‘Korea No. 1’: The Competition Docuseries Explores Korea’s Oldest Traditions

Many traditions in South Korea are hundreds of years old and involve physically demanding work. These practices have been passed down through family and community. They are part of the national cultural heritage protected and listed as a practiced representation, expression, knowledge or skill. The people of Korea use unique equipment and processes to create the products that they have been making for many years. It’s an important tradition to uphold their work of art, their creations. They do not rely on industrial machines or derail from their traditional roles as these practices are kept in families or communities. 

“Korea No.1” is a competitive documentary series where the celebrity hosts learn about the cultural heritage of different locations, while competing to be the number one apprentice. They want to be number one in South Korea for the most energy invested into the roles they take on in each episode. The celebrities are an actor named Lee Kwang-soo, a comedian named Yoo Jae-suk, and a volleyball player named Kim Yeon-koung. They visit establishments in the Jangheung, Damyang, Shinan, Seocheon, Namhae, Naju, Busan and Wonju regions. There are eight episodes total and each is in a different location and has its own traditions. The traditions are Giwa, Jang, Getbol, Mosi, Jukbangryeom Anchovy, Jjock, Makgeolli and Najeonchilgi.

Courtesy of Netflix.

In the first episode, they come to Jangheung in South Korea to learn about Giwa. Giwa is a clay roof tile made from either traditional or machine-made clay. This particular process is derived from from traditional clay roof tiles which have been around since the Three Kingdoms period. The differences between machine-made and traditional are the sizes and the colors. Traditional tiles have various sizes and colors while machine-made tiles all have the same sizes and colors. Kim Chang-dae is a Jewajang who teaches the celebrity hosts about the process of making Giwa. Kim Chang-dae is a Giwa master and the only designated Jewajang in Korea. Giwa is used for protection against rain and wind, and it has been used in Gyeongbokgung Palace. 

While Kwang-soo, Jae-suk and Yeon-koung learn more about Giwa, they have to attempt to create one of the roof tiles. They quickly learn that it is physically demanding, and they make a few mistakes while having fun. The process of making Giwa typically involves curved tiles which means the clay has to be dried while standing up in a circle to be broken into four pieces of roof tiles. Some clay tiles will have decorative symbols stamped to represent the different cultures. One stamp, the dragon stamp, is used only for royal traditions or buildings. To learn more about this traditional process, you should check out the episode. The celebrity hosts learned a lot, and one of the three was given the number one by the Jewajang.

In the second episode, Kwang-soo, Jae-suk and Yeon-koung travel to a new location, Damyang. They have come to learn how to make Korean sauces. Kin Sun-do is the sauce master, and she has been in this business for 50 years. This is another cultural practice that has been in this family for 370 years. The Korean sauces they make are soybean paste, ganjang and gochujang. Each of the sauces is made and stored inside a big pot and must be salty. Kin Sun-do has one special sauce that is 350 years old and to find out which sauce that is, you’ll have to watch the documentary. Sauces are not the only thing they make. They also make bamboo salt to incorporate into their sauces. 

Courtesy of Netflix.

The celebrity hosts are put to work making bamboo salt and sauces. Kin Sun-do is also very careful of who can be near her pots as she brings a shaman to bless and date her sauces, so they can be delicious and ready in 60 days. Is this activity of making sauces demanding like the first episode? You will have to find out and see what kind of work is involved and how it’s done. As much as it is educational, the celebrity hosts have fun and have funny moments like Sun-do being a scary woman who might get mad at them if they spill a single drop of sauce. To learn more about “Korea No. 1,” you can watch the show for yourself and see who gets number one.

“Korea No. 1” is an excellent educational show that teaches us about different heritages and traditions. I have enjoyed watching each episode thoroughly because the hosts make so many mistakes, and there are many hilarious moments. There is never a dull moment with these three, and they never complain about their efforts. I do like the fact that they compete to be number one as well as learn about each heritage and try new food while they are at the location. I particularly enjoyed the third episode because it is a never-ending, hilarious moment of the celebrity hosts being stuck in the mud, trying to catch octopuses. I’m sure you’ll laugh, learn and see plenty of new things that you’ve never seen before.

“Korea No. 1” is available to stream on Netflix.

By Ayla Hooper

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