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I understand the dictionary definition of 惣菜:

日常のおかず。副食物。

Basically, "a thing you frequently eat as an accompaniment to rice; a [non-staple] side dish".

Practically speaking, though, I don't quite get what kinds of things one would call a 惣菜. I have a sense for what kinds of things are おかず, but not what things are 日常のおかず, so some clarification about what sorts of things are considered 日常のおかず / 惣菜 would help.

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Compare the results of Google image search: 惣菜 vs. おかず.

惣菜 and おかず refer to almost the same category of foods, but 総菜/惣菜 typically means prepared food sold in stores. Supermarkets always have お惣菜コーナー (sozai section). Foods that do not spoil rapidly, like breads or snacks, are not considered 惣菜.

Dishes prepared at home are usually called おかず, not 惣菜 (at least in spoken language).

  • コンビニで惣菜を買う: Good
  • コンビニでおかずを買う: Good
  • 家で作った惣菜: Sounds odd in daily conversation. Maybe OK in formal texts.
  • 家で作ったおかず: Good
  • So to clarify, おかず can be used generally without issue whereas 惣菜 is more particular as to the source. Would that be an accurate statement? – Kaji May 16 '14 at 3:39

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