In Japanese, there are several unique words that describe different ways of food tasting, namely, 味見 (あじみ, ajimi), 毒味 (どくみ, dokumi), つまみ食い (つまみぐい, tsumamigui), and 試食 (ししょく, shishoku). This article explains the meanings and differences of these words in details!
1. 味見 (あじみ, ajimi)
味見 consists of two kanji characters “味” meaning “taste” and “見” meaning “look/see”. This word basically describes the act of tasting a bit of food to “see” whether the taste is OK or not. For instance, you would usually do 味見 before you serve your home-made meals to your friends, or you may rather ask them to do 味見 when you try some new recipes.
This is a bit too sweet. Did you actually do 味見 by yourself?
2. 毒見 (どくみ, dokumi) (also 毒味)
毒見 consists of two kanji characters “毒” meaning “poison/venom” and “見” meaning “look/see”. This word basically describes the act of tasting food to confirm that it is safe (not “poisonous”) to eat. For instance, if you find yoghurt left in a fridge that is past the best-before date, you may do 毒見 first to check whether it is still edible. Also, if you are asked to do “味見” by your boyfriend/girlfriend who is the worst cook, then you’d think of it as “毒見” rather than “味見” in your heart.
Originally, 毒見 used to describe the act of ingesting food that is prepared for high-ranking people to confirm that it is safe for them to eat. The person who plays the role is called “毒見役” (どくみやく, dokumiyaku), and it is said that in the Edo period there were people who served as 毒見役 for shogun (generals) and protected them from being poisoned by some spies.
This may look bad, but I did 毒味 (taste it) so it should be OK.
3. つまみ食い (つまみぐい, tsumamigui)
つまみ食い consists of two parts “つまみ”, the masu-stem of “つまむ” meaning “pick”, and 食い, the masu-stem of “食う” meaning “eat”. This word describes the act of picking up and eating bits of food sneakily, especially when someone is cooking. For instance, you may nibble some ready-to-eat ingredients like chocolates when your parent is cooking chocolate cakes. If you have a cat or dog, they would often turn to be a culprit of doing つまみ食い. Despite the recent high demand, some people still feel hesitant to use food delivery services because they are worried that drivers might do つまみ食い during the delivery.
Figuratively, this word can also describe “a shallow and wide strategy”. For instance, when you write an academic report, you may do つまみ食い, i.e., refer to many works of literature and read only a couple of pages of each of them to understand the topic of the report. Similarly, when you learn a new language, you may do つまみ食い, i.e., read many vocabulary books to avoid being bored rather than focusing on one vocabulary book only. Sometimes, つまみ食い can be very negative, as in when you cite from many sources a piece of information that supports your ideas/hypothesis, and ignore the rest that doesn’t.
When my girlfriend was cooking, I did つまみ食い and made her angry.
I wonder which is better to remember word: to do つまみ食い (read shallowly) many vocabulary books, or to focus on one book deeply.
4. 試食 (ししょく, shishoku)・試飲 (しいん, shiin)
試食/試飲 consist of two kanji “試” meaning “try” and “食/飲” meaning “eat/drink”. It usually describes the act of trying free food/drink samples before you actually buy them. In Japan, it is very common for stores, such as wine shops, souvenir shops and even supermarkets, to offer free samples of food/drink that they want to advertise, and you can do 試食/試飲 and ponder upon which products to buy.
Would you like to do 試食 (try some free food samples)?