Pop Singer Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast Reveals Her Favorite Restaurants Around the World

From Mexico City to Korea, Zauner lets T+L in on all of her go-to spots while touring.

Michelle Zauner
Michelle Zauner . Photo: Lauren Coleman

Traveling as a musician, pop singer Michelle Zauner, frontwoman of the band Japanese Breakfast, has a few go-tos when it comes to preparing for a show regardless of the city.

"We are tequila drinkers," Zauner proclaimed in an interview with Travel + Leisure. "My whole band really loves tequila. And so we do tend to have a bottle of Patron on our rider."

Zauner, who released her memior "Crying in H Mart," last year has become recognized as a bona fide food writer as the book is peppered with odes to the ingredients and meals that have flavored her life. Tapping into her ability to winnow out the complexities of flavor, Zauner developed a new cocktail kit inspired by the band's latest album, "Jubilee," in partnership with Patrón.

Her drink, the Persimmon Paloma, is the centerpiece of the PATRÓN x Japanese Breakfast Cocktail Courier Kit, featuring Zauner's favorite flavors alongside some exclusive merch from the band.

The cocktail takes the best of the classic Mexican Paloma and imbues it with a dark, flavorful twist. A fusion worthy of Zauner's palette. Born in Seoul and raised in Eugene, Oregon, much of Zauner's work sits at the intersection of Korean and American culture.

"In Korean and Japanese culture, they will hang persimmons, which start as this very hard, bitter, unpalatable fruit and over time they become sweeter and more palatable," Zauner said. "I thought it was a really apt metaphor for what I was trying to put out in the world. As someone who wrote so much about grief and loss, I wanted to put something in the world that was sweet and jubilant."

And so the persimmon became the symbol of her newest album — and the centerpiece of the cocktail kit (which also features artwork from Japanese Breakfast collaborators Ryuta Endo and Hwang Rowoo).

To celebrate the drink, Travel + Leisure spoke with Zauner about her favorite flavors, travel style, and the best way to mix a pre-show cocktail.

Places like Seoul and Eugene, Ore. are important to you. What restaurants or flavors do you associate with those places?

"So much of Eugene, Ore. is very hippie, farm-to-table, organic nut butter, Birkenstocks-wearing type of culture. A lot of what I grew up eating was from this place called the Saturday Market that had a lot of local, organic type foods."

"I love the flavor of nutritional yeast. There used to be this indie theatre in Eugene called The Bijou that would have nutritional yeast on top of popcorn. I grew up having that and loving it. And there's this place called Cafe Yumm! that's a local chain, with basically like a hippie rice bowl with this nutritional yeast-based sauce. There's this new thing called Bitchin Sauce that kinda tastes like Yumm sauce."

"There's also a really good sushi place called Akira that this Japanese man called Taro runs. I always have to shout it out because he's a brilliant sushi chef. And it's kinda an unexpected thing that such a small university town would have this really great sushi restaurant."

"And in Korea, there's this place called Samwon Garden, a Korean barbecue restaurant that's kind of fancy that my family would always go to. And Myeong Dong Gyoja, this dumpling restaurant, with really garlicky kimchi. They always have a huge line that wraps around the block but it goes really fast because they push you in and out."

When you're on the road, are there any cities that you look forward to for the food?

"Los Angeles is a big one. There's such a great Korean town there. I always try to go to HanGari which is a Kalguksu place. And, I hate blowing up my spot, but I love this place called Found Oyster that has really really good seafood."

"We did a show in Mexico City recently. And the food culture there is nuts. It's so, so good. And really affordable. Everything I ate there was really delicious. We went to Contramar and it was so good. My friend who lives there was like, 'this is a really expensive place,' and it was still, like, very affordable. We were there with 12 people and it was like $400."

What is your travel style?

"I am like a very old man. Nervous dad energy traveler. I am always nervous. I have to get there three hours in advance to avoid any type of anxiety when I travel. I don't like rushing when it comes to travel. A lot of my travel has to do with work. And whenever the band travels, we have 12 bags that we need to check various gear and stuff like that. So we always tend to go early because I'm a nervous traveler."

So what do you do at the airport to kill time?

"I will enjoy a cocktail. I'll play Nintendo Switch for a long time."

Any travel hacks that you've picked up over the years?

"I'm very obsessive about only bringing one carry-on bag. And so I pretty much just resign myself to wearing the same three things over and over. My biggest hack is just "don't bring anything that's too precious to you" and just commit to wearing a uniform. I like to travel light. I'm always in a different place. So it's easiest for me to have as little to keep track of as possible. When I'm offstage, I kinda dress like a stagehand. I look like a prop."

And when you're in a new place, what do you do to center yourself?

"Two or three hours before a show, I'll do my vocal warmups and do my makeup and get ready. And I always have a pre-show cocktail. Ideally Patron tequila. Lime, club soda. And we usually get fresh fruit on our rider. So I like to put raspberries in my pre-show cocktail."

"Other than that, as an only child, I need a lot of alone time. It's kinda tough when you're around other people, traveling in a band to remember to take that for yourself. Sometimes you feel bad about taking it, but it's a big thing for me. Hiding. Just a couple of hours a day. Reading. That helps me stay grounded."

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Cailey Rizzo is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure, currently based in Brooklyn. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, or at caileyrizzo.com.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles