people to drink. 
Family members and relatives indulge in various activities to make the parents feel young, often dressing like small children and dancing and singing songs. In the old days, guests would compete in composing poetry or songs in celebration of the occasion.
 In the past, years after the 60th birthday, were regarded as extra years and although subsequent birthdays called for a celebration, they were not observed as lavishly as the Hwaegap party. Upon the 70th birthday, or "gohui," meaning old and rare, another celebration equal in scale with the Hwaegap was celebrated.
And with this I end my little adventure into “tteok culture.” I shall write about the rites for the festivals and ancestral worship as well as the tteok of other regions in my next post. So if you want to know more do stop by again.But do please leave some comments so that I know whether you like my posts or not. I would also like to know if you prefer me to write on Korean Culture or Korean Tourism.

Special thanks and appreciation to the following:
Photos and articles © courtesy:
http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_6.jsp?cid=630938 other.html

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Discovering Gyeongsangbuk-do – Gyeongju-si Part 5

Today I shall be finishing up whatever there’s left of Gyeongju to explore. OMG it has taken me 5 posts just to talk about Gyeongju, it’s the record, so far the most I’ve done on one destination is three. Sorry if I got carried away but there’s so much to discover about Geongju.
Before going any further, I’ve got to remind you about something exciting, that’s going to happen in Gyeongju next year.


By the way did you know that Gyeongju won the bid to host the World Taekwondo Championships in 2011, that’s next year? It was decided at the WTF Council meeting held in Cairo, Egypt on November 29, 2009.

The World Taekwondo Championships are an eight-day biennial event in which about 10,000 players and staff from 150 countries participate. It appears that Korea would draw a huge number of Taekwondo enthusiasts from around the world as the country of origin of the martial arts.

This marks the 2nd time that the World Taekwondo Championships will be held in Korea since 2001. It is expected that Gyeongju, a historical and cultural city, from which Taekwondo originated would improve the international reputation of the championships. Through this prestigious international event, Gyeongju would make a big step forward to become one of the world leaders in international sports.

So that should be excuse enough for you, taekwondo enthusiasts, to visit Gyeongju next year.

How about visiting some famous old houses and a seowon next?

Gyeongju  Wolamjae
Wolamjae (General Kim Ho’s house)

General Kim Ho was born in Sikhye-dong, not far from Wolamjae in 1534 (the year of the horse). Kim Ho was courageous and had a special talent for memorizing every phrase that he read after his teacher. Without formal education in the arts, he was able to master archery.

In 1570, during the reign of King Seonjo, he passed the national exam for eligibility for one of the highest government positions but he refused to take the position in order to fulfill his noble cause instead. After the Imjin War broke out, Dongraebu was taken over by Japanese forces on April 14. On April 18, the forces invaded Yangsan, Eonyang on the 20th, Gyeongju on the 21st , Ulsan on the 23rd, and Milyang on the 27th. At that time, Kim Ho raised an army with his three sons and his close friends, Choi Sin Rin and Jeong Geuk Hu, in the cause of loyalty. After successfully defeating the Japanese forces, Kim Ho was appointed “Busan Cheomsa” and ordered by the nation to interrupt the logistic supports of the Japanese forces and block their route between the inland and the ocean.

General Ho was shot and killed by the enemy during battle. His loyalty and his acclaim are well described in the books “Donggyeongji” and “Yeojiseungram.” Eight years after his death, the King acknowledged the abilities of Kim Ho’s three sons and awarded them with government positions.

Gyeongju Dongnakdang House Outer Gate
Gyeongju Dongnakdang House 02

Dongnakdang, Treasure No.413, located about 700 m away from Oksan Seowon, is the old house of Hwejae Yi Eon Jeok, a scholar of the doctrines of Chu Tzu.
Dongnakdang is now the name of this entire house, though it originally applied only to the sarangchae (mens' quarters) and the entire building area itself is called ‘Dongnakdang Ilgwak.’

The house was built in 1516 by Yi Eonjeok after he retired from official service at the age of 40. The place is closed and hidden. The structure seems to reflect the emotional status of Hwejae at the time who wanted to be secluded from the world. The overall height of the house was lower than the average at that time.
 Gyeongju  Gyejeong pavilion

The house is particularly notable for the beautiful Gyejeong (Brook Pavilion) overlooking a stream on the east side of the house. Other important parts of the home include the sadang (ancestral shrine) located at the rear of the property, and an  old Jogakja tree brought to this location from China approximately 470 years ago.

