Crying in H Mart

THE BOOK: This memoir is the story of a girl’s journey from child to woman, and the role that her mother played in shaping who she became. Although Michelle was born in Seoul to a Korean mother and an American father, she was raised in Eugene, Oregon, on a remote farm some distance from town. As an only child wth no playmates close by, and a father who was always working, Michelle and her mother had plenty of time to get on each other’s nerves, especially when Michelle was a teenager. When she went off to college, she put a continent between herself and her parents, choosing Bryn Mawr in Pennsylvania. Just when Michelle thought she and her mother had made peace with one another, her mother got cancer. Michelle was in her mid-twenties, and just beginning to realize how much she needed her mother to be alive. Suddenly all of the indignities that she suffered under her mother’s critical eye, seemed small and meaningless, as she contemplated life without her. This story is beautifully rendered by a woman who is not afraid to honestly look at her flaws and her place in the world, as she tries to make sense of who she will be when her mother dies. The writing bears a light touch in parts, that softens the grief that permeates the book. One woman’s story about finding peace with her mother and learning to live without her.

THE BEAUTY: Michelle was a musician who held down several jobs in order to pursue a performance career. Her mother wanted her to use her college degree to get a real job when it appeared that music was a dead end. After her mother died Michelle’s record that she had written honoring her mother, started to get some attention, and a small label in Maryland put it out on vinyl. The cover was a picture of her mother and a friend when they were teenagers.

The cover of “Psychopomp.”

THE FOOD: Food connects us to each other, as eating together is a communal event. Michelle learned to make a few receipes, but it wasn’t until her mother was gone that she realized she should have paid more attention to the food her mother prepared. And that is why she was cryinging in H Mart, looking for the ingredients she needed to recreate the flavors of her childhood. When I googled H Mart near me, I was surprised to learn that there was one about 30 miles from me. While I was blown away by the variety of produce and fish, the sheer size of the place was pretty awesome. And there was a food court and a bakery! Heaven.

I was having trouble locating some of the ingredients, so I asked a few people if they knew where the gosari was. Nobody knew what it was, so I finally asked at customer service, but they were sold out. A really nice lady helped us find a good fish sauce and soy sauce for soup. She asked what I was making. I told I had just read a book and the main character was Korean. She asked the name of the book, and when I said Crying in H Mart, she said, “My husband just got that book for me for Mother’s Day!” I said, “You’ve got a really good husband. I loved the book.” I really hope she liked it as much as I did.

Yukgaejang (Korean Spicy Beef Soup)

Beef Broth
10 cups water
12 oz. beef brisket (12 ounces) or flank steak, shank steak
1 onion (9 oz.), cut in half
green onion (2.6 ounces), cut it in about half to divide the white and green part. Then halve the pieces (white and green) lengthwise and then cut into 1.5 inch to 2 inch pieces
1 tsp black peppercorns , whole

1 T cooking oil
3 T sesame oil
green onion (2.6 ounces)
3 T Korean chili powder (preferred) or Korean chili flakes, gochugaru
1 C shiitake mushrooms, fresh, thinly sliced (I used baby bellas)
hydrated gosari (fernbrake), (3.5 ounces) To hydrate, soak the gosari in water overnight (8 hours). The next day, drain it and put the drained gosari in a pot, cover with fresh water and boil for 45 minutes. Drain and cover with fresh coldwater. Let sit for a half hour.
1 T Korean chili oil 
bean sprouts 7 ounces

2 T Korean soup soy sauce
1 T Korean fish sauce
½ T minced garlic
½ tsp fine sea salt
⅛ tsp ground black pepper

¼ C green onion, thinly sliced
fine sea salt , to taste

Soak the brisket in a bowl of water and set aside for 20 minutes to draw the red liquid out. Change the water a few times during this time. 

Add the water (10 cups), brisket, onion, green onions and whole black peppercorns into a large pot. Boil them over high heat (for about 15 mins) and skim off any scum that forms. Once the water starts to rolling boil, cover the pot with the lid and reduce the heat to medium low. Continue boiling for another 45 mins. This should give you about 7.5 cups to 8 cups of broth. 

Take the meat out onto a plate and cool it down. Strain the remaining ingredients over a large clean bowl. Discard all the strained vegetables while keeping the broth. Once the meat is cool enough to touch, cut off any stringy fat and shred or cut the brisket into small thin strips. 

Preheat a large clean pot over medium low heat and once heated, add the cooking oil, sesame oil, green onions and stir.

Once the green onions are wilted, add the chili powder and stir for about 30 seconds or until the chili powder absorbs all the oils. Make sure you don’t burn the chili powder as it can easily happen.

Add the broth (from step 3), the meat, and shiitake mushrooms into the pot and boil them over medium high heat. Once it’s rolling boiling, add the fernbrake, chili oil, and seasonings and reduce the heat to medium. Cover the pot with the lid and boil them for about 30 minutes.

Add bean sprouts and boil for a further 10 mins. 

Garnish with green onions and season with salt if required. Serve with a bowl of rice, kimchi or other Korean side dishes.

The soup was absolutely delicious! Not too hot. H Mart was all out of fernbrake which is just dried bracken fern, and there is no substitute for it. I ordered it online and now we have enough dried fern for a lifetime! I’m sold on Korean food.

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