Whatever You Call It, It Tastes Like Grief

Crying in H Mart is not an unpacking of culinary success; indeed, it’s mostly a catalog of failures.

Zauner doesn’t know how to prepare doenjang jjigae or jatjuk, tteokguk, or even kimchi — foods it becomes important that Zauner prepare correctly for her mother, Chongmi, whose appetite is waning following two rounds of chemotherapy for a rare form of cancer. As the narrative unfolds — as Zauner describes her relationship with her mother and Korean food as a child, and details the transformation of both after Chongmi’s diagnosis — Zauner’s limitations as a cook become a proxy for her sense of exclusion from her heritage. When Chongmi’s health does not improve, Zauner wonders: “Without my mother, did I have any real claim to Korea or her family?” Chongmi’s diagnosis and eventual death give Zauner a reason to explore the question, and, ultimately, find an answer.

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Wynter K Miller

Wynter K Miller

Wynter K Miller is an editor and writer in California. @wynterkm