“Umai” and “Oishii” – Two Different Words to Describe “Tasty”

You might have heard a few elderly people saying “Ushi-Maketa” after having a delicious meal. Any clues what that means?

Ushi-Maketa can be literally translated into “Cow Loses” in English. When a cow loses, who is winning? It is the horse (Do you agree with that?). Now, “Horse Wins” can be translated into “Uma-Katta”, which could also mean “It was delicious”, the past tense of “Umai (=delicious”). This makes “Ushi-Maketa” another way to say “Uma-Katta”.

There is another word for “delicious” in Japanese, “Oishii”. So what is the difference between “Umai” and “Oishii”? When someone cooks for you, and you say “Umai”, they might see you as a very frank or even a little bit arrogant person depending on how well you know that person. “Oishii” on the other hand, originally stemmed from the word “Ishii”, which means “Good” or “Favorable”.

Later in Muromachi Era, the woman servants in the palace started to use when they thought the food is delicious, adding the “O” sound, to make the word more polite.

“Umai” is also an old word which could be found in Manyo-shu, one of the oldest song book in Japan. It is understandable if you feel that “Oishii” sounds more polite and thoughtful than “Umai” considering the fact that it was born among the women.


「うまい」 と 「おいしい」