While I’m not much of a Non-Fiction reader, the second I found out there would be a book about Korean food by a Korean-American author, I had to have it. Much thanks to Aaknopf for gifting me an Advanced Readers Copy (ARC) so I could read it before the pub date!
Crying in H-Mart is about how Zauner grieved and honored (and continues to honor) her mother through Korean food and using it as a connection to her Korean heritage. Memoirs are a difficult genre for me since I either need to be wow-ed by the writing or know the author for me to be emotionally invested in the book. While I wasn’t blown away by Zauner’s writing, because the book is largely about Korean food, I couldn’t help but love it. Korean food is such a big part of my life and how I continue to find comfort. It’s impossible to read the book without thinking of your own mother’s death so I found myself putting down the book to bawl my eyes out or send a quick Kakao to my umma. There were many passages from the book that made me smile as I nodded my head in agreement. There is no recipe for Korean food. We continue to add sesame oil, gochujang, soy sauce, garlic, red pepper flakes, sugar, over and over again until the food smells and tastes “just right.” Whenever I visit H-Mart, just like it’d be a crime to purchase Lotte Choco pies (only Orion!) when I look for my staples, it’s always Soonchang gochujang, Kadoya sesame oil, Kikkoman soy sauce I buy, the same ones my mom used in when she cooked for us. While reading, I thought of my 친 grandmother often. She’s still alive, but old and suffering from Parkinson’s disease. She was famous for her kimchi and won many contests. She loved cooking for us. Every holiday we spent with our grandparents, we feasted on all kinds of Korean food for days. While she was an impeccable cook, my favorite dish of hers was kimchi jjigae. Even my cousins knew my obsession with it so they would push the bowl of kimchi jjigae my way and feast on other meats and noodles. No one can make this dish like hers, not even my mom. And every single time we visited them in Seoul, she would have a big pot of piping hot kimchi jiggae on the stove just for me. I last saw her in 2014 and even at her old and frail age, she had a pot of kimchi jjigae on the stove awaiting.
literally cannot live without Korean food. Is it because I’m Korean? Possibly. But also because I felt my umma and halmoni’s unconditional love through the food they cooked. Once they comment on my chubbiness and tell me I need to lose weight, they bring out all these banchans and kimchi jjigae (my favorite) and tell me to eat more which to this day, confuses me! Why tell me I’m fat then tell me to eat more?? My mom only cooked Korean food for us growing up. In the few attempts she tried cooking American food, it was always with a Korean twist. Now as a thirty-something-year-old, I show the love I have towards my loved ones through Korean food (sorry hubs, you only get Korean food from me).
Last week, I was in Utah with my siblings. Because I love them(even though they are so annoying), I cooked a BIG pot of doenjang jjigae because they love the way I make it. Bought the most expensive beef, organic tofu, and boiled for an hour with all the staple ingredients until it tasted “just right.” Asians show their love through food. We make blunt comments on one’s weight and appearance, even love life. But because we show our love through food, we always want to know if you ate. And even if you did eat, we’re still going to insist you eat something we have prepared for you. Thank you, Michelle Zauner, for sharing this book with the world. Thank you for reminding me to appreciate my mother. And for inspiring me to show the love I have towards my loved ones through food.
I was gifted a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.