“ Crying in H Mart ” taught me the value of eating during grief

When I first read “Crying in H Mart”, the first non-fiction book by musician Michelle Zauner (also known as the singer of the Japanese Breakfast), the idea of ​​death was pretty abstract to me. In the book, she recounts the many times she has used food and eating to center herself under uncertain circumstances: when she struggled to meet her family’s high expectations, and when she took on the challenge of take care of her mother as she slowly died. a terminal illness. In his grief, Zauner finds solace by making pine nut porridge, watching families shop for snacks at the H Mart, and digging into fresh seafood at a fish market in Busan, South Korea. . Zauner follows her desires, hoping the track will lead her towards closure.

Her grief was abstract to me, and then, when my grandfather fell ill, I suddenly understood what she meant.

I’m writing this week’s newsletter in one of the quieter pockets of Illinois, the place where my family ended up when they came here in 1975. It’s the kind of place that you forces you to drive everywhere; where big box stores open and close and become other big box stores, their changes as imperceptible from afar as the slow melting of glaciers. Growing up, I used to come back to this place for baptisms and weddings; At this point in my life, I come back more and more to say goodbye to the people I love, as I do now with my grandfather. Even though the reason I go back upstream to my birthplace is different, the way my family and I care here remains the same. We eat or we talk about eating.

At my grandparents’ house, the kitchen counter is loaded with snacks. When we step out to Costco, Target, and one of the few Asian grocers in town, we buy whatever catches our eyes: Dried Cherries, Novelty Cheez-Its, Sriracha Almonds, Vegan Puddings. Between and after meals, while talking to loved ones about school, work and death, I turn to the counter and mindlessly flip through bags as if browsing a record store.

When we are not snacking, we are eating Vietnamese home cooking. We pour Maggi seasoning sauce over steamed silky rice rolls filled with ginger shrimp. We drink bowls of fish and pineapple broth. We refresh the spring rolls in the toaster oven and eat them over fluffy rice noodles.

The town of Rust Belt where my grandparents live has been depressed and in decline for decades, and things that are common on the coasts happen late, if at all. I made a game of looking for trendy stuff, tastes that seem so anachronistic here: cold coffee, veggie burgers, al pastor tacos, salted duck egg crisps. They make me feel like I’m somewhere else – somewhere outside of liminal, runaway-like space, between death and undeath.

Zauner concludes her memoir with a trip to her mother’s native South Korea, where she feasts on fried chicken, abalone, mild tofu stew, and bottle after bottle of soju. It is the first time that she is there without a parent to translate. Yet Zauner is able to embrace the people and places that his mother knew, takes in their particular aromas and stamps. She finds there something beyond death and leaves the reader to contemplate where this place might be for them.

Like her, I traveled to the places where my grandfather lived when I made trips to the homeland as a teenager, even though I still felt like a tourist, unable to fully understand the meaning of this trip. I had previously thought that grief is a feeling that paralyzes you in a haze of sentimentality, that it fixes you in place until you are fully able to process your loss. But now I wonder if one of its virtues is that it irrevocably changes the way you perceive touch, smell and taste. Contrary to what I thought before, grief takes you to a whole new place.

On the podcast

Sheldon Simeon, chef and owner of Tin Roof restaurants and two-time ‘Top Chef’ finalist, talks Hawaiian cuisine on the Extra Spicy podcast: what it is, what it isn’t and how to learn how to cook it. new cookbook, “Cook Real Hawai’i”.

Kevin J. Miyazak

Justin is flying solo this week, and he’s soaring with an interview with Hawaiian chef Sheldon Simeon, who called to talk about his new cookbook, “Cook Real Hawai’i.” Justin talks to Simeon about the relationship between tourism and the continental image of island cuisine, which as you can imagine can be very heavy. Simeon seeks to reclaim cooking for his fellow Hawaiians – to truly capture the multicultural nuances of what people actually eat there. Listen and subscribe here.

What I am eating

I visited Ju-Ni to check out the new exterior of the sushi restaurant omakase program, which was phenomenal. Perched in a park outside the restaurant, I sampled the freshest sushi I’ve eaten in a year. The burnt king salmon melted in my mouth, the finely grated monkfish liver was as rich as butter, and vegan miso soup showered me with pure, plant-based umami.

At Ernest’s, Brandon Rice’s new restaurant in the Mission District, I had the $ 95 Rich Table-style chef’s choice dinner, and a seemingly endless parade of sumptuous food arrived at the table. Rice’s menu focuses on the local and the season, with many elements borrowed from Mexican, Chinese and Japanese cuisines. Highlights included the most pristine oysters I’ve ever had in my life and the rare Liberty Farm duck breast served with a crunchy duck tongue salad.

Recommended reading

• Experience Esther Mobley’s deep dive into a new San Francisco vineyard by the Two Eighty Project, the start of a larger vision of food education at Alemany Farm. The founders want to prove that you can make delicious wine in the city.

• Writer Ryan Broderick explains why these really aggravating viral videos of people making filthy, ridiculous food (think: ice cream in the bathroom) are proliferating: It’s because they are profitable! If anything, Broderick’s post should be another reminder that you should just stop sharing them and support a “content economy now built around videos of beautiful white women in loosely unfurnished, bland California homes.” doing disgusting things to food. “

• At Bitch Media, Andréa Becker interviews food expert and cultural critic Dr. Emily JH Contois about her first book, “Diners, Dudes, and Diets: How Gender & Power Collide in Food Media & Culture”. The Dude archetype still has a lot to teach us! You can also listen to Dr. Contois on Extra Spicy.

Bite Curious is a weekly newsletter from The Chronicle’s restaurant critic, Soleil Ho, delivered to inboxes Monday mornings. Follow us on twitter: @Hooleil

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