New Delhi: Mukbang is a trend that started in South Korea in 2010. The word is a portmanteau of muk-ja, meaning ‘eating’, and bang-song, meaning ‘broadcast’, which literally translates to eating broadcast.
Mukbang videos feature people who livestream their eating sessions, but the format has changed over the years.
But why would people want to watch others eat food? There are several answers to this, but the first is scientific.
The sound of crunching, chewing and slurping, all of these cause what is called an Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR). ASMR is what happens when our mind relaxes due to auditory stimuli — so the sound of a chip being crunched or noodles being slurped gives the listener a relaxing tingle at the back of their head or spine.
The second and the primary reason behind the popularity of such videos is the increasing number of people who live alone and want to watch someone eat while they are eating.
In India, too, more and more young professionals are moving away from home for work, which means they, too, face this loneliness. In fact, the trend of watching mukbang videos has seen a 100 per cent rise in the past four years in India.
Viraj Shah, a young professional working in Mumbai, told ThePrint, “Living alone, away from family is tough. Sometimes, I watch mukbang videos before meal time to build an appetite. And sometimes instead of (watching) Netflix, I watch them while eating to feel like I am eating with someone.”
People also enjoy watching someone try a new cuisine or food when they are on a diet or due to other restrictions. Some Indian YouTube channels featuring mukbang videos, like Saapattu Raman and Food Shood with Bijan, also record the process of cooking food so that viewers can learn how to make what they’re eating.
The method and the money
The format of mukbang has gained popularity across the globe and seen multiple changes over the decade.
What was previously livestreamed is now recorded by professionals and uploaded on YouTube and other platforms. Mukbangers, while eating huge quantities of food, now also talk to their viewers — about the experience, politics, social issues – anything, really.
Some mukbangers even post videos of themselves taking up food challenges.
Foodie Bobby, a YouTube channel run by 20-year-old law student Deepika Verma, who claims to be India’s first female mukbanger, gained popularity when her KFC food challenge video crossed a million views on YouTube.
Verma, 20, who lives in Lucknow, started making mukbang videos in 2018 and has over 46,000 subscribers.
Kumar, who runs Saapattu Raman along with his father Porchezhiyan, said they started watching Korean mukbang videos and realised they could also eat the same amount of food.
“In traditional Tamil households, parents show their children the moon and tell tales about it to feed them. Now, parents show children our YouTube videos in order to encourage them to finish meals,” said Kumar, who goes by only one name. He also added that parents even call to thank them.
A doctor by profession, Kumar lives in Salem, Tamil Nadu, and started making videos in 2017. His channel has now 3,74,000 subscribers.
And where there are followers, there is money. Kumar said he earns up to Rs 9 lakh a month by posting one video a week. Verma similarly said, “With the revenue generated over the last five months, I have been able to buy a professional camera for my shoots”.
But money doesn’t come without hard work as making mukbang videos takes time and patience.
Kumar said he does sometimes feel as if he is running behind schedule. “I try to make sure that our video is uploaded at 5.30 pm every Friday, but sometimes it gets delayed until 8 or 9 pm.”
Verma also said she often feels overworked, juggling between making videos and studies.
Sarvana, a 26-year-old Indian-American medical student, who runs YourEverydayFoodie on YouTube, said, “Though medical school may seem like the end of my YouTube and mukbang videos, I try my best to keep up with creating mukbangs and stay active and connected with my viewers on social media.”
Sarvana, who lives in Arizona, started making videos two years ago and currently has over 12,000 subscribers.
Hard on the stomach
Videos of mukbangers eating raw squid, octopus, even Sellotape and comb teeth, get huge numbers on YouTube and Instagram, but at what cost?
Sarvana said on days of the shoot, the food that he eats on screen is his only meal for the whole day. He added that the weirdest thing he had tried is raw honeycomb. But the one thing that he has been requested by a number of people is to eat a whole aloe vera plant.
“I haven’t tried it out yet, but have been asked many times to try it. Am I opposed to trying it? Not at all, but I also don’t look forward to it, based on the reactions of others who have tried it,” he said.
Verma, too, starves herself throughout the day before making her videos. She told ThePrint that she regrets doing ‘The Last Chip’ challenge — eating a tortilla chip loaded with Carolina Reaper and Ghost Pepper, the hottest chillies in the world.
“That one chip made me really sick, and my sister fainted after eating it. I had to promise my family to never take up spicy food challenges again.”