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Mukbang: Meet India’s bite-sized YouTube stars

Mukbang is the art of live-streaming while you eat. It originated among lonely young professionals in South Korea, and it’s now got Indians slurping and crunching their way to internet fame.

ht weekend Updated: Jun 22, 2019 18:03 IST
Samriddhi Nandi
Samriddhi Nandi
Hindustan Times
Crunch,Gobble,Sucking
Saravana Kumar aka YourEverydayFoodie made a pani-puri mukbang that is still among his most-viewed. Typically, the sound, slurp and crunch of the eating in mukbang is the key draw.

Do nom nom, crunch and gobble sound like a nightmare to you? Do slurping, sucking and slushing noises get on your nerves? Then this new trend will keep you up at night, wondering where the virtual world is headed. Because videos that combine eating, breathing and chewing sounds are now going viral in India as the Korean phenomenon called mukbang catches on.

It comes to us, as with most Southeast-Asian trends, via the US. Here’s how it happened: In cities like Seoul — with an ancient tradition of large family gatherings but a modern society of single children — lonely young professionals took to the internet to find companionship while eating out alone.

Their videos, usually posted live on YouTube while they ate, took the internet by storm and gave birth to mukbang, which is a portmanteau of the words meukda (eating) and bang song (broadcast), roughly translating as broadcasting while eating, or eat-casting.

There are mukbangs that are as much as an hour long. Some feature food challenges. But most are just slurping, sucking, licking and chewing (yes, there is more than a tinge of fetishisation).

Here at home, mukbang first caught on in the north-east, as a quirky offshoot of K-Pop culture. From crunchy pani-puri to spongy dhokla, whorls of chakli and bowls of Manipuri dried-fish singju salad, Indian mukbangers are introducing the world to a whole new set of sounds.

Admittedly, the sound isn’t the high-definition crunch and slurp of the best mukbang out there, but here’s a look at India’s most popular eat-casters.

NOM NOM

At the top of the heap are the Manipuris Kebola Wahengbam, 53, with 81,000 subscribers and up to 511,000 views per video, and Apei Opalić, 38, with 16,000 subscribers and up to 187,000 views per video. They both promote their culture through its cuisine.

Opalić’s mukbang videos often feature her husband and her Maltese puppy Bella. “Initially, my only viewers were my family and the videos came as a surprise to them, but later a large fanbase started to emerge out of the north-east,” she says.

On her YouTube channel ApeiEats, most videos feature close-ups of spreads of meat and vegetables cooked in the traditional spicy Tangkhul Naga style that often leaves her breathless. She and her husband relish the food with their hands while making small talk with the audience. Her most popular video features a Christmas spread that she says “smells like socks, but tastes like heaven.”

Deepika Verma from Lucknow is a 20-year-old law student and posts mukbang under the alias FoodieBobby. Her 80-odd videos feature eating challenges with her sisters Anamika and Kalpana. Verma often performs mukbang in restaurants or cafes and eats a lot of junk food. Her most-viewed video is her taking the KFC Meal Box Challenge, which she finished in under six minutes. The video has nearly 1.4 million views.

“Despite the support from my subscribers, my family and several viewers warn me against obesity and health issues, but I make the videos in the hope that my idol [American mukbanger] Peggie Neo will watch my videos one day,” Verma says.

For some broadcasters, mukbang can also be a creative way to earn while eating. Inspired by American mukbang sensations BenDeen, hyuneeEats, Thien Le and Quang Tran, Saravana Kumar aka YourEverydayFoodie, 26, began his mukbang journey in 2017 and has produced more than 100 videos since. Kumar’s videos are a combination of eating and whispering, to cater to the larger ASMR (or autonomous sensory meridian response) audience. He currently has 11,000 subscribers, with posts that largely feature Indian and Ethiopian cuisine. His favourite foods to mukbang are crunchy fried chicken and slurpy noodles.

MUKBANG AROUND THE WORLD

Spicy food tends to be most popular, because of the greater chance of a spectacle. Challenges and eating competitions, as well as simulated sounds, are also used to add to the overall effect of a mukbang.

Famous Korean mukbangers like KEEMI experiment with large quantities of junk food and bizarre delicacies such as the slippery baby squid.

Scandinavia relies heavily on narrative that describes the tastes and smells of its fermented and pickled traditional foods, so mukbang artists such as Anton S take viewers’ suggestions on what they should eat in their next video and answer questions about what things smell and taste like.

HATE IT? THERE’S A WORD FOR THAT

Misophonia is the medical term for the counter reaction to enjoying mukbang. In this instance, the listener reacts with immediate revulsion, muscle tension and negative emotions, says Dr. Steven Smith, professor and researcher from the department of psychology at the University of Winnipeg.

First Published: Jun 22, 2019 18:03 IST