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What is the difference between うまい and 美味{おい}しい when talking about food? I suppose they can be used interchangeably in most cases, but when should I prefer one to the other?

I've seen a number of examples where うまい is translated as "sweet". Am I correct in my assumption that one should refer to, let's say, spicy food as 美味しい but never with うまい? Edit: in this assumption I must be confusing あまい vs. うまい when kanji is used.

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Where have you seen うまい translated as "sweet" so many times? –  非回答者 Mar 9 at 13:47
    
@TokyoNagoya hmmm, indeed, now that you mention it I might be confusing うまい and あまい where kanji is in use. –  Oleg Mar 9 at 13:51
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It seems to me that 美味しい【おいしい】 is considered 上品【じょうひん】, うまい(旨い・甘い・美味い) is considered 男っぽい【おとこっぽい】. Their meanings are almost the same. 甘い【あまい】 is sweet, which is different. –  Yang Muye Mar 9 at 13:54

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

There is no difference in meaning between 「おいしい」 and 「うまい」 --- "delicious", "tasty", "yummy", etc. --- but there is a difference in usage and nuance.

「おいしい」 sounds more refined and often more feminine than 「うまい」. 「うまい」 sounds more down-to-earth and intuitive, and it could carry a small amount of light vulgarity.

If you were a Japanese-speaking parent, you would probably not want to hear your little girl use 「うまい」. Even if your kid were a boy, you would still not want him to use it too often until he was, like, out of elementary school. I am actually speaking from my own experience here. I am male so I usually somehow got away with saying 「うまい」 as a kid, but my sister did not. Our mother basically never used the word herself nor did she allow her daughter to use it.

After a few decades, however, more women definitely use 「うまい」 like it was nothing. On TV shows about food, you might hear young women use 「うまい」 almost as often as they use 「おいしい」 these days.

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And what about 美味? –  oldergod Mar 10 at 4:57

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