May 8, 2023 / CPOVs

CP Book Club: Crying in H Mart and the Power of Food

Mia Harvey, Senior Brand Manager

The women of my family often communicate via food. Texts with my mom and emails with her mother are frequently interspersed with recipes, photos of what we’ve cooked, and interesting ingredients we’ve found. Cookbooks and spices are gifts. Food is celebratory, and certain menu items are long-held traditions – as we pass around overflowing plates and boxes of homemade baked goods, “food is love” is said to justify the process and pure quantity of food. 

Michelle Zauner incites self-reflection around the connective power between food, family, and identity in her memoir, Crying in H Mart. Chosen in celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, CP’s May Book Club selection explores Zauner’s relationship with her overbearing mother, Chongmi, and her experience growing up as a Korean American in Eugene, Oregon in a deeply personal memoir brought to life through dish after dish of traditional Korean meals.

“Food was how my mother expressed her love. No matter how critical or cruel she could seem—constantly pushing me to meet her intractable expectations—I could always feel her affection radiating from the lunches she packed and the meals she prepared for me just the way I liked them.”

When Chongmi is diagnosed with cancer, the interconnection between mother, daughter, and food causes Zauner to return to the culture and cuisine of her childhood. As she revisits the traditions and rituals she had so often been served by her mother and other female relatives, she reconnects with Chongmi and her Korean heritage. Zauner’s devastating and unfiltered telling of Chongmi’s slow death is documented alongside the meals she cooked, as she embraced her mother and hoped to heal her through the power of Korean dishes. Food binds Zauner to her mother, both before and after her death.

Zauner brings us into the intense, emotional experience following Chongmi’s death of continuing to connect to her Korean heritage, and as a result, finding herself. Her raw, unfiltered storytelling leaves us feeling the quiet, dark devastation felt after a loss. She continues to embrace food in an effort to prevent death’s theft of the memory of her mother and finds both connection and a new labyrinth of grief in the process of discovering and creating the meals introduced to her by Chongmi. 

“Sobbing near the dry goods, asking myself, am I even Korean anymore if there’s no one left to call and ask which brand of seaweed we used to buy?”

Throughout reading Crying in H Mart, I was constantly reminded of “food is love.” On top of the connection that food creates, it also allows us a glimpse into other cultures and stories. Crying in H Mart did all of the above, as well as serving as a poignant tribute to Zauner’s mother. A moving memoir of family, diasporic culture, and cuisine, Crying in H Mart is a tender exploration of the mother-daughter relationship and identity as a Korean American.