THE SINGER AND AUTHOR MICHELLE ZAUNER is entering a season she’s dubbing “banchan-ajumma summer.” Banchan is the word for the small assorted side dishes served alongside Korean entrées; ajumma is a maternal middle-aged Korean woman. “You know what we need to do?” Zauner says, mid–kimchee bite at the restaurant Cho Dang Gol, tucked away three blocks above the hub of New York City’s Koreatown. “There needs to be a circle of women who make banchan, like a potluck.” Better yet, she says, make it a summer retreat where all we do is pickle and marinate assorted vegetables.
At all of 32 years old, Zauner jokes, she is ready to retire for the banchan-ajumma lifestyle. The front woman of indie-rock band Japanese Breakfast and the author of the just-released Crying in H Mart is coming off a whirlwind spring. When we meet, she is suspended between two press cycles: Her debut book has been out in the world for two weeks, and her new album, Jubilee, the band’s third, is due in a month. The record marks a slight shift in sound for Japanese Breakfast, but the book is a stratospheric event in Zauner’s career— a cultural sensation that debuted at No. 2 on the New York Times’ nonfiction best-seller list.
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