Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner tells of the joy and catharsis of food at a time of grief – Laura Waddell
In the immediate aftermath of shocking events, hot sweet tea is said to help but it’s the ferrying back and forth of cups and kettles that gives people something to do, some moments of purpose, when life all around feels newly bent out of shape, all strange and upended.
Furthermore, making a cup of tea requires little from the besieged brain. It means taking one simple step after another, and that is all. Food is a comfort, not only for its nourishing properties, but for the guidance of its routines and rituals.
This entwinement of food and grief are at the heart of Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner (otherwise known as musician Japanese Breakfast). A memoir about the loss of her mother to cancer, it is also a tribute to the role of food in our lives.
Prior to her mother’s condition worsening, Zauner catalogues the meals and supplements taken each day, made with care by visiting friends and relatives, before her appetite slips away.
Later, after the funeral and a road trip with her father where they try to eat their feelings, Zauner begins to cook in earnest. She throws herself into the laborious, therapeutic process of making hearty meals for those around her and attempts dishes which evoke memories of her family congregating in Seoul.
Feeling the desire to preserve the traditions and domestic habits of her mother, and having also now inherited a kimchi fridge, she describes turning for guidance to Korean cuisine YouTuber Maangchi.
“Each day after work, I prepared a new recipe from her catalogue. Sometimes, I followed her step by step, carefully measuring, pausing, and rewinding to get it exactly right. Other times, I picked a dish, refamiliarised myself with the ingredients, and let the video play in the background as my hands and taste buds took over from memory.”
Like all good food writing, Zauner’s debut book comes from the perspective of being open and honest about life’s ups and downs, making savouring the moment and the flavours within all the more joyous and cathartic to experience. Crying in H Mart is as affecting as it is appetising.
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