Suppose someone were talking about fake food, i.e. plastic food models on display at some restaurants. Could we refer to fake food as "authentic-looking dishes"?

How about "authentic-looking items"?

  • What do you think? And do you actually mean: Can plastic food models be described as looking real?
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 13:40
  • I've seen restaurants in Japan where the plastic food looks... just like food. There's quite an art to it, but it's a cultural thing; you'd never see that in the UK, for instance, beyond a bit of fake plastic 'parsley' between the meat sections at the butcher's, fooling no-one ;) Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 13:43

3 Answers 3


Since authentic could refer to the combination of items on the plate, or some other characteristic of the food being represented, realistic is the word you want to describe the plastic models themselves.

These plastic food models look especially realistic.

The dishes on display look especially realistic.

realistic-looking dishes is also grammatical. The choice between that adjective and a subject complement is a stylistic one.

  • 2
    @Lambie "authentic" in the context of food tends to have the meaning of "prepared in a way strictly adhering to a tradition" (cf. "authentic Italian dishes"). Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 13:45
  • This could be shortened to, "That fake food looks real".
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 14:22
  • @MaciejStachowski I doubt the OP knew that. Had he meant that, he would have to tell us "authentic [nationality] cuisine. With no other context but what he actually stated: authentic-looking dishes could mean real china plates.
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 14:23
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    @J.R. looks real would mean visually indistinguishable from the real, whereas realistic suggests merely that it is rather difficult to tell the difference. Would you agree?
    – TimR
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 15:08

When we say food is "authentic" we tend to mean that is in the original style: For example "Franca Melodia makes an authentic spaghetti sauce, using a recipe she learn from her Italian Grandmother"

I wouldn't call it a fake dish. A dish is a combination of foods. In this case the food is fake, but the combination is real. So I'd stick to "fake food".

Fake food, as you might see in a restaurant in Japan is rare in the UK and USA. However, you could say "realistic" or even "ultra-realistic fake food"

  • I don't see an issue with the use of "fake dishes" (with "dishes" meaning "arrangements of multiple kinds of vegetables, meats, etc.") - if you can't call it a dish because it isn't edible, then by that same logic you can't call it food either... Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 13:49
  • I agree and I'd stay away from authentic dishes here. Not that in some contexts, one might not say this. The fake food models look like real food or the models are realistic. As authentic Italian dishes,
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 14:26
  • @MaciejStachowski that's a fair thought. I still don't like "fake dish", and I'll have a think about why not.
    – James K
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 22:04

Short answer: Yes.

In context, the word "dish" can mean a food item, or it can mean the plate it is served on. So "authentic-looking dishes" is ambiguous: does it mean that the food looks authentic or that the plates look authentic? I'd probably say, "authentic-looking food". Or if necessary for clarity, "plastic but authentic-looking food".

James K notes that when talking about food, "authentic" is often used to mean true to the original culture. Like an "authentic burrito" means a burrito as people in Mexico would actually prepare it, as opposed to the Americanized version you get at Taco Bell. It's a valid point, but I think if you said, "the plastic model food looked very authentic", people would understand you to mean "looked like real food", and not "looked like the way it is prepared in Mexico". Unless the context made such a meaning likely.

  • Precisely, it is ambiguous here.
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 14:48

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