We talk about the popularity of mukbangs in Korea and how that plays out in real life. Often western journalists want to reduce the idea of mukbangs to a simple sentence when they write articles about them but in reality there are many cultural reasons why Koreans love them.

Western journalists also have this idea that all mukbangs are about eating SO much food. While some people do that, it’s not what mukbangs have to be. It’s literally just someone eating while being broadcast, usually through livestreaming. Someone can even just be drinking as the Korean word it derives from means both to eat or drink. Often articles will say that mukbangs are popular because more and more Koreans live alone and are eating alone so if they are watching someone eat they feel less alone. It can be part of it for some people, but that type of explanation ignores the fact that Koreans just love to watch others eat. It’s not surprising when you look at South Korea’s history of rapidly becoming a developed country. Even within Hugh’s lifetime he remembers not that much food when he was young and there not being much meat. His parents only had meat a few times a year when they were young because it was so expensive back then. Food is something still very special and in living memory there were times where there was not that much food. If a mother is able to cook well for her children she wants to see them enjoy it and gets enjoyment herself from watching them eat.

Hugh has a story from his grandparents that when people had a dried fish, they wouldn’t eat it right away, but would hang it from the ceiling and look at it while just eating rice and imagine they were tasting fish instead of rice. These days there are copious amounts of food in Korea, and it’s very cheap. There are many TV shows that show close ups of people eating food and food sounds are accentuated for the camera. Often in western cooking shows the eating part is just a small section at the end of the show, but Korean shows will show a much longer time of people eating and enjoying the food. For me as a nonKorean I really don’t like the sounds of someone eating or seeing a closeup of their mouth as they eat, but it’s very common on TV here. Korea’s relationship with food now has been shaped by their hard times in the past.

So now with food so easily accessible people tend to be more worried about gaining weight. People on diets like to watch mukbangs because they get satisfaction watching someone else eat. This plays out in real life too. Many times I’ve been with a Korean friend and at a restaurant and cafe and they will buy me food and when I ask them what they are eating they will say, “Oh nothing, I’m on a diet. I just want to watch you eat.” That would be very strange in Australia! When Hugh is sick he wants me to do a personal mukbang for him. So because he can’t eat he will watch me eating closely and even tell me what food to eat so he can feel satisfaction from what I’m eating.

People who do mukbangs, and are very popular, don’t necessarily speak a lot while doing them. They will answer some questions but often people are just telling them “eat this thing now” or “eat these together”. It’s not necessarily about the social aspect as much but the enjoyment of watching someone else eat.

What about in your country? Do you like to watch people eat?

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