Writers Talking About Anything but Writing: Jihyun Yun
An Interview with Jihyun Yun on Soup, Cottagecore Aesthetics, & K-Pop
Writers Talking About Anything but Writing is a series of interviews in which we ask writers to take a break from trying to document the world and just kinda chill out in it for a while.
Laura Villareal (LV)
This is a cozy list of topics to talk about as we move through the winter months. What are some of your favorite soups? Do you have any recipes that you love?
Jihyun Yun (JY)
Oh, this is hard, there are so many! Soup is my favorite kind of food and I could happily eat it for every meal of the day (and I often do!). My ultimate comfort soup in the winter is probably a Korean one called Seolleongtang which is a very mild bone broth seasoned with only salt, pepper, and scallions. It tastes very simple and soothing, but it’s an all-day endeavor to make and it’s very temperamental. If you don’t boil it long enough, it’ll be too thin and if you boil it at the wrong heat, the broth will turn a little brown from marrow. I have lots of memories of coming downstairs in the middle of the night and seeing my mom asleep against the kitchen island with the burner still going behind her. I feel like most latchkey kids have one particular dish that their parents would often make in bulk and leave for them to pick at throughout the week. Bone broth keeps well in the fridge, so it was mine. I probably complained about being sick of it when I was younger, but now it’s what I crave when I’m lonely or miss my family.
I also love pho and Vietnamese noodle soup dishes of all kinds, which feels like a given for anyone from the Bay Area. When I’m back in California, San Jose pho is always one of the first things I seek out.
As for recipes, my go-to is this soft tofu stew recipe. It’s spicy, comforting, customizable and most importantly, very east to make (if you can find the ingredients).
I’ve seen so much more cottagecore content across social media platforms since we began isolating during the pandemic—like people are making sourdough starters, starting gardens, etc… What interests you about cottagecore?
It’s a pretty new interest, and I have to admit I don’t know a whole lot about it yet. In all honesty, my interest in cottagecore only started during the pandemic when I came across BlackForager on Instagram (I don’t know if she would consider herself cottagecore, but she teaches her audience how to identify plants, forage and make amazing things like acorn jelly and pawpaw bread from scratch. I learn so much from her content, I hope everyone checks her out!).
Personally, I’m not interested in the little house on the prairie decorative/fashion aspects and more interested in the cultivation aspect. Like everyone, I too have made sourdough and started an herb garden this year. I’ve also found lots of personal fulfillment in processes like making jam or canning and pickling things: all labor that I have always been too busy for. I wonder if the rise of cottagecore lately is, in addition to most of us being sequestered to our homes and desperate to escape zoom, a reaction to the many failures of capitalism that the pandemic has made even more obvious. I’ve been unemployed for months and hit the point of feeling like “oh, you want to bail out wall street but leave folks to survive on a $1,200 check with no rent relief and grocery prices going up? Fuck you, I’ll learn to make my own bread.” Which is, I know, such a small rebellion. But anything that gives me any sense of agency right now feels immeasurably important and fulfilling.
Also, I think now is the time when we all need to lean fully into any somatic pleasures that are available to us: touching soil, baking and eating pie, sunning ourselves outside with hot tea. All things the aesthetic seems to advocate for.
I totally agree about how we need to “lean fully into somatic pleasures” right now. Cottagecore seems to encourage folks to see the process before the product. You mentioned finding fulfillment in making jams, pickling, and baking. Was there a process that surprised you by its simplicity or that you enjoyed more than a store-bought product?
I had no idea that making jam was so simple! I made it for the first time when I forgot to put a bag of frozen mixed berries in the freezer. It was basically mush when I discovered it, but I didn’t want it to go to waste so I threw it on the stove with a bunch of sugar and some lime juice and hoped for the best. There’s something very comforting about tending to something over low heat for a long time, and it ended up great! I prefer it to most commercial store-bought jams for certain because I can personalize the sweetness levels. Lately, I’ve been enjoying experimenting a little more with adding spices and citrus peels to batches. It’s a nice way to pass time and level up my breakfast game.
K-Pop fascinates me. It’s a wonderful hybrid mix of genres and the stars work so incredibly hard to hone their craft. I’ve said more than once this year, “Who knew K-Pop stans would save us all” after they’ve taken over hateful hashtags and Trump’s Tulsa Rally. What do you think it is about this genre of music that has made its fans an ally in the revolution?
K-pop fans and Tik-Tokers sabotaging the Tulsa Rally was one of the rare things that made me belly laugh during the pandemic. It’s been really wonderful to see fans getting involved in this way (often by trolling. Like that time when they crashed police tip apps that were collecting information on protesters by flooding it with K-pop memes). The most salient instance that comes to mind though is when BTS fans matched the group’s 1 million dollar donation to the Black Lives Matter global network in less than 24 hours. Truly incredible, and if it’s possible to stan a fanbase, I definitely stan the BTS Army.
I think it has less to do with the music and more to do with the type of fans internationally that are drawn to K-pop in the first place. The fact that they are able to love the genre at all indicates that they’re people who are less likely to be deterred by arbitrary borders like language or cultural differences.
I think it also needs to be said that while there are many non-Black allies within the K-pop fandom, the fandom does span across all demographics. Many of these efforts were initiated by and contributed to most fervently by Black K-pop fans.
Yes, excellent points! Especially the point about K-pop stans not being “deterred by arbitrary borders like language or cultural differences” What are some of your favorite K-Pop groups?
My favorite K-pop group is definitely BTS! I’ve been a big fan since 2016, and it’s been so lovely to see them breaking down linguistic barriers in the states and challenging stereotypical notions of western masculinity. Maybe it’s because I never really expected to hear Korean on national television here, I feel personally invested in their success.
Aside from BTS, I really like girl groups. I listen to Twice when I’m down and want to cheer up, I listen to Red Velvet when I want to relax, and I listen to Mamamoo when I need energy. K-pop is so often denigrated for no good reason that often just boils down to xenophobia, but it’s a very diverse genre and I think there is something for everyone if people listen to it with an open mind.