Features

South Korea with Michelle Zauner

Imagine you’re in Korea with the author of Crying in H Mart

Travel to South Korea with Michelle Zauner

Barbora Mrazkova

Barbora Mrazkova

We’re living vicariously through our authors and their stories set around the world! So far, we’ve traveled to France with Sanaë Lemoine, Indonesia with Jesse Q. Sutanto, Morocco with Laila Lalami, Malaysia with Zen Cho, Jamaica with Nicola Yoon, and Antarctica with Maggie Shipstead and Julian Sancton.

This week we’re in South Korea, and we asked Michelle Zauner to share her favorite places and memories. Michelle is a singer and guitarist who creates dreamy, shoegaze-inspired indie pop under the name Japanese Breakfast. She is the author of the viral 2018 New Yorker essay and the new memoir, Crying in H Mart. Her book is an unflinching, powerful story about growing up Korean American, losing her mother, and forging her own identity.

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By Michelle Zauner
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What is one of your favorite memories of being in Korea?

One of my more recent favorite memories is of traveling to Jeonju with my aunt and uncle. After my mother passed away, my aunt and I became a lot closer, and I’ve really grown to cherish the relationship we formed together as adults. Jeonju is known as South Korea’s food capital. We checked into a traditional Hanok and spent all night eating and drinking at a restaurant around the corner. We had jeonju bibimbap, an elaborate, mixed rice dish served with many colorful cooked vegetables and beef tartar, and local jeonju makgeolli from a seemingly bottomless copper kettle.

What is your favorite place in Korea to visit?

I love to visit Gwangjang Market, a long standing, sprawling outdoor market I wrote about in the book. It has some of the most wonderful street food and old school vibes. I also love to hang out in Hongdae which is the sort of artsier, hipster district where most of the music venues and vinyl bars are. Nogari Alley in Euljiro is also popping for drinking and eating outside.

You will absolutely have to do karaoke, and you will absolutely have to learn how to nurse a soju hangover.

What are the places you love returning to?

Gosh, there’s this dak galbi place we discovered in Hongdae that I can’t remember the name of… Essentially it’s chicken barbecue that you cook on a grill at your table and dip into a large ring of melted mozzarella cheese, which bubbles around the grill’s edge. That’s always an adventure. I also make a point to go to Myeongdong Gyoja which was my mom’s favorite kalguksu restaurant and Samwon Garden which is a very fancy barbecue place my family always visits.

What is one meal you recommend for visitors?

Definitely a few nights of delicious Korean BBQ, Chinese/Korean fusion staples like jajangmyeon, tangsuyuk and jjamppong. You must treat yourself to at least one delicious kimchi jjigae. Binddaetteok, pajeon and kimchi jeon at Gwangjang Market.

What do you wish people knew before visiting?

You will absolutely have to do karaoke, and you will absolutely have to learn how to nurse a soju hangover.

After living in multiple places, are there any cultural aspects that seem uniquely Korean that you’re proud of?

I’m a huge fan of the Korean attitude toward service and infrastructure, which is shaped by a preference for speed and efficiency, values I truly yearn for in the US.

What books do you recommend for someone planning a trip?

Some of my favorite Korean books are Kyung Sook Shin’s Please Look After Mom, If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha, The Vegetarian by Han Kang. Both of Maangchi’s cookbooks, of course. MFK Fisher’s The Gastronomical Me has nothing to do with Korea but made me appreciate air travel so much more. Plus her food and travel writing are just spectacular, a lovely window into travels of times past. I love Pico Iyer’s A Beginner’s Guide to Japan, which again is not about Korea, but so full of clever observations from the point of view of a foreigner in a new city, it’s just delightful. I also love Anthony Bourdain’s travel and food writing in A Cook’s Tour.

How has your perception of Korea changed as you’ve gotten older?

Since my mom and aunt passed away, it’s more of a bittersweet place to return to. It will always feel a little empty without them, as if I am trying to fill some insatiable hole.

Where is home to you?

At this point, home is wherever Peter is.

Thank you Michelle! Watch an inside look into her memoir and listen to an extended interview below! And discover her memoir, Crying in H Mart, as well as more of our book recommendations set in South Korea, from novels to cookbooks.

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Please Look After Mom
By Kyung-Sook Shin
Paperback $16.95
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Add If I Had Your Face to bookshelf Add If I Had Your Face to bookshelf
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If I Had Your Face
By Frances Cha
Paperback $17.00
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The Vegetarian
By Han Kang
Paperback $17.00
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The Surrendered
By Chang-rae Lee
Paperback $17.00
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Heart and Seoul
By Jen Frederick
Paperback $16.00
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Add The Disaster Tourist to bookshelf Add The Disaster Tourist to bookshelf
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The Disaster Tourist
By Yun Ko-Eun
Paperback $16.95
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Add White Chrysanthemum to bookshelf Add White Chrysanthemum to bookshelf
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White Chrysanthemum
By Mary Lynn Bracht
Paperback $16.00
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Drifting House
By Krys Lee
Paperback $16.00
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East Goes West
By Younghill Kang
Hardcover $28.00
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The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly
By Sun-mi Hwang
Paperback $17.00
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Koreatown
By Deuki Hong and Matt Rodbard
Hardcover $30.00
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Cook Korean!
By Robin Ha
Paperback $21.00
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