Michelle Zauner, author behind the soul-stirring New York Times bestseller 'Crying in H Mart' (2021) / Courtesy of Munhakdongne Publishing

Throughout her early life, Michelle Zauner’s biennial summer escape to Korea was a journey filled with stuffy heat, live seafood dishes and her halmoni’s (grandmother) cozy three-bedroom apartment.

These trips from her home in Oregon to Seoul were a consistent thread connecting Zauner, a biracial Asian American child, to the Korean side of her family. During the six-week visits, she and her mother would stay with her halmoni and two aunts, filling the already snug apartment with jubilant “hwatu” card game nights and the fermented, garlic-infused aromas of homemade dishes.

This cherished summertime ritual was upended in her teens after her grandmother’s death. And just years later, Zauner, in her early 20s, faced the loss of both her mother and aunt to cancer.

From 2014 onward, she immersed herself in a series of creative pursuits — the endeavors that served not only to navigate the waves of grief but to gather “evidence that the Korean half of my identity didn’t die when they did.”

She penned the soul-stirring New York Times bestseller “Crying in H Mart” (2021), memorializing her fraught and volatile relationship with her late mother as the two wandered lost without fully recognizing their cultural divide. Under the band Japanese Breakfast, she crafted dreamy music as both an ode to her pain and a celebration of eventual joy, culminating in two Grammy nominations for her third album, “Jubilee.”

And perhaps most profoundly, she sought out food that embodied memories hovering on the brink of fading away.

“For a long time, I couldn’t remember my mother before she was sick because the last concentrated period I spent with her was as her caregiver. That was really heartbreaking 합법 for me,” Zauner told The Korea Times in an interview held before a talk at the recently-ended Seoul International Book Fair, her first major literary event in the country.

“Then, when I started going to H Mart [the Korean American supermarket chain], I found a can of ‘pat’ [red bean] and suddenly had a very visceral image of my mother in a sundress, looking very healthy with long hair, grinding an ice machine and laughing as she made ‘patbingsu’ [red bean shaved ice].”

That was when it hit her: if she kept coming back to these aisles, stuffed with fermented sauces, dried seafood and bundles of scallions, she could reclaim with her body the spirited image of her now-gone mother — in the kitchen, in the garage with a camp stove and in the living room of her grandmother’s apartment.

So, she returned again and again to savor those flavors that encapsulated her memories.

“I realized if I don’t do this kind of upkeep, I was going to lose this part of myself. For me, it was like cultural maintenance,” the 35-year-old recalled.

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