That’s a Spicy-a Meatball!: Japanese Phrases Related to Taste :If there’s one thing the Japanese are particular about, it’s taste! Some of them tend toward traditional Japanese cuisine because of its refined taste and low fat content. Others are diehard fans of western dishes, such as those that focus on cuts of meat and  robust flavors. Today, we’re going to take a ride along the Japanese palate and learn how to describe taste the Japanese way!       

Japanese Phrases Related to Taste

JapaneseRomajiEnglish
酸っぱいsuppaisour
新鮮なshinsen nafresh
腐ったkusattarotten
ぱりぱりしたparipari shitaCrunchy (dry things)
甘ったるいamattaruiToo sweet, sugary
新鮮ではないshinsen de wa naistale
(肉が)筋っぽい、堅い( niku ga) suji-ppoi, kataistringy, tough
さくさくのsakusaku nocrispy
香ばしいkōbashīsavory
淡泊なtanpaku nalight
味がこいaji ga koitangy
味が薄いaji ga usuiflat, bland
香辛料のきいたkōshin-ryō no kītaspicy
甘いamaisweet
油っこいaburakkoigreasy, oily, fat
おいしいoishīdelicious, yummy
生の、生焼けのnama no, namayake noraw
やわらかいyawarakaitender, soft
まろやかな味のmaroyaka na aji nomild
風味のよいfūmi no yoitasty
渋いshibuiastringent
塩辛いshiokaraisalty
苦いnigaibitter
辛いkaraihot

The concept of oishī (delicious) isn’t universal. It’s dependant on a mixture of culture, upbringing, and personal taste. Below, we’re going to compare the tastes (aji) of Japanese food with western food and learn some opinions from both cultures.

Japanese food:

Japanese cuisine is world-famous for its fresh ingredients (shinsen na shokuzai). It’s also favored by many native Japanese for its light and simple taste (tanpaku na aji).

One example of Japanese food that relies on shinsen na shokuzai is sushi because it’s served raw (nama). The most popular fish for sushi in Japan is blue-fin tuna, or maguro. Some Japanese prefer the ō-toro belly cut because of its fatty taste (aburakkoi aji). Others prefer the less aburakkoi cut of tuna called akami—which has a meaty (niku no yō na) consistency. 

Silver-skinned fish such as sardine and mackerel have a different kind of taste when served in their sushi form. They are slightly sour (suppai) and possess a refined old-world flavor that the Japanese call “shibui.” A Japanese seaweed variety called konbu is also known for its shibui qualities because of its overly salty (shio-karai) and slightly bitter (nigai) taste. Anyone who can enjoy these kinds of shibui flavors has a refined palate worth noting!    

In the case of white rice, westerners may find it bland (aji ga usui) when eaten plainly, but the Japanese find it particularly tasty (fūmi no yoi) and even go so far as to call it sweet (amai)! 

Another notable food that westerners tend to despise that is a staple of Japanese breakfast is nattō (fermented soybeans eaten with rice). The reason westerners dislike nattō so much is because it’s literally rotten beans (kusatta mame), which is not considered edible in their culture. However, the Japanese believe that the probiotics found within nattō’s stringy and slimy (neba-neba) texture is good for the skin and can even aid in the prevention of cancer!  

PR

Western food:

One of the reasons Japanese people try to stick to Japanese and Asian food restaurants when traveling overseas is because restaurants that cater to westerners serve dishes that have a much stronger flavor (aji ga koi) compared to the food available at restaurants in Japan. The Japanese also complain that western food is aburakkoi and gives them stomachaches and that the desserts are too sweet (amattarui). While a thick slice of double-chocolate brownie cake smothered in thick frosting might sound like a savory (kōbashī) gift from heaven for westerners, the Japanese would just prefer to take out half of the butter and sugar and keep their desserts light and fluffy and not so heavy (omoi).

Another aspect of western (or even Korean and Southeast Asian) food that the Japanese tend to avoid are the spicy (karai) dishes. Mexican food is unforgettable for its use of chili peppers in things such as hot sauces and salsa. While some westerners think that the addition of a little karai gives a dish an extra kick, the Japanese often find it an unbearable torture. The same goes for the karai curries of India and Thailand and the kimchi and karai sauces used in Korean cuisine. The typical Japanese person would like these karai dishes just fine…if it weren’t for the karai part, of course (which kind of defeats the purpose, right?)  

One western food that many Japanese are particularly fond of, however, is steak. Cows exert the most effort from their legs and hoofs, making the cuts of meat around that area more suji-ppoi (tough). Therefore, it is said that the further away from the legs and hoofs the cut is, the more tender (yawarakai) the meat.

Snack foods are another treat that both cultures seem to agree on. Potato chips are salty (shoppai) and crispy (saku-saku), making them a popular choice no matter if you’re in Japan or your home country. Just don’t forget to seal the bag when you’re finished eating, otherwise the chips will get shinsen de wa nai (stale)!

In conclusion:

There are a variety of different tastes that are tied to the food of Japanese culture—such as the shibui tastes of certain fish and seaweed. Also, there are some tastes that lie pretty far outside the comfort zone of most Japanese—such as spicy chilis and rich (kotteri) desserts. And then there are tastes that both hemispheres of the world can agree on—such as sushi, potato chips, and steak!

Now it’s time to get out there and practice what you’ve learned! Next time you sit down to eat, think about the taste of the food in your mouth: is it shoppai or amai? Think about the consistency (shokkan): is it tough (katai) or yawarakai? Ask your Japanese-speaking friends: is this cake amattarui or kōbashī? Is it oishī or mazui (disgusting)? Then tell them your opinion. 

Always remember, in order to master a language, you’ve got to get out there and practice, practice, practice!

PR

Learn Japanese with BondLingo?

Study in Japan?

PR

Recommend

Oishii~!: 10 Tasty Words to Describe Food in Japanese
DOMO and ARIGATO: What’s the difference?