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  • Dining Table of Baekje Nobility vs Dining Table of Commoners

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  • Hanseong Baekje Museum’s “I am a chef of Baekje!”

    How can we make learning somber history easier and more interesting? This is a question all parents would have pondered regardless of whether their children are in elementary school just starting to learn about history or in the upper grades. In actual fact, the subject most children complain is difficult is not Mathematics or English but Social Studies. As a result, books that relate history in an interesting way have gained popularity recently. However, these books are of no help to parents who have left their studies behind a long time ago. I have just visited a place that will impart history to these children in a more interesting way.

    The Hanseong Baekje Museum within Songpa-gu Olympic Park organized a winter vacation workshop, “I am a chef of Baekje” targeted at elementary school students. From the 15th, participants can learn more about history by exploring the museum’s exhibition halls together with the museum’s teachers, watching plays and enjoying hands-on culinary experience. “In terms of food, what is the difference between the Stone Age and New Stonge Age?” “During the Stone Age, food was obtained by collecting and hunting, by the time of the New Stone Age man started to practice agriculture and rear livestock.” Observing the workshop, presentations were very well done. The children could easily answer the question as they were on topics they would have read about in books. However, it was evident that children who were well read had better background knowledge.

    “Do all of you use chopsticks and spoons? There is no other country that uses chopsticks and spoons together like us. Why is that?” “Because we eat a wide variety of food including rice and side dishes…” “That is correct, spoons are commonly used in northern regions. These regions are cold and use spoons, as they tend to eat hot dishes like soups. On the other hand, warmer regions in the south do not each such hot dishes. The soups they drink tend to be lukewarm and they usually use chopsticks to eat the ingredients in the soup and drink the soup direct from the bowl. Our country has four seasons and being in the middle, adopted the customs of both the north and the south. That is why we use both chopsticks and spoons.”

    Through the history of food we are reminded of the importance of food in our culture. After listening to this brief explanation about food, the group moved on to the Hanseong Baekje Museum exhibition halls where we learned more about what the people of Baekje ate and how this is related to our eating habits today.

    The history of Baekje brought alive through drama and food. “This is the dining table of the commoner. You can try the dishes.” “So this is aukjuk, and this is called dongchimi kimchi?” “Yes. These are the dishes made at the wooden furnace of the commoner.” “The wooden furnace has the merit of serving the dual purposes of heating and cooking.”

    At the end of the lesson at the exhibition hall, it was time for the drama skit in the classroom. The skit told the story of Baekje from the founding of the nation to its food. Thanks to the adlibs and the acting skills of the actors, the children enjoyed the skit immensely. Participating in the skit with the actors and the games incorporated into the program made for an even more enjoyable experience. So, what type of food did the people of Baekje eat? During early Baekje, the people of Baekje usually ate multigrain rice that included millet and barley. With the development of rice cultivation, rice became the staple food and they probably ate the same type of rice we eat today. As the level of production of rice was still low, the commoners usually ate porridge whilst the nobility ate rice cooked in earthenware steamers. Side dishes consisted mainly of pickled food such as pickled anchovies, salted vegetables, beanpaste and fermented fish. The people of Baekje also made ricecakes. Steamed ricecake made from cornflour, injeolmi or jeolpyeon made from made from pounded steamed ricecake were commonly eaten. During this winter vacation workshop “I am a chef of Bakeje!” participants were also able to try dishes enjoyed by the people of Baekje, such as yakbab, jeolpyeon, and dongchimi. The children also tried slicing the large jeolpyeon and making pretty designs with the ricecake mold. They carefully placed the food on serving trays to share with their parents.

    Hanseong, the old capital of Baekje, is located in the vicinity of today’s Olympic Park. Relics from the Baekje period are exhibited at the Hanseong Bakjae Museum opened last year. The museum has comprehensive facilities with classrooms that are ideal for experiential workshops. Currently, the Hanseong Baekje Museum has a variety of programs including permanent exhibition and movie screenings, and is definitely a place worth visiting during the winter vacation. Please refer the museum’s homepage (http://baekjemuseum.seoul.go.kr/eng/) for more information about exhibitions and events.

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