Have you ever wondered why “Italian” and “food” always seem to be in the same sentence? Some people say Italy, and others acquainted with the Italian culture say Eataly.
Italians love to eat, they love to talk, and they love to talk about eating!
Italian gatherings are usually around a table. It is not only important what you eat, but also with whom you eat. Eating together means more than what it means for people in other parts of the world. So, it is no surprise the Italian language is full of sayings and proverbs about food.
Would you like to use phrases only natives use? Did you hear one of the many Italian sayings about food and did not understand it? Here is a list you will find helpful. And there are also explanations included for each of them. Because honestly, some do not make sense at first glance.
1. L’Appetito Vien Mangiando – “Appetite comes with Eating”
Are you wondering which saying in this list wins the popularity contest? I am not sure, but this could be the one. You will hear it everywhere. The explanation is that people always want more than they already have. It is a never-ending cycle of greed and dissatisfaction. The more you get, the more you want.
2. Tutto Fumo e Niente Arrosto – “To be all smoke and no roasted meat”
This saying could apply to several contexts. But the equivalent in English would be All Bark and No Bite.
Has a person come to mind? Do you know people who like to rant a lot? But when it comes to taking action, they quickly become unavailable? You could say about them that they are tutto fumo e niente arrosto.
Also, it is common to see hyped products promoted these days. But they turn out to be a lot less than what they would say it to be in the marketing campaign. So, the saying perfectly applies to them too.
3. Parla come mangi – “Speak the way you eat!”
This saying is also commonly used around Italy. Have you heard someone using difficult words instead of speaking simply and clearly? Tell them to cut off all that blathering and articulate in plain English. Or plain Italian. In other words, use this saying to tell them to speak as they eat.
Others would go further in the explanation. There could be a link between your approach to eating and the manners used to talk in your social class. In that sense, it means to use words that correspond to your social status. Do not try to speak above your level. Stick to the words you understand. And do not try to show off with complicated jargon.
4. Essere come il prezzemolo – “You are like parsley”
When you hear this for the first time, it may not make much sense. The meaning behind this saying is to turn up everywhere. And the explanation is that parsley is used extensively in different recipes. So, this saying applies to a person you find everywhere, on every occasion, and at any place. It may even have the negative connotation of being a somewhat intrusive person.
5. Tutto fa brodo – “Everything makes broth”
You may also be wondering what this means. And a better way to translate this saying would be that “everything goes.” And it could also mean “every little bit helps.”
The origin of this phrase dates back to the Middle Ages when broth was the everyday meal. It was a soup that was made by adding anything and everything people could find. So, the application is that even though something may be very small, every contribution towards a goal is helpful.
6. Cosa bolle in pentola – “What’s boiling in the pot?”
This Italian expression is used to ask: what are you up to? Or, what is going on? In English, the phrase: “what’s cooking?” is sometimes used. The cook is boiling something with the purpose to make a meal. Thus, the question denotes an inquiry about your current plans or projects underway.
7. Liscio come l’olio – “Smooth as oil”
This expression means flawless or seamless. In English “smooth as glass” or “smooth as silk” could be an equivalent. It’s used to say that something is going smoothly without any problems or complications.
8. Buono come il pane – “Good as bread”
This saying alludes to the Italian appreciation of a well-baked, fresh out of the oven, loaf of bread. It would be hard to find something better than that! That’s why if someone is described as “buono come il pane,” you know that they are a kind, caring person with a good heart.
9. Rendere pan per focaccia – “Give back bread for dough”
We are in front of an old saying. It even existed in Giovanni Boccaccio’s time. He was one of the writers who is attributed responsible for shaping the Italian language. You may recall we mentioned him in the post about the 27 amusing facts about the Italian language.
Originally the saying denoted good neighborliness. Here is an example. Back in the fourteenth century, a family would not have flour. They would borrow focaccia, that is raw dough, from the neighbors. And to repay the favor, they would send the neighbors freshly baked bread.
However, be careful about using this saying nowadays. It has a negative meaning. It is often used to refer to someone who is “repaying” another for a wrong suffered.
10. Avere il prosciutto sugli occhi – “To have ham on your eyes”
This is another of those phrases that may have left you wondering what could it possibly mean. So, an English equivalent would be “to have your head in the sand” or “to see the world through rose-colored glasses.”
It is used to suggest someone who is trying to avoid an obvious truth because they do not like it. They could be described as naïve or gullible as well. In a similar sense, it is used to suggest that a person is oblivious to another’s faults. The phrase “blindly in love” is also used in this instance.
11. Sei un Salame – “You’re a salami”
How would you like to be called a salami? Well, in Italian, it would mean that they are calling you silly!
12. Che pizza! – “What a pizza!”
This is not an exclamation that praises what a good pizza you prepared. Instead, it is used to describe someone or something boring. It is hard to think of pizza as boring but the phrase does exist!
13. Far venire il latte alle ginocchia – “To make milk come up to the knees”
This phrase is a little more descriptive than the previous one. Yet, it may still be difficult to understand.
This is a popular expression in Italy. So, get prepared to hear it quite often. It is used to express boredom, impatience about a thing, an action, or a person.
To understand the saying, let’s go back to the rural practice of milking. In the past, when farmers had to manually milk animals, the activity took a lot of time. And it also required a lot of patience. The person in charge of the job would place a bucket between his legs and, calmly and patiently wait for the level of milk to reach the height of his knees.
For this reason, the expression “to make the milk come up to the knees” is used, to indicate a long, repetitive, boring action, which easily makes one lose patience.
14. Rompere le uova nel paniere – “Breaking the eggs in the basket”
To break the eggs in someone’s basket means that you are upsetting their plans. They had plans for those eggs and now they are broken! Other sayings with similar meanings exist. These include bursting someone’s bubble or raining on someone’s parade. They imply dashing hopes or ruining expectations.
15. Al contadino non far sapere quant’è buono il cacio con le pere – “Do not let the farmer know how good cheese is with pears”
Cheese and pears are considered a delicacy in the city. This knowledge would be profitable for the farmer at the time of selling his goods. Unfortunately, this saying is encouraging people to withhold profitable information from common people.
16. Essere l’altra metà della mela – “You are the other half of the apple”
This saying means “being a soul mate.” After all, there is only one other half to every apple! So, the person who fits you perfectly and completes you is the other half of the apple.
17. La mela non cade mai lontana dall’albero – “The apple never falls far from the tree”
Another apple saying! But this time it’s referring to the relationship of children with their parents. It is used to point out either positive or negative likenesses.
18. Siamo alla frutta – “We are at the fruit”
And this one may sound a bit weird the first time you hear it. All it means is “we are arriving at the end.” And the explanation behind this saying is that fruit is the last course in a proper Italian meal. So, saying “we are at the fruit” means that we are finishing, that we are coming to the end of something. The expression has negative implications as it means there is nothing left, it’s all done or over with. The negative connotation could also be to arrive at a situation that is unbearable or fatiguing and it could be compared to the mushy and unappealing aspect of fruit when it is overripe.
19. Essere la ciliegina sulla torta – “Being the icing on the cake”
This expression is used to describe something that completes the situation or the scene. It is generally something good, but can also be used in a sarcastic tone to indicate something bad.
And with this saying, we arrive at the end of our list. We hope you had fun reading all these interesting (and sometimes weird) expressions.
Please share with us additional expressions you’re struggling to find their meaning. Or also those that you already understand but feel that should have made it to this list.
Thank you for making it here. Those of you that would like to learn Italian, we invite you to check this course that includes colloquialism in each lesson. It’s completely free to join and test-drive for a week.