Feasting with our eyes is really not a new thing. We do it through food shows, travel vlogs, Instagram pages and even the fan-favourite MasterChef or similar series. Food indeed provides an immersive experience. In response to this, several trends have popped up such as food challenges, ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) food videos, stop-motion food content. However, the one that has stayed for good is the Mukbang trend. K-pop fans are sure to have stumbled upon this word at least once, be it through your favourite idol’s V-live, variety shows or on their personal YouTube channel. But what is it about this trend that’s become a phenomenon that has acquired its cult following as well as stirred up immense controversy?
What is Mukbang?
A compound word derived from the Korean word for ‘eating’ (pronounced meongneun) and ‘broadcast’ (pronounced bangsong), Mukbang describes video content that involves voracious and enthusiastic consumption of food and beverages for viewers to virtually consume. Essentially, broadcasters from South Korea would originally host nightly episodes that were live-streamed, involving cooking large amounts of food or ordering a large amount of food before consuming them in front of a virtual audience.
When did the trend start?
The initial videos gained recognition as early as 2009 before the trend escalated rapidly from 2010 onwards, garnering the attention of viewers worldwide, especially in the West. Where are these shows broadcast? There are countless free-to-watch YouTube channels dedicated to the trend, with many making a career out of it. In current times, the content has also spread to Instagram, Tiktok, V-live and major streaming channels. The trend is said to have scored over 100 million views over various channels.
What makes Mukbang so in-demand?
1. K-pop/K-media hype
Grab your favourite pack of instant ramen, while your bias enjoys their share of grilled Korean Bbq and immerse yourself in a lively interactive session. Fans of K-pop groups BTS, EXO, IZ*ONE and others are probably well acquainted with the trend. Idols and actors often do Mukbangs to interact with their fanbase and have fun with them. Korean media channel V-live often holds special eating broadcasts with idols and actors as forms of fan service and to make interviews more fun. Younger audiences have become more aware of Mukbangs owing to participation and promotions by favourite celebrities.
2. The ASMR experience:
The satisfaction of watching someone eat or the virtual assurance of having someone to eat with is one of the most listed reasons by people who watch Mukbang. The trend hasn’t just restricted itself to eating or drinking, but creative content involving a heightened auditory-visual experience by merging ASMR with Mukbang. Merging ASMR and the act of eating by amplifying the sounds of biting, chewing, cracking, or slurping induces a pleasant sensation in your brain, activating your senses by tingling your neck, spine and more. Some claim that the sensation is akin to fingers gently running across your scalp. ASMR Mukbang channels often provide a no-talk or whisper-talk immersive relaxing experience that allows you to bask in the moment and simply enjoy the sound of cooking and eating with the addition of viewing a visual feast.
3. Storytime and loneliness:
Love crime stories? Murder mysteries? Fairy tales or just a good old slice of life? Mukbangers (broadcasters creating Mukbang content) curate unique content for those who want an interactive experience too. Narrating stories while eating creates the atmosphere of a dining experience. 2020 was a year of loneliness for many, with social distancing, lockdown and isolation, people were alienated from others. The growing problem of loneliness that amplified due to the pandemic led a lot of folks to flock around Mukbang live streams and content. To minimise the feeling of being alone, people began to seek comfort by falling into the illusion of having someone to eat with. Mukbangers often create a community.
The Mukbang Controversy
As most trends go, the Mukbang phenomenon too is not without its dark side. From milder issues such as questions of table manners to serious issues such as promotion of addiction, disordered eating and more, the Mukbang trend has been questioned by many medical professionals and others. General concerns have been raised regarding the voracious consumption of food and beverages and the aspect of health. Furthermore, activists have also red-flagged the trend owing to concerns surrounding food and its wastage. Talk about falling on the other side of mild, challenges such as ‘binge drinking’, ‘100 dumplings eating challenges’ and more have caused serious health complications. In addition to that, Mukbangs involving the consumption of live seafood or preparation of live seafood have received strong disapproval in many cases.
Curious about Mukbang? Here are some YouTube channels to explore
Real sound Mukbanger, Nado explores Korean food, fast food and a glimpse of takeaway culture in South Korea. Her convenience store also highlights the food culture of the ever-so-famous convenience stores of East Asia.
2. Stephanie Soo
True crime meets food. Garnering more than 530 million views, Stephanie Soo’s channel merges Mukbang with suspenseful narration, creating a chilling ambience to enjoy your food in. Having a massive following of 2.58 million, this channel might be the best place to start and explore Mukbang. Explore titles such as The Header in the Freezer (Thanksgiving Meal) or The Chinese Monk Killer (Mexican Food Mukbang).
Truly Vegan. One of the few vegan Mukbang channels, MommyTang showcases how Mukbangs can be vegan, fun and also include fast food. Combine recipe Mukbangs with ASMR, story-times and restaurant Mukbangs, MommyTang offers a wide variety of plant-based eating broadcast content to consume.
At 895K subscribers, join KEEMI in her tiny kitchen to cook from scratch as she casually chats about various things in life. KEEMI cooks from scratch and invites you to eat with her in classic Mukbang style.
5. Zach Choi ASMR
With over 13.2 million subscribers and almost 600 videos, Zach Choi takes cooking and Mukbangs to another level. Enjoy Mukbangs in 4K heightened by an immersive ASMR experience. With the tagline, “silence is golden”, you’ll never hear a word from Zach, all that matters is the experience you share with the food.