Issue 5: Twisted Korean Doughnuts + Crying in H-Mart
Spirals of cinnamon sugar sprinkled dough and a memoir about identity, grieving and the power of food
Welcome to Good Book/Good Bread! Every two weeks, I recommend a book I love, and bake a delicious bread (or doughnut!) that fits with an aspect of the story. This week: Crying in H-Mart and twisted cinnamon sugar doughnuts. Haven’t subscribed yet? Sign up here!
Part 1: Good Book
Setting the tone
Crying in H-Mart’s author, Michelle Zauner, is a musical artist who records under the name Japanese Breakfast. Let her dreamy Soft Sounds from Another Planet (link here) take you through this issue.
In a nutshell
Crying in H-Mart is a memoir from Michelle Zauner about her complicated relationship with her mother. It travels from Michelle’s childhood, through caring for her mother when she has cancer, and through the ensuing grief. Michelle grew up in Eugene, Oregon, with an American father and a Korean mother, and struggled with her identity and familial expectations. In her mid-twenties, while in the midst of launching her music career, she moves back to her childhood home to help care for her mother. Michelle navigates grief, loss and memory, aided in part by learning to cook the dishes her mother grew up with, finding ritual trips to Korean grocery store H-Mart playing an important role in her mourning.
Three things I liked about Crying in H-Mart
It highlights the role reversals that are part of growing older
Michelle includes some beautiful and heartbreaking descriptions of the shifting role she plays within her family dynamic. While becoming a caregiver for her mother is something she expects, she also ends up having to stay strong around her father. Overwhelmed by the reality of his wife dying, her father looks to Michelle to be emotionally supportive.
“He was an undesirable partner in a game with the highest of stakes and insurmountable odds,” she writes of coming home to find him looking to her for reassurance. Including this nuance of the relationship with her father here was really powerful in demonstrating how loss can alter family dynamics in surprising ways.
Michelle’s detail-oriented writing style
When I flipped to the author description halfway through reading Crying in H-Mart and learned Michelle was a musician, it made perfect sense to me. Her writing is incredibly lyrical and fluid, filled with hyper-specific, vivid details. This is especially true in her descriptions of food. She fills multiple pages bringing a single dish to life, and artfully connecting them to her memories. Towards the end of the book, she spends three pages describing herself making kimchi, and I was still left wanting more.
How Michelle develops new perspective about her mother’s affection
I found the most touching aspect of Crying in H-Mart to be the evolution Michelle experiences in understanding how her mother showed her love. When Michelle was young, she compared her mom to the “Mommy-Moms” of her classmates.
“A Mommy-Mom is someone who takes an interest in everything her child has to say even where is no actual way she gives a shit, who whisks you away to the doctor when you complain of the slightest ailment, who tells you ‘They’re just jealous’ if someone makes fun of you, or ‘you always look beautiful to me’ even if you don’t, or ‘I love this!’ when you give them a piece of crap for Christmas.”
As a child, Michelle wishes her mother could be more like a Mommy-Mom. But as an adult, she understands the ways her mother was showing her love that she couldn’t see clearly. Like when her mother mails leather cowboy boots to her at college. Once Michelle slips them on, she realizes her mother has already broken them in, wearing them around the house for days, smoothing out the hard edges to make them more comfortable for her daughter. This aspect of the book really resonated with me. I’ve been thinking a lot these days about the different ways people show their feelings, and how we can miss what someone is trying to tell us if it doesn’t line up with how we express ourselves.
If you liked Crying in H-Mart, read this:
Deep Creek by Pam Houston
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
“Now that she was gone, there was no one left to ask about these things. The knowledge left unrecorded died with her. What remained were documents and my memories, and now it was up to me to make sense of myself, aided by the signs she left behind. How cyclical and bittersweet for a child to retrace the image of their mother. For a subject to turn back to document their archivist.”
Part 2: Good Bread
Twisted dougnuts (kkwabaegi)
Why this bread for this book?
Maangchi is a very charismatic Korean-American YouTuber and food writer living in New York City. Michelle turns to Maangchi as a valuable resource when learning to cook Korean food. Given the role her knowledge played in supporting Michelle as she connected with her mother through cooking, it seemed a natural choice to pair one of Maangchi’s recipes with Crying in H-Mart. I chose kkwabaegi, a simple twisted doughnut coated with cinnamon sugar. Kkwabaegi are a well-known treat sold as a street snack and in bakeries. I know a doughnut is a bit of a stretch to classify as bread, but it has yeast in it and is delicious, so close enough!
Recipe and modifications:
You can view Maangchi’s kkwabaegi recipe here. I didn’t make any modifications because I’ve never made doughnuts before! I definitely have lots of room for improvement in terms of the twisting method compared to Maangchi’s beautiful photos of her kkwabaegi.
The very last step is really fun: once the doughnuts have been fried and rested for a few minutes, you shake them in a paper bag filled with cinnamon sugar to evenly coat. Me and my baking partner happily ate them on the couch at the end of a lazy Sunday.
Thanks for reading Good Book/Good Bread! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.