Food, Meal, Dish or Cuisine?

“There is no sincerer love than the love of food.”

George Bernard Shaw, an Irish playwright and critic

Food is an essential part of our life and it’s very important to be able to discuss it. In English there are a few words related to things we eat which are sometimes confused: food, dish, meal and cuisine.  So, let’s sort the things out:

FOOD

Food is a variable noun, which means it can be both countable and uncountable depending on the context:

  • The fridge keeps food at a constant temperature.
  • You should eat healthy food.
  • I’ll bring some food along.
  • Globally, there is still abundant food.

In all the above sentences food is an uncountable noun, meaning something that people (and animals) eat to keep them alive.

Food can be a countable noun if it means particular types of food:

  • We need to buy meat, fish and other foods.
  • The foods they sell here are mainly imported from the EU.
  • This program promotes the purchase of local and seasonal foods
  • Sub regional markets can be a first step for exporting processed foods.

MEAL

Meal (countable) is an occasion when food is served/eaten (especially breakfast, lunch or dinner), or the food that is eaten on such an occasion:

  • There should be three proper meals per day: breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • I prefer a light meal in the evening.
  • Come over for a meal someday, I’ll be happy to see you!
  • Enjoy your meal!

DISH

Dish is food prepared in a particular way as part of a meal:

  • Sushi is a Japanese dish.
  • I like vegetarian dishes because they are usually low-fat.
  • To cook this dish, you need a lot of vegetables and some meat.
  • What is your favorite dish?

Besides, dish can mean a container, flatter than a bowl and sometimes with a lid, from which food can be served or which can be used for cooking:

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Dish

  • This dish is ceramic, so it is oven-proof.
  • My housework is to wash the dishes. 

CUISINE [kwɪ’ziːn]

Cuisine is a certain style of cooking:

  • French cuisine is considered to be fine and not easy to serve.
  • This restaurant offers Italian cuisine.
  • Chinese cuisine is very spicy and oily.
  • Cuisine is like a window into history.