Do you want to sound like a connoisseur of food in Japanese? Then let’s learn a medley of Japanese words and idioms in this post that describe the taste of food!
Japanese Words Used to Describe Food
Words Meaning “Tasty”
おいしい (also 美味しい): tasty, delicious
うまい (also 美味い): tasty, yummy (casual);
うめえ (more casual and masculine than うまい)
コク/うま味(み)がある: have a deep/umami-flavour
絶品（ぜっぴん）: one-of-a-kind food
(Trivia) Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe often used “juicy” to describe the taste of food, including tomato, beef, peach, melon, cucumber and grape. Just in case you are very keen to see him saying “juicy”, I’ve attached the YouTube video below where he describes many types of food as “juicy”.
Words Meaning “Taste Bad”
美味（おい）しくない: not tasty
私の好みではない: not my favourite/cup of tea
口(くち)に合(あ)わない : “does not suit my mouth” = not my cup of tea
不味（まず）い: taste bad
味(あじ)がしない: taste nothing
ぬるい, 冷（さ）めた: lukewarm (not hot enough)
- とても, とっても, かなり: “very”
- めっちゃ: “very/really” (casual)
- 超 (ちょう, casual), 超絶 (ちょうぜつ, very casual/young): “very/really”
(e.g.) 超おいしい, うまい/まずい, 超絶おいしい, うまい/まずい
- マジ: “very/really” (casual)
- 激 (げき): “very/really” (casual)
(e.g.) 激ウマ (really good)、激マズ (really bad), 激辛 (げきから, extremely spicy)
- クソ: “bloody”, “goddamn” “af” (very casual)
(e.g.) クソうまい (bloody good)、クソマズい (taste like sh*t)
- 全然 (zenzen): very, unexpectedly
see the post below.
甘(あま)ったるい: too sweet
辛（から）い: hot/spicy; ピリ辛(から)/激辛 (げきから): a bit/extremely spicy
しょっぱい: too salty
濃(こ)い, こってり: thick, heavy taste (e.g. こってりラーメン)
薄(うす)い (negative), さっぱり (positive): light taste
A Phrase for Soggy Noodles: 麺が伸びる
麺 (めん) が伸(の)びる literally means “(the noodles) get longer”, but actually means that the noodles “absorb water and become soggy”. The subject “麺が” is often omitted as in the second example below.
The noodles will get soggy, so stop playing the game and eat them now!
I recommend you would eat the noodles before they get soggy!
* 召し上がる: sonkeigo of 食べる （eat）
モチモチ: like a mochi, chewy
カリカリ, サクサク, シャキシャキ: crispy
(シャキシャキ is often used for a salad and サクサク for snacks, cookies)
Japanese Idioms Related to Food
“舌鼓(したつづみ or したづつみ) を 打(う)つ” literally means ‘hit a “tongue-drum”‘, where 鼓 (つづみ) is a Japanese traditional hand drum. It figuratively means “you’re really impressed by the taste of food (and that makes you click your tongue)”. It is usually used in writing only, but you may use it in a conversation to describe delicious food in a joking and exaggerated way.
昨日 (きのう) は旅館（りょかん）の海鮮料理（かいせんりょうり）に舌鼓を打った
Yesterday, I “hit a tongue-drum” for (= was really impressed by/fully enjoyed the taste of) the seafood served at the ryokan (a Japanese-style hotel).
絵（え）に描（か）いた餅（もち）, literally meaning “mochi (Japanese rice cake) you draw on a picture”, is a Japanese idiom that means “(sounds good but) is unrealistic/impractical”, because it looks yummy but you cannot really eat it. It is very similar to the English phrase “pie in the sky” in terms of the meaning and nuance!
日本語 (にほんご) を１０日 (か)でマスターするなんて計画 (けいかく)は、絵に描いた餅だ！
The plan to master Japanese in 10 days is a mochi you draw on a picture (the pie in the sky)!
