retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The New Yorker has a lovely piece by Michelle Zauner, who describes herself as the child of a Caucasian father and a Korean mother, and who finds that shopping at H Mart, a Korean supermarket, is simultaneously evocative of her youth and family while prompting in her a kind of sadness related to a past that never can be recaptured.

“My mom,” she writes, “was my access point for our Korean heritage. While she never actually taught me how to cook (Korean people tend to disavow measurements and supply only cryptic instructions along the lines of ‘add sesame oil until it tastes like Mom’s’), she did raise me with a distinctly Korean appetite. This meant an over-the-top appreciation of good food and emotional eating. We were particular about everything: kimchi had to be perfectly sour, samgyupsal perfectly crisped; hot food had to be served piping hot or it might as well be inedible.”

She goes on:

“I can hardly speak Korean, but in H Mart I feel like I’m fluent. I fondle the produce and say the words aloud—chamoe melon, danmuji. I fill my shopping cart with every snack that has glossy packaging decorated with a familiar cartoon. I think about the time Mom showed me how to fold the little plastic card that came inside bags of Jolly Pong, how to use it as a spoon to shovel caramel puff rice into my mouth, and how it inevitably fell down my shirt and spread all over the car. I remember the snacks Mom told me she ate when she was a kid and how I tried to imagine her at my age. I wanted to like all the things she did, to embody her completely.

“My grief comes in waves and is usually triggered by something arbitrary … catch me at H Mart when some kid runs up double-fisting plastic sleeves of ppeong-twigi and I’ll just lose it. Those little rice-cake Frisbees were my childhood: a happier time, when Mom was there and we’d crunch away on the Styrofoam-like disks after school. Eating them was like splitting a packing peanut that dissolved like sugar on your tongue.”

Like I said, a lovely piece, and you can read it here.
KC's View:
Thanks to Jack Allen for sending this along to me and, as always, contributing to my continuing education.