What to say: Cuisine, Dish, Food or Meal?

The differences between “food,” “dish,” “meal,” and “cuisine” are not always clear to those learning English. While they all have to do with food and eating, the context in which we use them varies greatly.

CUISINE

The term “cuisine” is used to refer to a particular style of cooking. In most cases, we pair this noun with a country’s (Italian cuisine, Brazilian cuisine, Moroccan cuisine) or a region’s (Cajun cuisine, Jewish cuisine, South Indian cuisine) name. However, in informal settings, many speakers of English will simply refer to “food” when discussing a meal:

  • I want to try South Indian food.
  • Where can we get some Brazilian food?

DISH

The term “dish” can be used in more than one context. It can refer to a physical item used to store, prepare, and present food. The dishes include everything from dinnerware to cooking utensils to flatware.

A prepared food item, such as lasagna or fruit salad, can also be called a “dish.” Each guest at a potluck is expected to contribute a dish for the group to share. To put it simply, each of these delicious treats is a dish.

If you go out to eat, you might hear the terms “main dish” (referring to a large portion of food, like a pasta) and “side dish” (referring to a smaller portion of food, like garlic bread).

FOOD

Everything that can be consumed by mouth can be categorised under the umbrella term “food.” An apple serves as an example of edible fruit. What we call a sandwich is food. Food can be anything from a simple loaf of bread to a multi-ingredient creamy pasta. You will often hear sentences like:

  • Let’s make some food for tonight.
  • What is your favourite food?

MEAL

The term “meal” generally refers to the time of day when people eat. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are the three most common meals of the day. The term “meal” can also be used to describe the collection of dishes that make up a single meal. Dinner consists of multiple courses, such as fish, rice, boiled potatoes, and ice cream. That’s a meal, with each item representing a different course.

A meal can be large and substantial (containing many different items) or small and sparse (with little food). It is possible to prepare either an elaborate (with many different and complicated dishes) or a simple meal (with just a few easy-to-make dishes).


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