What is mukbang?

The internet is a strange place right now. My Instagram feed displays two distinct, and very different types of content. The majority is news from the Middle East, and the rest consists of extremely filtered videos of Asian women picking up giant items with their chopsticks. They chew and swallow as quickly as they can. And the wet noises are just...

I first came across the term "mukbang" about five years ago. My friend Xenia loved watching mukbang videos out of Korea, the country of origin. By definition, mukbang is "a video, especially one that is live-streamed, that features a person eating a large quantity of food and addressing the audience."

Xenia stared at her phone, watching tiny women slurp mouthfuls of oily noodles and tear through pyramids of hot wings. Once, when we were out for Korean hot dogs, there was an epic cheese pull happening, and we both agreed that it was undeniably great content.

Fayeruz Regan mukban

Xenia began posting mukbang videos herself. Naturally, I became curious about who would want to watch, and the motivations behind why people watch. Even Xenia had a hard time explaining her penchant for it. I read that since eating in Korea is a social tradition, those who live alone could have the feeling of community while they eat. Though there's a tinge of sadness to that, it's an uplifting service. At least, that was the original intention of mukbang videos. It's changed a lot. More on that in a moment. 

The practice proliferated on social media, and other Asian countries, such as China, began to pick up on it. I've seen women in the countryside, standing in cultivated fields with cattle surrounding them, frying and eating giant balls of fried dough. They drag the dough, still dripping with oil, through spicy peppers in a bowl, and try to take a bite while piping hot. They pant through the pain, sucking in cold air and eating as quickly as they can.


In many videos, the filters make the women almost alien-like, with a triangle head and cartoonishly large eyes. Chins come to a point and there's just a slit for a mouth. Wearing bunny ears and Peter Pan collars to further infantilize themselves (the filters already eliminate every pore), they take hulking bites out of chimichangas, bear claw doughnuts, and curried stir fry

Some Americans have jumped onto the trend, but it's dominated by big men coming home with a haul of fast food. They'd unwrap the items from every drive-thru they visited, then proceed to smash large quantities into their mouths so that they could barely chew. 

Though mukbang's origins may have been intended for people to enjoy home meals more, the proliferation and variation of these videos opened this up to newer audiences. And they don't have the same motivation. According to the NIH, "Mukbang offers digital commensality, entertainment, a para-social effect, escapism from real-life issues, and the opportunity for sexual use. On the other hand, excessive use of mukbang has been linked to a wide variety of health problems, including obesity and eating disorders." 

people eating fried chicken

I know some of you out there were wondering if people watched these videos to get their kicks. While it is a bit of a fetish, the motivations are varied. Some people who are dieting and fantasizing about food watch these videos to live vicariously through the eater. There are myriad reasons people are tuning into these videos, and the NIH provides a pretty thorough breakdown in The Spectrum of Motivations Behind Watching Mukbang Videos and Its Health Effects on Its Viewers.

Though I'm no fan of the copious wet sounds, and do think the filtering is aggressive, I love seeing what foods they eat. There are chewy, glutinous noodles and slippery dumplings the size of a softball, filled with things I can only imagine. This isn't the stuff you can find at a Chinese or Korean restaurant, no matter how authentic. Maybe they create these over-the-top dishes for the purpose of making mukbang videos. Maybe there's a whole world of flavor we're still missing from the wild, wild East. 

mukbang girl

Aside from wondering what heavenly dishes they are consuming, I guess there is a part of me that feels wonder at watching someone eat mouthful after mouthful of pure carbs with reckless abandon. Sigh. 

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