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Can food be described as 'nice'?

This food is nice;
This dish is nice.

I always thought it could be, but I was speaking to a few friends and they argued (and strongly may I add) otherwise.

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Well, how can we know without learning what the food was? Maybe it wasn’t very nice. –  tchrist Jan 1 at 5:23
    
Let's say both parties agree that the food is tasty! –  Paloking Jan 1 at 5:43
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Yes. Food can also be described as mean. –  Elliott Frisch Jan 1 at 5:47
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@tchrist That casserole insulted my mother; I had no choice but to challenge it to a duel. It thought I would be impressed with it's choice of weapon (spoon); and while the brave casserole fought well - I was victorious on the field. I have sent the orphans some small money and to stay with their uncle... –  Elliott Frisch Jan 1 at 5:49
    
Have you checked the meaning of nice in a dictionary? –  Kris Jan 1 at 6:52
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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

"Nice" is used to describe food ... whenever the food deserves that qualification!

OED (1994 edition)

14.Of food; Dainty, appetizing. spec. of a cup of tea.

1712 Arbuthnot J. Bull iii. App. i, This was but a pretence to provide some nice bit for himself.
a1766 F. Sheridan Sidney Bidulph V. 193 We sent her up three or four plates of the nicest things that were at table.
1799 Jane Austen Lett. (1884) I. 224 You must give us something very nice, for we are used to live well.
1852 Rock Ch. of Fathers III. 103 A banquet which usually consisted of the nicest dishes then known.
1853 A. Soyer Pantroph. 284 Some of these pastries would appear very nice to us in the present day.
1899 R. Whiteing No. 5 John St. iv. 38 Her sex’s universal restorative... ‘You shall have a nice cup of tea.’
1928 R. Knox Footsteps at Lock v. 41 You’d have got a nice cup of tea down at the Gudgeon.
1937 A. P. Herbert Nice Cup of Tea (song), I like a nice cup of tea in the morning, For to start the day you see.
1937 ‘G. Orwell’ Road to Wigan Pier v. 88 There is generally a cup of tea going–a ‘nice cup of tea’.
1961 I. Fleming Thunderball iv. 38 The dimity world of the Nice-Cup-of-Tea.
1974 L. Deighton Spy Story xxi. 221 ‘I’ll pour him some tea,’ said Dawlish. ‘There’s nothing so reviving as a nice cup of tea.’

and thousands of recent examples on the web :
In a health book: ... when you are going to wish you had some nice food...
In Melbourne they have: nice food [pubs].
A blog by a Yorkshire person: Really nice food when nice food isn’t enough.

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+1 - great answer. –  medica Jan 1 at 8:21
    
'nice food' sounds wrong in AmE. Maybe this is a British/Aussie thing? –  Mitch Jan 1 at 14:36
    
@Mitch: Nice food-service lacking a Santa Barbara CA ining review. Name of a restaurant in Kansas City and more to be found thanks to google... but you might not have any nice cuppas on the other side of the Pond. –  Laure Jan 1 at 15:02
    
Your first example sounds infelicitous to me. The second is the name of a Chinese restaurant, which are notorious for incongruities in naming/translation. I'm not saying you're wrong ('nice cup of tea' sounds just fine to me); I just want to give perspective for no-native speakers on how to use it. It sounds very grating in English to say: "Was your steak nice?", "Have your choice of nice jelly beans" or closer to the boundary "They have a nice slice of pizza." There might be bizarre circumstances where those all might be reasonable locutions, but that's unlikely for a non-native speaker. –  Mitch Jan 1 at 21:30
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Since your question is about usage, yes, food can be described as 'nice' to mean that it tastes good.

But it is sometimes unacceptable amongst certain Asians (as I've experienced in the past) whose mother-tongue is not English.

While I used to teach in the Emirates, I had lunch with some Indian and Pakistani colleagues. They asked me how the food was and I said it was 'nice'. In response they choked and laughed while translating 'nice' as 'beautiful' in Hindi or Urdu.

So to them the usage was a little odd. However, it is correct and it is widely used.

Going one level further, a single word can be given new implied meanings depending on a given situation. Thus nice could mean: good, cool, beautiful, pleasant and so on...

In certain situation, the opposite is also suggested. For example, a kid jumping on the bed makes a mess. The father may say 'very nice' to mean that's terrible, what do you think you're doing?

But the bottom line, yes, you can say that food is nice.

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I'm Indian - and a native English speaker - and I find absolutely nothing wrong with describing food as nice. Also, I don't think 'nice' translates to 'beautiful' in hindi or urdu. :) –  mikhailcazi Jan 1 at 8:44
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@mikhailcazi: I think these people were interpreting nice in that sense because that was simply how they had learned it. –  Jon Purdy Jan 1 at 9:16
    
@Jon They ought to check in their OEDs. –  Edwin Ashworth Jan 1 at 10:10
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@EdwinAshworth Many non-native speakers do not 'check in their OEDs', in fact, they may not have heard of the OED -- they learn from the Marms & Masters and more from the other non-native speakers. There's heavy influence of the first language as well. Why, consider the OP's case, the 'critics' were not native English speakers. –  Kris Jan 1 at 11:43
    
@Kris I thought that was implied in my comment. –  Edwin Ashworth Jan 1 at 12:20
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