Oishii~!: 10 Tasty Words to Describe Food in Japanese : Japanese food is super good. But sometimes Japanese people will describe it in a way you might not be used to. This article will help you learn different words you can use to describe anything you eat in Japanese.

First off, lots of helpful words.

 BondLingo - YouTube Premium MemberShip

10 Tasty Words to Describe Food in Japanese


Some of these may be used a bit differently than we use these English words. I’ll break down a few of these differences.

Differences between Oishii and Umai

“Oishii” and “umai” mean practically the same thing. If you look them up, they have almost exactly the same definition. However, they are used a bit different.

“Oishii” is used by pretty much everyone. It’s the most common way to call something delicious. “Umai” is something I hear a lot more from younger people. It also has the meaning of “skilled,” so you’ll hear it in other contexts as well. 

You can decide which fits your style, or use them both. “Umai” might just sound a little younger.

Differences between Karai and Atsui

In English, we can say something is spicy by saying it is “hot.” That doesn’t work in Japanese.

The word “atsui” is almost exclusively used for temperature, so if you use it to describe food, that’s what a Japanese person will think you’re saying. “Karai” is the best word to use when something is hot. 

Along with this, you might see or hear the word “shiokarai” (塩辛い) which has the same character as “karai” (辛い), but means “salty.” I generally hear people use “shiokarai” in a negative way. As in, the salt is all they can taste and it’s unpleasant. You can also refer to something’s “shioaji” (塩味) to say it is salty. 

I also noticed that a lot of times “amai” is used as the opposite of “karai.” This is a bit different from salty and sweet in English. If you buy curry, the heat will be noted as either “amai” (not spicy) or “karai” (spicy). This is probably because in cooking, sweetness can be used to cut heat. 

Differences between Atatakai and Atsui

You can use both “atatakai” and “atsui” to describe food. The difference is that “atatakai” is a pleasant warmth, whereas “atsui” means you’ve burned all the taste buds off of your tongue. 

Warm soup on a cold day is “atatakai.” Tea that you pour directly out of the pot and drink before it cooled is “atsui.”

A lot of people will also abbreviate “atatakai” to “attakai.” This is just because it’s a lot easier to say. I haven’t noticed an age or gender difference with this, so it’s probably safe for anyone to use. 

 BondLingo - YouTube Premium MemberShip

Differences between Tsumetai and Samui

If you look on the side of a vending machine in Japan, you might see the word “Tsumetai~” written on it. You will never see “samui.” Why is that?

It’s because “samui” is only used to describe how you feel, while “tsumetai” is used to describe things that are cold to the touch. 

If it’s winter, and it’s snowing, and you’re freezing outside, you can say “samui.” But that specifically means “I am cold.” If you reach over and touch your friend’s arm and feel how cold they are, you would say they are “tsumetai.” You could use “samui” to describe them only if you’re saying something like “You look like you’re cold,” or “Samusou” (寒そう).

Because you are not food, it is more appropriate to describe cold food as “tsumetai.” Usually, this is used in a positive way. A cold beer can be tsumetai. Cold soba on a hot day can be tsumetai. Ice cream can be tsumetai. But never samui. 

Adding -Sugiru

A lot of these words generally have positive meanings behind them. But sometimes, you might not like the flavor of whatever you’re eating. A good way to express this is by adding “-sugiru” (-すぎる) to the end of what you’re saying. “Sugiru” means “to exceed.”

If something is “amai,” it’s just sweet. You might love sweets. But if you think it’s too sweet, you can say “amasugiru” (甘すぎる), and people will know you don’t like it. You can do this with any of our words that end in “-i,” replacing the “i” with “sugiru.” Though, it will sound weird if you say it with words like “oishii,” “attakai,” or “tsumetai.” 

Adding Emphasis

Sometimes, you’ll want to add emphasis to what you’re saying to really drive home how delicious something is. You can do this in a variety of ways. 

With a lot of words, you can draw out the end of them. You can say things like “Uma~i” or “Tsumeta~i,” drawing out the “a” sound. 

You can also cut off words. This generally shows more surprise, and it might be negative depending on your tone. You could say “Suppa-!” when you eat a strawberry that probably wasn’t quite ripe enough. 

The biggest way to add emphasis and to tell people how you feel about certain flavors will be through tone and facial expressions. 

So have fun eating and describing food in Japanese! Listen to what other people say, and how they express what they think about different food. Food is always a great conversation piece, especially when learning a language.

Learn Japanese with BondLingo?

Study in Japan?



5 Common English Words Used in Japanese Business
Good Morning!: How to Use Ohayogozaimasu in Japanese