A few interesting Japanese expressions about food

By | June 9, 2015

It’s pretty well known that the Japanese are very particular about food, which reflects on everything from cleanliness in restaurants, the difficult training required to become a chef in a restaurant, and of course the taste itself of the food. After all, the fifth basic taste, umami or savory, was discovered partially with the help of a Japanese company.

I feel that much of this stems from the Japanese tradition of respecting food, and can be seen reflected in some expressions like “いただきます” or “ごちそうさまでした”. I think there is some influence from Shintoist beliefs here, but I’m not sure to what extent. It’s also interesting to note there are many words in Japanese that mean “to eat”, with various levels of politeness (食う、食べる、いただく、召し上がる, etc.)

To be honest, my knowledge of Japanese cuisine is quite limited and it’s something I hope to brush up on next time I visit. But I do have some knowledge about expressions in the language that are related to food, or eating. Here are a few that I’ve used or heard used in daily life:

口直し (kuchinaoshi):

This is used to refer to when you just tasted something not so great and you need to (in a sense) heal your taste buds with something tasty. It literally means “mouth fix”.

別腹 (betsubara):

Literally meaning “different stomach”, this refers to the concept of being able to eat something sweet, even though your stomach is (seemingly) totally full to non-sweet foods.

舌が肥える (shita ga koeru):

This refers to someone who has eaten many types of food and developed a discerning palate. Basically, someone who can tell the difference between good quality and bad quality food more than the average person. “shita” means tongue, and “koeru” has several meanings, including “to become fat” and “to become discerning”.

小腹がすく (kobara ga suku):

小腹 literally means “little stomach” and this expression is similar to “お腹がすく” (to become hungry), except that it refers to only a little bit of hunger. At home, if I am only a little hungry and want a snack I might say “小腹がすいた”.

食わず嫌い(kuwazu girai): 

This expression literally means “dislike without eating”, and refers to claiming to dislike a food even though you have never tried it before. The verb 食う (kuu) is a more rough, crude form of “to eat”.

食いしん坊 (kuishinbo or kuishinbou):

This refers to a person who loves to eat like crazy.

口に合う (kuchi ni au):

This expression refers to whether some food met the consumer’s tastes, in other words whether it tasted good or not. Literally this means “fit the mouth” and you’ll probably hear it more often in it’s polite form (ex: お口に合いませんでしたか?)

空腹・満腹 (kuufuku / manpuku)

These words mean “empty stomach” and “full stomach”, and the Kanji used match directly with their meanings.

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6 thoughts on “A few interesting Japanese expressions about food

  1. FujikoToyohashi

    (^_^) I definitely have a betsubara for icecream
    I didn’t know there was actually a term for something that you don’t want to eat though you haven’t tried it. I encountered a lot of those in China…


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