The term 'mukbang' comes from South Korea and is defined as a video, especially one that is live-streamed, that features a person eating a large quantity of food and addressing the audience.
Historically, Korea has always had its own etiquette and customs around food; they believe food represents a mother's love, it's common to let your elders take the first bite of food before others begin, and even announcing "I will eat well" before commencing.
So, where did 'mukbang' come from?
We all love to enjoy a takeaway on the couch or use the comfort of our favorite shows as company while we eat. Shows like 'Friends' often mirror what we're doing too; Monica regularly has a big spread going, Joey tantalizes our taste-buds with delicious pizzas, and Ross even gets proper thick over a sandwich (we don't blame him).
Korea's solo-eating culture is strong — 33.7% of their households are single-person households. But with a history of shared meals among family, there was a loneliness gap that needed to be filled.
Solo diners saw the appeal of watching their favorite actors and actresses chow down on some food while they too ate their dinners. So they began to take on the role of their favorite shows by streaming their mealtimes to curb the loneliness.
Thus, the 'mukbang' was born.
The birth of the trend
Most of us can track learning about 'mukbang' back to a few years ago. But it started gaining popularity on YouTube in 2010 with content creators like ip zalboon hetnim, Hamzy, Nado, and heebab sharing their eating antics from the day to day online.
It originally gained a following online in 2009 however, on another streaming platform known as AfreecaTV. Twitch then added a new category to its platform called 'social eating'.
The original concept was to consume a meal of four thousand calories live, silently, and for the sole purpose of keeping the viewer company. It was almost ASMR.
The Westernization of the trend saw big-name American YouTubers begin to do sit-down videos wherein they'd consume an astronomical 20 thousand calories in one sitting, chopped and edited, sometimes including answers to questions submitted by viewers.
While the intentions of 'mukbang' were pure — a virtual dinner date — it quickly started to get a bit of flack on the consumption side of things.
People criticized the unhealthiness of the food, which sees people eat masses of junk food. The videos also got a bit of stick for their endorsement of binge-eating and food wastage.
China even went as far as to make 'mukbang' videos illegal.
Who to watch
Interested in diving into the trend? There are any amount of YouTubers you could follow for some foodie indulgence. But here are our top picks from the 'mukbang' trend.
Hamzy is the slurpy eater from South Korea who can horse some amount of food into her. Her videos are A-Z, showing us the footage as she cooks with lots of interesting foods and equipment. In this clip, she cooks an entire octopus?
She's the sugary sweet queen of Korean ASMR. Her videos include snacky and sweet foods that are easy to listen to for some enjoyable background noise.
Zak Choi AMSR
Zak gets into all sorts of cuisine on his channel, including big fast-food chains like McDonalds, wagyu steaks, and lots of cheese. He even dives into the sub-genre known as 'cookbang' and makes his own food for the video.
Stephanie certainly has her own niche — conspiracy theories and cuisine. She tucks into the likes of sushi, fried chicken, and burgers and rambles about time travellers, murderers, and serial killers.
Rabbit Hole Rating - Hop or Flop?
Overall, we can appreciate both sides of the coin when it comes to 'mukbang'; its origin story is very sweet, the 'cookbang' sub-genre is creative and inspiring, yet we can't help but agree with the naysayers.
It is an extremely gluttonous side of YouTube that brings with it a whole load of problems. For the purpose of investigation, we feel like this trend is one you can't skip over.
So, we're giving this trend a "hop". It's a cultural rabbit-hole you can't not explore.
Stay tuned for more YouTube Rabbit Holes.