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Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner On ‘Crying In H Mart’

Recording artist Michelle Zauner (L) of Japanese Breakfast performs with drummer Craig Hendrix at the Intersect music festival at the Las Vegas Festival Grounds in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Recording artist Michelle Zauner (L) of Japanese Breakfast performs with drummer Craig Hendrix at the Intersect music festival at the Las Vegas Festival Grounds in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Food plays an important role in how we connect with our friends and family, our heritage and the world around us.

Michelle Zauner is someone who knows that. Many know her better as the indie musician “Japanese Breakfast.”

But she has a new project—a memoir—that tells the story of her mother’s passing. In it, Zauner spends time thinking about how to remember her mother, especially as it relates to the food they ate and their Korean heritage. It’s based on an essay she wrote for The New Yorker:

Ever since my mom died, I cry in H Mart. For those of you who don’t know, H Mart is a supermarket chain that specializes in Asian food. The “H” stands for han ah reum, a Korean phrase that roughly translates to “one arm full of groceries.” H Mart is where parachute kids go to get the exact brand of instant noodles that reminds them of home. It’s where Korean families buy rice cakes to make tteokguk, a beef soup that brings in the new year. It’s the only place where you can find a giant vat of peeled garlic, because it’s the only place that truly understands how much garlic you’ll need for the kind of food your people eat. H Mart is freedom from the single-aisle “ethnic” section in regular grocery stores. They don’t prop Goya beans next to bottles of sriracha here. Instead, you’ll likely find me crying by the banchan refrigerators, remembering the taste of my mom’s soy-sauce eggs and cold radish soup. Or in the freezer section, holding a stack of dumpling skins, thinking of all the hours that Mom and I spent at the kitchen table folding minced pork and chives into the thin dough. Sobbing near the dry goods, asking myself, “Am I even Korean anymore if there’s no one left in my life to call and ask which brand of seaweed we used to buy?”

We talk with Michelle Zauner about “Crying in H Mart” and mourning a loved one through food.

Axios’ Niala Boodhoo hosts this show. 

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