Long ago, when the Korean extended family was so large that the moms had to prepare a series of tables to feed all their family members, it was customary to share a table, though it was often in a solemn atmosphere. These small parts of daily life permeated into a unique Korean culture, and in fact, they still are part of our everyday life in a slightly modified way due to the development of technology, especially in the media environment. It is hard to define the exact time period when shows related to cooking and food began to dominate the television schedule. However, the emergence of meokbang (먹방) or “eating broadcast,” is a significant fun factor in recent Korean TV programming.
The advent of personal broadcasting platforms such as AfreecaTV and Kakao TV, and the consequent introduction of a new occupation in the field, broadcast jockey (BJ), has intensified the craze of food and cooking broadcasts in Korea. In the beginning, around 2010, Meokbang seemed as if it were a food competition specifically for the hosts. They challenged themselves to devour ridiculously excessive amounts of food in a limited time, and shared the moment of achievement or failure with their unknown, distant audience. They were often rewarded or encouraged with rewards in the currency of “star balloons” or similar gifts arranged by the platform providers. Foods now range from fast-foods to heavy Korean dishes like pots of gamjatang, but in extraordinarily large amounts. Some can handle a dozen bowls of jjajangmyeon and combos of Big Macs in less than half an hour.
According to 2013 media statistics, out of 5,000 live personal broadcasts on AfreecaTV, 10 to 15 percent are meokbang. People watch these broadcasts with either awe or loathing. The gap between these polarized opinions has narrowed down as the broadcasts eventually gained more variety in their content, combining with things such as games, gossip talk, and fitness (ironically). The broadcast service stations started to pay attention to the “eating” factor and the word “meokbang” was coined. It now depicts any moment in TV shows when the cast members are performing acts related to food or cooking. Numerous studies have been conducted to discover the factors for the craze of food-related shows in Korea, and the majority of the studies indicate that, of course, culture is a big part of the performance.
There is far too much to tell in relating the chronicles of meokbang. However, this month’s column is solely to attract you to the world of this peculiar “sharing” culture. Nowadays, many Koreans tend to seek out restaurants that have appeared on TV or have been introduced in meokbang shows. Try watching those shows either on TV or online to see if any of them lure you to the restaurants or tables where the presented food is served.