While the tree is beautiful, only the bottom portion and two branches are now living. The tree is said to have been planted by Hwejae Yi Eon Jeok after he was given the seed by a friend who visited China in 1532.
The house stands just a few hundred meters north of Oksan Seowon, which is itself dedicated to Yi Eonjeok
  Gyeongju Oksan Seowon Academy Yeongnangmun, the front gate

Don’t know about you but I just love visiting ‘seowans’. Oksan Seowon was completed in 1572 in honor of Yi Eonjeok, a great Korean Neo-Confucian philosopher who stressed the primacy of material force over principle. It was established by his disciples on a site a few hundred meters to the south of Dongnakdang, the house where Yi Eonjeok lived during the later part of his life.

The academy is located on an auspicious site with mountains on three sides and a stream flowing near the main entrance. Interestingly, this is the same stream that runs past the Gyejeong pavilion at Dongnakdang house, which Yi Eonjeok used as a site for contemplation and self-reflection
 GyeongjuShrine to Yi Eonjeok Cheinmyo

Gyeongju Oksan Seowon Academy Min-gujae, the east student dormitory.
  Gyeongju Oksan Seowon Academy Amsujae, the west student dormitory.
    Gyeongju Oksan Seowon Academy Guindang lecture hall.

The building layout is typical of most academies. The shrine to Yi Eonjeok sits at the highest point of the site, surrounded by an earthen wall connected to the outer wall. South of the shrine is a quadrangle of buildings, consisting of two dormitories to the east and west, a lecture hall to the north, and a study hall to the south.

Oksan Seowon is also famous for preserving an intact copy of the Samguksagi, a history of early Korea, listed as a national treasure.
Gyeongju The lecture hall. 'Seoak Seowon'

Another seowan to be found in Gyeongju, which is dedicated to the Silla-era general Kim Yusin, the Seoak Seowon, is only a few hundred meters east of King Muyeol's tomb.

Gyeongju  Suojae’

Suojae is the house of travel writer Lee Jae Ho, who rebuilt five old historically valuable houses in Gyeongju. He moved to Gyeongju in 1994 to promote the valuable natural surroundings and the cultural and human histories of Gyeongju to the world. He restored traditional Korean houses copying those in Chilgok, North Gyeongsang Province, Masan, and Kimjae in North Jeolla Province, all of which are unique and are of significant value.
Suojae was named by Jeong Yak Hyeon, the eldest brother of Da-san Jeong Yak Yong. Suojae denotes that among all those things that bond with a person, the most important thing is the person himself/herself.

Gyeongju  Suojae 01

The following is the excerpt from Jeong Yak Yong’s ‘Yeo Yu Dang Jeon Seo.’ (The original title is ‘Suojaegi.’)

You cannot find anything more worth preserving and maintaining than your mind. No one can steal my feet, so I don’t have to worry about losing my feet. No one can run off with my house, so I don’t have to worry about losing my house. Who can steal the trees in my yard?

One day, Jeong Yak Yong saw his eldest brother Jeong Yak Hyun sitting in his house ‘Suojae’ and realized that his brother had never lost his identity and always tried to maintain his composure. That showed him why his brother had named the house ‘Suojae.’ Jeong Yak Yong and his elder brother Jeong Yak Jeon later moved to their eldest brother’s house, explaining they wanted to learn from their eldest brother in ‘Suojae.’

Touched by Jeong Yak Yong’s story, Lee Jae Ho also named his house ‘Suojae’ in an attempt to maintain composure.

His front yard is thick with a variety of trees such as cherry, peach, pear, and thorny ash. Bamboo and pine trees are found in the backyard.

Behind the house, there is a pine forest and about 100m away from the house is the Royal Tomb of King Hyogong. Viewing the sunset from the house is another joy of visiting the house.
In the evening, have drinks with friends or family members in the Ondol bang (room) and listen to the sound of a ‘Daegeum’ (a large transverse bamboo flute).
 Gyeongju Silla cultural festival 01  Silla Cultural Festival

A significant portion of Gyeongju's tourist traffic is due to the city's successful promotion of itself as a site for various festivals, conferences, and competitions.