More idioms related to mochi at explained in the following post:
朝飯前（あさめしまえ）literally means “before breakfast”, but figuratively means “a piece of cake”, “very easy”, i.e. easy enough to do before you eat breakfast. It is often used when someone asks you a favour and you reply to them in a light/casual/humorous way.
That’s a piece of cake (for me).
That’s a piece of cake (for us) to beat the team.
ゴマをする literally means “grind sesame seeds”, but figuratively means “be a sycophant” or “butter up/suck up to someone”. This idiom is so famous that the gesture of grinding seeds (rotating a closed hand on the palm of the other hand) refers to the act of sucking up to someone. According to one of the theories of the origin, the phrase started to be used to describe those people because ground sesame seeds, which are very sticky and stick to anything, resemble sycophants/brown-nosers tagging along with high-ranking people.
彼は昇進 (しょうしん) するためなら、進（すす）んでゴマをする人間（にんげん）だ
He is a person who is willing to act obsequiously to get promoted.
See more Japanese idioms related to plants in the following post:
Japanese Words (in Kanji) for famous Japanese food
- 寿司 (すし): sushi
- 和牛 (わぎゅう): wagyu; 和(わ) “Japanese” + 牛 (ぎゅう) “beef”
- 居酒屋 (いざかや): izakaya; 居(い)る ”stay” + 酒屋(さかや) “liquor shop”
- 味噌汁（みそ しる）: 味噌(miso) + 汁(しる) “soup/liquid”
- 焼（や）き鳥（とり）: yakitori; 焼（や）く “grill/fry/roast” + 鳥(とり) “bird/chicken”
- 餅（もち） mochi (Japanese rice cake)
- 抹茶（まっちゃ）: matcha
- 蕎麦（そば）: soba noodles
- 醤油（しょうゆ）: soy sauce
- 牛丼 (ぎゅうどん): beef rice bowl; 丼 (don) = “rice bowl”
- 餃子（ぎょうざ）: gyoza (pan-fried dumplings)
- 和食 (わしょく): Japanese food=日本料理 (にほんりょうり)
- 麺（めん） noodles; 麺類 (めんるい) = “types of noodles”
鍋（なべ）: nabe, hot-pot
(Note) 鍋 looks similar to 禍 (か) “disaster”, so be careful (e.g. コロナ禍 “coronavirus-disaster”).
Difficult-to-Read Kanji Words for Food
- 海老 （えび）: shrimp/prawn
- 小豆（あずき）: red beans, adzuki beans
- 大豆（だいず）: soybeans
- 納豆（なっとう）: natto
- 海苔（のり）: seaweed
- 茄子（なす）: eggplant
- 素麺 (そうめん): Sōmen noodles
- 蕎麦（そば）: soba noodles
- 人参 (にんじん): carrot
(Trivia) Computer machines often misunderstand 外国人参政権 as 外国 (foreign) + 人参 (carrot) + 政権 (government); it should be 外国人 (がいこくじん “foreigner”) + 参政権 (さんせいけん, “right to vote”)
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Words for a Meal
- breakfast: 朝食（ちょうしょく）、朝飯（あさめし）、朝（あさ）ごはん
- lunch: 昼飯（ひるめし）、昼（ひる）ごはん、お昼（ひる）、ランチ
- dinner: 晩（ばん）ご飯（はん）、晩飯（ばんめし）、夜（よる）ごはん、夕飯（ゆうはん）、ディナー:
(Note 1): ランチ and ディナー sound like a nice meal (e.g) イタリアンランチ (Italian lunch), 高級（こうきゅう）ディナー (expensive dinner)
(Note 2): 朝飯, 昼飯 and 晩飯 sound more masculine/casual than 朝ごはん, お昼ごはん, and 夜（よる）ごはん
(Note 3): ごはん means not only “meal” but also “rice”. In contrast, おかず means “a dish that comes with rice”. Although おかず is often translated as “a side dish”, it rather refers to a main dish (e.g. beaf/chicken/pork) that Japanese people have with rice.
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