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Sweet in Japanese & More Food Sounds!

Karina IkedoKarina Ikedo
Published Time
Posted on 
February 25, 2023
Modified Time
Updated last 
February 28, 2023
A woman getting ready to enjoy food and learn how to say "sweet" in Japanese.

Do you want to know how to say “sweet” in Japanese? What about other flavors? Try onomatopoeia! Onomatopoeia is frequently used in Japanese (words that phonetically represent what it describes). When discussing the texture of food, onomatopoeia can become oddly precise. 

People in the community use them to describe the temperature, texture, and how one eats or drinks. We’ll look at a few practical and basic vocabulary terms that you can learn to say “sweet” in Japanese, among other things!

“Amai”: Sweet in Japanese!

The Japanese word for something that is “sweet” is amai. You can use this word to describe desserts like cake or pudding and sweet items like fruits. They also sometimes use this metaphor for being too optimistic, leaving the final steps of processes undone or sugary scenes. We think it’s worth knowing!

Two plates of sweet in Japanese custard pudding.
Custard pudding is one of the sweetest things out there! Image via Shutterstock

After you’ve eaten your main course, you will want to try Japanese candies and treats. Generally, the more traditional ones are wagashi (Japanese-style confectionery), okashi (general sweets), or even dagashi (cheap candy that kids like).

Saku-saku: Crunchy

Saku-saku means crunchy or crispy. This word is particularly for food that has a crispy coating. Rather than something crunchy or crisp, this is for something slightly crispy. You might hear that crunching sound as you bite into the fried food. 

A bunch of crunchy tempura shrimp.
Tempura is very crunchy. Image via Shutterstock

If you say “saku-saku” fast, it will help you understand why it represents a crunchy, flaky food. The most obvious use is for the feeling of biting into that Japanese-by-way-of-Portugal food, tempura, and flaky pastry!

Kari-kari: Crispy

A bunch of delicious crispy fried chicken raining from the sky. Sometimes it's sweet in Japanese cuisine.
Fried chicken sure is crispy! Image via Shutterstock

Kari-kari is a Japanese onomatopoeia that describes “crispy” foods. It’s different from the other crisp sound, saku-saku, as it sounds like you’re biting into something crisp with your teeth. It also mimics the sound of a hard surface cracking like a cucumber snapped in two. Anything from tempura to fried chicken is kari-kari!

Hoku-hoku: Soft, Crumbly, and Warm

A blueberry pie with a flaky crust. But can you say "sweet" in Japanese?
Pies are deliciously crusty and flaky! Image via Shutterstock

Hoku-hoku means crumbly and soft. It’s the texture of food with just the right amount of moisture. Hoku-hoku can be used when eating baked potatoes. The way a pie crumbles in your mouth is another example. It’s that warm burst of steam as it escapes the tender crust and fills you with joy. Several Osaka dishes are also hoku-hoku, especially the famous octopus dumplings.

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Toroori: Creamy and Melty

A slice of melty pizza. Sometimes, they're sweet in Japanese cuisine.
Pizza is delicious and melty! Image via Shutterstock

Toroori is an onomatopoeia for drippy, sticky, and melty food. As you take a hot pizza slice from the pie, imagine the melting string cheese pulling! You can also use toroori for creamy custard, melted cheese, creamy sauce, and soup.

Mochi-mochi: Soft and Sticky

A plate of soft and sticky mochi. Can you say sweet in Japanese?
Mochi is soft and sticky. Image via Shutterstock

As the word of the dessert might suggest, mochi-mochi describes something dense and chewy. Mochi-mochi is Japanese for chewy or doughy. Foods like Turkish delight, mochi rice cake, soft rice, chewy donuts, and food with mochi are all mochi-mochi.

Fuwa-fuwa: Fluffy

A plate of marshmallows they are melted and in a jug.
Marshmallows are soft and fluffy! Image via Shutterstock

The word fuwa-fuwa describes the soft, fluffy texture of a stack of pancakes or a loaf of fresh white bread and is one of the most used food onomatopoeias. It’s the bounce of a marshmallow between your fingers, squishing down only to puff back up. You can also use this for sponge cake, chiffon cake, and whip cream.

Neba-neba: Gooey 

A close-up of green, cut okra.
Okra has a slimy texture! Image via Shutterstock

Neba-neba is an onomatopoeia that describes the slimy consistency of dishes like natto (fermented soybeans), okra, and raw eggs. But this expression usually turns some people off. It’s designed to make you think of something stringy, gooey, and sticky.

Pasa-pasa: Dry

A bunch of dry pieces of bread--these wouldn't be sweet in Japanese cuisine.
Dry bread can be difficult to eat! Image via Shutterstock

Not all food onomatopoeias describe textures. Take pasa-pasa as an illustration. This phrase could describe a dried, shriveled-up orange or a slice of dry bread. Pasa-pasa remains when something has lost all its moisture, life, and flavor.

Tsuru-tsuru: Smooth, Slippery

Tsuru tsuru translates to “smooth and slippery”! Tsuru tsuru feels like the surface of candy when you lick it. You can say tsuru tsuru for soba and udon if it has a smooth surface!

A bowl of slippery buckwheat tempura soba.
Soba noodles are slippery! Image via Shutterstock

Japanese onomatopoeia refers to sound symbolic words and includes mimetic and sensory words. They help express clear distinction and are frequently used in speech and narrative (as in manga or anime). 

One of the fascinating features of the Japanese language is its use of onomatopoeias. It’s remarkable how well these words express the feelings and textures they describe. Onomatopoeia is fun to understand because it links Japanese culture and people’s emotions!

Have you heard of any of the onomatopoeias before? Which one do you think best describes food? Let us know in the comments below!

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