Gyeongju Silla cultural festival

Every year since 1962 a Silla Cultural Festival has been held in October to celebrate and honour the dynasty's history and culture. It is one of the major festivals of Korea. It features athletic events, folk games, music, dance, literary contests and Buddhist religious ceremonies.

These festivals are held with the aim of stimulating appreciation for the spirit of the Silla people by reviving its thousand-year culture and to help create a better culture for modern times by remembering the artistic wisdom and national courage of the Silla. The festivals also revive the thousand- year Silla’s Buddhist spirit.

Gyeongju Cherry Blossom Marathon Race
Gyeongju Cherry Blossom Marathon Race 01

The Gyeongju Cherry Blossom Marathon, conducted under the fantastic canopy of cherry trees in full bloom, is organized by the Athletic Association of Gyeongju, with the aim of enhancing the physical fitness of its citizens. It is held every spring coinciding with the blossoming of the cherry trees.

Held under the fantastic blossoms of cherry trees, the Gyeongju Cherry Marathon is the only festival in Korea in which about 100 foreigners  participate amidst the millennial city of the Silla Kingdom. 

Gyeongju Traditional Alcohol and Rice Cake FestivalTraditional Alcohol and Rice Cake Festival

Don’t miss this festival if you are in Gyeongju around mid-April, it is a great chance to sample a great variety of the best of the traditional alcohols and rice cakes.

Yes, the opportunity to taste the products abound, but do take it easy on the wine! You’ll get to see how tteoks (rice cakes) are made and will even get the chance to try making some yourself.

Partly a cultural festival and partly a food festival, this event is also a great opportunity to get a feel through the various exhibitions of the importance that rice cakes play in the life of Koreans. For example, you’ll get to see that rice cakes are an essential element in the various traditional rituals performed to celebrate the important stages in one’s life such as the 100th day of a baby, the passage to adulthood, etc.

There are few Korean rites in which tteok is not present in one form or another. Considering this and the impressive variety of tteoks, it’s safe to say that there is an undeniable love affair between the Korean people and tteok.

At the festival, there will be food especially tteok, and liquor sampling of course, as well as the promotion of  the different brands of liquor produced in Gyeongju such as the Gyodong Beopju, Gyeongju Beopju, Sillaju, Hwanggeumju, Gyeongju Makgeolli (raw rice wine) etc. And like in most of the festivals there will be stage performances as well as competitions.

I think last year they had some publicity activities related to the epic TV drama series, “Queen Seondeok”  like the re-enactment of a dinner party scene in the palace with Queen Seondeok. There was even a Miss Gyeongbuk Pageant.

Gyeongju Silla Royal Palace
Gyeongju Filming set of drama Queen Seondeok 01

And now for the final curtain to my post, the filming location of the drama “Queen Seondeok.” Yes it was filmed on location in Geongju. Did you know it?

Gyeongju Filming set of drama Queen Seondeok 02 
Gyeongju Filming set of drama Queen Seondeok
The set of Queen Seondeok is the first ever set to be built in Gyeongju district for a drama.

Main Stage QS filming set
Traditional Story Park QS fillming setEmile Polis QS Filming Set Craftia QS Filming Set It was constructed on a permanent site at the Silla Millennium Park by using construction materials for traditional Korean houses, such as traditional tiles, material lumber and stones,  meant for a permanent structure so that tourists can continue to visit it even after the completion of the shooting of the drama.

With the completion of this set, a new tourist attraction has been added to Gyeongju’s already long list of tourist attractions which will further help boost tourism in Gyeongju. It is only befitting that the story of the 1st female King of Shilla be filmed in Gyeongju, the thousand year old ancient capital of Shilla.

King Jinpyeong did not have any sons to name as a successor to his throne. Thus he named his eldest daughter, Princess Deokman, to be his successor. This drama is about her life story and how she finally managed to gain the position of King, the first female king in the history of Korea, after a long and bitter struggle. If you have a chance do watch this drama, you can learn a bit of the history of Korea.

And so ends our extended visit to Gyeongju. See you around.

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