Feast & stream: Meet India's biggest mukbangers
Mukbang is a Korean fad and it means broadcasting what you are eating.
Google Trends data for India shows that the term mukbang has become three times more popular on Google search and Youtube in the last one year. And Bijan, who is studying to be teacher, is among India's biggest "mukbangers." But the country's biggest mukbang sensation is a father-son duo from the town of Salem in Tamil Nadu. Saapattu Raman, the YouTube channel run by Sabari Kumar, a 25-year-old doctor, has more than 345,000 subscribers and a total of 84 million views. "Appa (father) used to eat a lot anyway, so I decided to add a little extra food and make videos of him eating," Kumar tells ET Magazine.
The videos, in Tamil, feature Kumar and his father Porchezhiyan eating huge quantities of biryani, mutton or chicken cooked in local style. The video also shows the time taken to finish the feast. The YouTube channel, with video titles such as 9 Plate White Rice And Fish Gravy or 5 Kg Mutton Biryani Eating Challenge In 8 Minutes, is now so popular that Kumar has started three off-shoot channels. In one, the videos are dubbed in Hindi.
Meanwhile, Bijan says he started Food Shood With Bijan on YouTube simply because he needed money. The videos, which have racked up more than 83 million views, do not have any background music. The sounds of eating – like the crunch of a papad, or even the gulp after a food is swallowed – are the main appeal. ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) is often a huge part of these videos. ASMR is an unofficial term that describes the tingling sensation some people get when they listen to certain sounds such as whispering or scratching.
But what makes mukbang different from eating challenges? Many Indian YouTube channels catering to fans of eating contests often have jazzy music and graphics and lack the intimacy and rawness of mukbang videos. In some cases, eating challenge videos do fit the mukbang bill but You-Tubers, especially from smaller cities, do not seem to have caught on to the trend. Mukbang is also aspirational. "By watching our videos, people enjoy attractive food they can't eat — maybe because of compulsions or other reasons," says Bijan.
Deepika Verma, a 20-year-old law student from Lucknow, calls herself India's first woman mukbanger. She says her interest in Korean mukbang videos prompted her to start the channel Foodie Bobby and showcase Indian cuisine.
Mukbang fan Ayutansh Singh, a 24-year-old civil engineer from Lucknow, says he likes the videos because they satisfy his craving to keep eating. The mukbang YouTubers claim they make between $150 and $3,000 (Rs 10,000-Rs 2 lakh) every month from ad revenue on the channels. YouTubers such as Kumar and Verma also earn money through brand promotions.
In fact, Kumar says most of his working hours are devoted to running Saapattu Raman. He says he even received a call from an Indonesian TV channel that wanted to feature him although he could not go. Besides India, his channels have a large viewership in Malaysia, Singapore and the US. In the northeastern states, where the youth follow South Korean pop culture, mukbang is a big hit.
According to Google Trends, the highest density of searches for mukbang comes from this region. A number of channels devoted to northeastern food, such as Apei Eats (run by Apei Opalic, a Tangkhul Naga from Manipur currently based in Serbia), Nagaland Foodie and Mixtos Girls. All cater to a small but loyal audience of 10,000-30,000 subscribers each.
The majority of mukbang audience falls in the 18-35 years age group, says Kumar. In an age when loneliness is rising despite increasing modes of connection, mukbang also seems to be fulfil young people’s desire to feel connected. Verma, who is a big fan of Korean mukbanger Peggie Neo, even tried to keep a meetup for Foodie Bobby fans. "But no one turned up," she laughs.
Professional Indian YouTubers are also catching onto the trend. Dhwani Bhatt, a 25-year-old from Mumbai who started out in 2014 and is now managed by TVF (The Viral Fever), did a mukbang video with another YouTuber last year. About why mukbang works, she says, "Fans like us talking to them. It’s heart-to-heart. And they also enjoy watching us suffer!"