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Silent mukbang brings focus back to food

Rumy Doo

The Korea Herald/Asia News Network

 /  Fri, August 19, 2016  /  01:57 pm
Silent mukbang brings focus back to food

Actor Oh Kwang-rok stars in food reality program “Quiet Dining.” (CJ E&M via The Korea Herald/-)

Child actress Lee Na-yoon eats pasta in an empty classroom, using bread to scoop up leftover sauce after eating her last forkful. On a rainy day, model Lee Jini devours a bowl of steamed beef at a cafe, humming to herself. Singer Kim Hyun-chul finds himself outdoors next to a babbling stream, gulping down hot noodles while murmuring, “This has been cooked really well.”

Celebrities do little else but eat in the new eating reality show “Quiet Dining,” which began airing on July 29 on cable channel O’live.

(Read also: Seven traditional Indonesian rice dishes you should try)

Child actress Kim Ji-young prepares to eat in food reality program “Quiet Dining.” (CJ E&M via The Korea Herald/-)

Actor Kim Min-joon stars in food reality program “Quiet Dining.” (CJ E&M via The Korea Herald/-)

Other than occasionally nodding to themselves or uttering interjections between mouthfuls, they concentrate entirely on their food with no lengthy commentary. There are no voiceovers, very few subtitles and no special effects. The documentary-like show commits itself wholeheartedly to food and the act of eating, according to its producer Kim Kwan-tae.

“In existing food programs, the cast gives exaggerated reactions to food. They try to show who can make the food appear more delicious,” he said. “(This show) wants to concentrate purely on eating. There is no artificial intervention from the production staff, no explanation.”

The program ranked 49th last week in the Contents Power Index, which measures a program’s popularity through mentions on social media and news articles, and is released weekly by CJ E&M and Nielsen Korea. It was the only show from O’live channel, which specializes in food, to be included in the top 50. Though its ratings are minimal so far, a handful of viewers are intrigued by the show’s simplicity and claim it is “oddly addictive.”

“I didn’t know what I was watching,” said Kim Da-hye, a graduate student who enjoys home cooking and watching food-related shows. “But I ended up watching the whole segment. It’s weirdly comforting to see other people finish a meal.”

(Read also: Keep calm and curry on: must-try Indian restaurants in Jakarta)

Model Lee Jini stars in food reality program “Quiet Dining.”(CJ E&M via The Korea Herald/-)

The “mukbang” concept -- which involves people broadcasting themselves eating, also referred to as “food porn” -- is not new. The fad started in Korea around 2008 and has now spread worldwide, with foreign YouTube stars, ranging from beauty guru Trisha Paytas to comic personality Jenna Marbles, taking up eating onscreen.

Since last year, increasingly creative food-related programs have flooded cable and public networks in Korea.

Top-class chefs compete against one another to prepare 15-minute meals with ingredients from celebrities’ fridges in “Please Take Care of My Refrigerator.”

In “Wednesday Food Talk,” a panel of epicures discuss in detail signature dishes made by trendy restaurants in and out of Seoul. “Tasty Guys” features four overweight comedians touring eateries and devising ways to enhance flavors.

Popular online mukbang broadcasters, such as Banzz, chat with viewers while consuming inordinate amounts of food and tackling challenges such as eating 20 burgers at one go.

(Read also: Mandarin Oriental opens new Cantonese restaurant)

Instead of coming up with a flashy new concept, however, “Quiet Dining” aims to strip away all pretenses.

“A very honest side of a person comes out when he or she dines alone,” said producer Kim. “I thought it would be fun to see this honest, private side of a celebrity dining alone.”

As for the mass appeal of mukbang, critics say it offers companionship of sorts to the growing number of Koreans living and eating alone. Statistics Korea revealed that 5.1 million Koreans were living alone in 2015, up 62 percent from a decade ago.

According to sociology professor Jeon Sang-in of Seoul National University, there seems to be correlation between “the need to escape and find comfort in epicurean delights and the increasingly exhausting modern life, its lack of connection and people’s psychological hunger.”

A host of food-related programs are slated in the upcoming months.

New drama series “Drinking Solo” is set to air on tvN on Sept. 5 and will tell the story of characters living in the Noryangjin district, which is populated with students who live alone while preparing for state exams, often eating and drinking by themselves.

A still from a preview trailer featuring actress Park Ha-na for the upcoming drama series “Drinking Solo”.(tvN via The Korea Herald/-)

A still from a preview trailer featuring actor Ha Seok-jin for the upcoming drama series “Drinking Solo”.(tvN via The Korea Herald/-)

Variety program “Let’s Meet at 8” (unofficial title) is also slated for broadcast on O’live on Sept. 13, featuring celebrities and viewers eating together via video chat.

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