Live-Streaming Meals: inviting your internet neighbors over for dinner in China
Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from an article on Lucky Peach called I Eat, You Watch, written by our very own Christina Xu:
“Can you show me some of your favorites?” I asked, expecting her to share the latest Chinese memes. Instead, she giggled in embarrassment and scrolled through a feed dominated by videos of ordinary people eating dinner.
While Korean mukbang is generally impressive for its high production values, Chinese mukbang is fascinating to me because of how much ordinary people seem to enjoy just watching each other. Look through the hashtag zhibochifan (#直播吃饭, “Live-streaming meals”), and you’ll find a massive list of banal videos with a surprising amount of social engagement. Some people film themselves eating fast food in pajamas in a tiny apartment, or sampling the wares at a new restaurant. Others shoot with the back camera, so that our view is not of the broadcaster but of their loved ones—their friends chattering away over late-night hot pot, their husband or wife talking about their day, sometimes even a whole family ignoring the broadcasting endeavor and eating in relative silence. These streams are a hundred thousand windows into normal lives all over the country, and strangers on the Internet are watching and leaving comments as if they were neighbors inviting themselves over for dinner.
The commonplace, quieter videos offer a different type of connection. Food and regional identity are closely intertwined; videos featuring local specialties often attract people who are homesick for their favorite foods as well as their hometown accents. Other viewers perform familial concern for the broadcasters they watch, asking after their health and chiding them to not work so hard if they’re broadcasting at a late hour.