What Exactly Is A Mukbang?

And why is it so popular?
PHOTO: (LEFT) Youtube/Stephanie Soo, (RIGHT) Youtube/KEEMI

Spend enough time on YouTube and sooner or later, a video of someone eating large amounts of food in front of the camera will appear on your home page or suggested videos. And believe it or not, there’s a name for a video like that: It’s called a mukbang. But what exactly is it?

What is a mukbang?

Directly translated, mukbang means “eating broadcast.” Hailing all the way from South Korea, mukbangs first became a thing around 2010. Mukbangers or “Broadcast Jockeys” were getting paid to eat a shitload of food in front of a webcam for a live audience online. They were paid with “star balloons,” a type of virtual currency that was bought and sold with cash.

Now that mukbangs have reached other countries—yes, even the Philippines—things are a little different. Those who do them earn money the way most YouTubers do—through views, ads, and sponsored content. Some people simply have brands pay for the food they’ll eat on cam.

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How do mukbangs work?

In mukbang videos, the food is displayed really close to the camera, sometimes making them appear bigger than they actually are. Though it’s not necessary for all the food to come from one place, there usually is a theme for the video. For example, fried chicken mukbangs or seafood boil mukbangs are extremely popular. There are also mukbangs dedicated to specific brands—usually fast food establishments. Before the eating starts, the professional eater usually goes through the “menu” for the day.

Depending on their budget and following, mukbangers usually have special mics in place, mics that pick up the slightest sounds so the viewers can hear every bite. In the past, food challenges were common in the mukbang community, specifically when the Spicy Noodle Challenge became popular. The goal was to consume food as fast as you can (yes, for entertainment). In the last couple of years, however, mukbangs have become more of a sit-down meal between the YouTuber and the audience, with videos averaging 30 minutes in duration.

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Drive-thru mukbangs are all the rave these days; the latest trend is to order the same food as the people in the car in front of you.

Mukbang ASMR

One of the most popular kinds of mukbangs are ASMR videos. ICYDK, ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response. Those who shoot ASMR videos generally don't speak above a whisper. Called a “brain orgasm,” ASMR refers to that soothing or calming feeling you get when you hear certain triggers. And no, this isn’t exclusive to food videos; some people use ASMR sounds—finger tapping, hair brushing, among many others—to help them relax and sleep.

In the food community, mukbangs can be like food porn. Hearing crab legs crack or noodles being slurped can be comforting for some people. When it comes to mukbang ASMR videos, food with more resistance are among the favorites: mocha, jello, cheese, and honeycomb.

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Popular mukbangers


Dorothy

Dorothy (Min Ga-In) is a Korean YouTuber who’s known for her incredible Spicy Food Challenges.

Keemi

Keemi started her channel with food reviews, but now, she’s known for her how-to cooking videos and mukbangs.

Yuka Kinoshita

Yuka is a competitive eater, and honestly, we’re completely floored! Her mukbangs display the number of calories she consumes per video.

Stephanie Soo

Based in LA, Stephanie Soo is a Korean-American YouTuber who shares true crime stories with her audience called “Phanie Packers” while she’s eating.

hyuneeEats

The queen of the hyuneeBees, Hyunee is famous for her noodle mukbangs; her first upload was a Spicy Fire Noodle Challenge.

Veronica Wang

Veronice Wang is a Canadian mukbanger. Her most popular video is the Extreme Spicy Noodle Challenge, which has amassed 19 million views.

Why are mukbangs so popular?

There are a couple of reasons why we love to watch other people eat, especially in large quantities. One reason is that the desire actually stems from loneliness. If you don’t have a friend to socialize with often or if you are in an unhappy relationship, you seek that companionship in people who eat on cam. It’s like you’re pretending to have a meal with them—which makes sense because even if you’re not eating when you start a mukbang video, more often than not, you’re reaching for some type of food while the video is playing. That’s because we see food as a way to connect to people.

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Another reason why mukbangs have become more common is people love to watch other people eat food they don’t have easy access to. Look at famous mukbang YouTube channels and you’ll notice that the most popular “requests” involve seafood, which isn’t exactly the cheapest thing to buy. Personally, I love mukbangs that have a lot of lobster tails, king crab legs, and crawfish; and these aren’t readily available in the Philippines.

How do mukbangs affect your health?

As visually appealing and psychologically satisfying as it is to watch other people eat, the reality is, consuming insane amounts of food isn’t good for your health. It’s not like mukbangers have bowls of broccoli in front of them. Most of the time, the menu consists of processed food drenched in cheese. And if you’re brave enough to do the math, one video features food amounting to more than the acceptable daily caloric intake. This can lead to obesity.

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Some YouTubers who do mukbangs have revealed that outside of filming, they actually have pretty healthy diets. Veronica Wang, for example, focuses on taking in greens and chicken breast when she isn’t eating on cam. She also goes to the gym often. But according to Dr. Andrew Bates, M.D., this isn’t doing your body any good. You may think you’re “making up” for eating poorly by eating properly the rest of the time, but in reality, you’re messing with your body’s system: “Your body won’t know whether you’re in feast or famine mode.” And this rollercoaster ride can have damaging effects long-term.

There’s also the risk of triggering an eating disorder since some mukbangers eat one big meal and then decide not to eat anything for the rest of the day. It could create an unhealthy relationship with food that’s built on extreme dieting.

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