Helping Learners Understand Spoken English

Beyond Delicious: Food Vocabulary

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Food: It’s Delicious!

People love eating. Food is a part of everyone’s life. We eat to survive and give our bodies the energy it needs. We eat to socialize and to celebrate, and we eat for the pure pleasure of it. Many people love talking about food, taking pictures of food, and finding the best food the world has to offer.

Common Mistake

While my students love talking about food, I rarely hear them use natural expressions. There is one unnatural expression that I hear over and over again in Korea. If you have ever said, I like delicious food, please keep reading to find out why this expression is unnatural.

We don’t say I like delicious food in English.

The first thing you need to know about food related expressions is that we don’t say I like delicious food. Why? Because everyone likes delicious food!

Have you ever met anyone that liked bad tasting food? No, of course not! We might have different tastes, but all people like food that they think tastes good. Saying I like delicious food sounds strange because it is a very obvious fact. You might have a different opinion of what constitutes delicious food, but everyone likes good food.

In this post, you’ll expand your vocabulary and ability to talk about food in English. I’ll also teach you how to use delicious correctly when talking about food.

Let’s Whet Your Appetite

Our first expression is whet (one’s) appetite.

To whet someone’s appetite is to make someone interested in something or to make them want something. In the case of food, if something whet’s your appetite, it increases your desire to eat.

This expression is not only used when talking about food. You might whet someone’s appetite for a movie you really want them to see by showing them the trailer or telling them their favorite actor or actress is starring in it. At restaurants, you can order an appetizer (small dish eaten before a meal to stimulate/whet one’s appetite) before your main meal.

To whet someone’s appetite, we often give them a small taste or sample of something. Like appetite (a desire or liking for something), taste (something that gives you some knowledge about what something is like) does not have to refer to food. We can use taste in other situations as well. For example, Once he got a taste of adventure, he quit his office job and started working as a digital nomad. 

Have I whet your appetite for more food-related expressions?

There are hundreds of food related idioms and expressions. Some of them are more common than others. There are some that are only used by people who are your grandmother’s age. Some of them are well-known in the UK, but unknown in the US.

I’m going to teach you expressions that are still common in American English in 2022. NOT the ones used by grandmothers. No offense to the grandmother’s out there.

Common Expressions for Talking about Food

  1. to acquire a taste for something/an acquired taste: to develop a liking for something/something that is not easily or immediately liked
    • I acquired a taste for black coffee while living in Seoul.
    • Blue cheese is an acquired taste.

      Blue Cheese
      Image Source
  2. in one sitting: at one time
    • I ate the whole cake in one sitting.
  3. nice spread: an abundant meal laid out on a table
    • My mother prepared a really nice spread for Thanksgiving.
  4. eat like a bird: to eat only a small amount of food
    • She eats like a bird.
  5. I could eat a horse:  I am extremely hungry
    • I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse.
  6. eyes are bigger than one’s stomach: to take more food than one can eat
    • I took too much from the buffet. My eyes are bigger than my stomach.
  7. starving (to death): very hungry
    • I’m starving to death. Can we grab a quick bite to eat?
  8. a sweet tooth: a love or craving for sweet/sugary foods like candy
    • I have a sweet tooth. I eat chocolate every day.

      Oreo Cheesecake
      Image Source
  9. craving: a strong desire for something
    • I’m craving chocolate.
    • I have a craving for steak.
  10.  comfort foodfood that makes you feel better and reminds you of home because it is associated with your childhood or home-cooking
    • One of my comfort foods is mashed potatoes and gravy.

Cooking Terminology

  1. bake: to cook by dry heat, usually in an oven
    • My mom baked a cake for my birthday.
  2. boil: to heat a liquid until it bubbles and starts to evaporate
    • When the water starts to boil, add the pasta.
  3. fry: to cook in hot fat or grease, usually in a shallow pan
    • Fry the vegetables in a pan.
  4. grill: to cook on a grill
    • In the U.S., it is common to grill hot dogs and hamburgers outside on the Fourth of July. It is called a cookout or a barbecue.

      Hamburgers on a grill
      Image Source
  5. roast: to cook in an oven or over an open fire
    • Roast the chicken in the oven for 2 hours.
  6. simmer: to cook in liquid just below the boiling point
    • Let the gravy simmer.
  7. steam: to cook in steam from boiling water
    • I usually steam broccoli.
  8. stew: to cook slowly in liquid
    • Beef stew is one of the most common stewed dishes in the United States.

For the difference between roasting and baking, check out this blog explaining the Difference Between Roasting and Baking.

Beyond Delicious: Ways to Say Something Tastes Good

What people say in one language is not always said in the same way in another language. In English, it is totally fine to say, This is delicious. while eating, but we don’t say I like delicious foodI like eating delicious food or I want to eat delicious food. No one wants to eat food that is not delicious, so it is unnecessary and sounds a bit strange to use delicious in this way. Koreans seem to talk about food a lot more than Americans, so I do think culture plays a part in this expression.

Quick Tip:

In English, we also use many other adjectives to describe food that tastes good. We can use incredible, amazing, fantastic, excellentso good, and really good.

In addition to delicious and other adjectives, here are a few more ways to express that something tastes really good:

  1. delicious, incredible, etc.: very pleasant to taste
    • This cake is delicious! The food here is incredible.
  2. scrumptious: tasting extremely good
    • There are many hidden gems in Mangwon that serve some of the most scrumptious food in Seoul.
  3. mouth-watering: smelling, looking, or sounding delicious
    • The food at that restaurant is absolutely mouth-watering.
  4. to die for: excellent
    • The dessert at The Cheesecake Factory is to die for!
  5. to cook to perfection: to cook something perfectly


The 5 basic flavors we can taste include salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. There are two more words that can help us describe the way food tastes: bland and spicy. These two are opposites.

  1. bland: having very little flavor, lacking strong flavor
    • The soup was too bland. It needed seasoning.
  2. bitter: sharp, acidic, not sweet
    • Unsweetened black coffee can taste unpleasantly bitter if you are not used to it.
  3. sour: a sharp unpleasant taste, smelling or tasting bad (시다 in Korean)
    • Lemons are naturally sour, but milk that is sour should be thrown away.
  4. salty: containing salt or too much salt (짜다 in Korean)
    • Potato chips are a salty snack that I enjoy.
  5. sweet: containing a lot of sugar, the taste of sugar or honey (달다 in Korean)
    • Cakes and cookies in the U.S. are sweeter than cakes and cookies in Korea. However, pizza and bread are sweeter in Korea.
  6. spicy: having strong spices, especially ones that cause a burning feeling in your mouth, hot (맵다 in Korean)
    • We make food taste spicy by adding peppers.
  7. umami: not sweet, associated with a savory, meaty, pleasant taste (감칠맛 in Korean, which translates to richness in English, but not the kind associated with money)
    • A cheeseburger with mushrooms and bacon will satisfy your umami craving.

What do Kimchi, Wine, and Yogurt Have in Common?

  1. fermentation: a chemical change that affects sugars
    • Wine is produced through the process of fermentation.
    • Many Korean foods, including kimchi, are fermented.

      Kimchi pots
      Image Source

Going Out to Eat

  1. grab a bite to eat: to eat something, often quickly
    • I’m starving. Let’s grab a bite to eat before class.
  2. wine and dine: to entertain someone with expensive food and drink, for professional or personal reasons
    • It was his job to wine and dine the executives from the overseas company.
  3. to pick up the tab: to pay the bill at a restaurant or bar
    • After spilling wine on his friend’s white shirt, he insisted on picking up the tab.

A Final Note on “Delicious food”

To wrap up, let’s return to delicious food and how native speakers use the word delicious to describe food. Rather than use it to describe food in general, we use it when we want to compliment food we are eating. While eating, it’s okay to say:

  • This ___________ is (so) delicious.
  • This is the most delicious ___________ I have ever had.
  • The food here is really delicious.

However, as you learned above, there are other ways you can say that a particular food tastes very good. Try to vary your vocabulary with one of these other expressions:

  • This steak is cooked to perfection.
  • The tiramisu is mouth-watering.
  • This restaurant’s dessert selection is to die for.
  • This fish is excellent.
  • I had the best hamburger the other day.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What is the most memorable meal you have ever eaten?
  2. What is the most unusual thing you have ever eaten?
  3. When you feel sad, what do you like to eat? What’s your comfort food?
  4. What food do you sometimes crave?
  5. Is there any food or drink that you have acquired a taste for?
  6. Who usually picks up the tab when you go out to eat?
  7. What is the worst thing you have ever eaten?
  8. If you could only eat 3 things for a year, what would they be?
  9. What purpose does food serve in our lives? Think of at least 3 things.
  10.  If you had to choose your last meal, what would it be?

Read next: Dating and Love Vocabulary, Idioms and Expressions

Never stop learning!
~ Trey