Italian Food Idioms

As I was having lunch with Hedonia a few weeks back we ended up talking about fun food-related idioms. In English there are tons, and that got me thinking to the Italian ones. What do you know, I found a slew!! Not surprisingly for a culture in which food is so entrenched, I realized that in every day talk we really compare all sort of things to food, or spices, or condiments…

Here’s my first pass: feel free to suggest more!

“E’ buono come un pezzo di pane”
Literal translation: He’s as good as a piece of bread
What it means: He’s a good person, a really nice guy

“Rendere pan per focaccia”
Literal translation: To give back bread for focaccia
What it means: Similar to “an eye for an eye”, it is used metaphorically to illustrate a payback for a suffered wrong

“Avere sale in zucca”
Literal translation: To have salt in the pumpkin, although “zucca” is very often used to mean “head”- so to have salt in the head
What it means: To be smart

“E’ andato tutto liscio come l’olio”
Literal translation: It went smooth as oil
What it means: It went smooth as silk, there weren’t any problems

“L’ho comprato per un tozzo di pane”
Literal translation: I bought it for a piece of bread
What it means: It was a real deal, very underpriced compared to its value

“C’entra come i cavoli a merenda”
Literal translation: It fits like cabbage for the afternoon snack
What it means: It doesn’t fit, it’s inappropriate

“Sei sempre in mezzo come il prezzemolo”
Literal translation: You are always in the way like parsley (referring to the vast use of parsley in Italian cooking!)
What it means: You mingle in things that are not your own, you are always in the way

“Tenero come il burro”
Literal translation: It’s as soft as butter
What it means: It is very tender, it usually refers to meat or other foods, and sometimes to people

“E’ dolce come lo zucchero”
Literal translation: It’s as sweet as sugar
What it means: Pretty self-explanatory, usually used to describe fruit it is also used for people sometimes)

“Sono pieno come un uovo”
Literal translation: I am as full as an egg
What it means: I am stuffed, I can’t eat anymore (very useful when someone is trying to fill your plate yet again!)

“Avere il prosciutto sugli occhi”
Literal translation: To have ham (prosciutto) over your eyes
What it means: To be unable to see the truth, either figuratively (somebody’s trying to trick you and you don’t see it) or realistically (the referee didn’t see the foul as he had prosciutto over his eyes)

“Avere le mani in pasta”
Literal translation: To have the hands in the dough
What it means: To be very well connected, to know how to pull strings

“Questa cosa mi sta sullo stomaco”
Literal translation: This thing sits on my stomach
What it means: This thing is really unpleasant and annoying. Often also said of people (Questa persona mi sta sullo stomaco)

“Essere rosso come un peperone”
Literal translation: To be red as a bell pepper
What it means: To look lobster red- said of a sunburn but also of someone who’s blushing

“E’ facile come rubare le caramelle a un bambino”
Literal translation: It’s easy as stealing candies from a child
What it means: It is very simple task that anyone can do

“Ha la faccia da pesce lesso”
Literal translation: He has the face of a boiled fish
What it means: He looks like someone uninteresting and uninterested, not someone you want to make friends with

“Quella persona ha il pelo sullo stomaco”
Literal translation:  That person has hair on his stomach
What it means: It is said of people who are unethical, reckless, and overall willing to push the limits of legality in business

“Questa cosa/ questa persona e’ amara come la cicoria”
Literal translation: this thing/ person is as bitter as chicory
What it means: Said of something bitter in taste, but also of a bitter person

“E’ rigido come un baccala’”
Literal translation: He is a as rigid as salted cod
What it means: He is not comfortable, he looks stiff

“Avere le mani di pastafrolla”
Literal translation: To have pastry dough hands
What it means: To be unable to hold something without dropping it, to be clumsy

“Questa persona e’ un polentone”
Literal translation: This person is a polenta eater
What it means: This person is physically slow, awkward, goofy

“Mettere la ciliegina sulla torta”
Literal translation: To put the cherry on top of the cake
What it means: To wrap up something in the best possible way (same as the English “Cherry on top”)

“Ridotto all’osso”
Literal translation: Something reduced to the bone
What it means: As bare-bone as it gets- often said of a price during bargaining, or of a family budget, it means it has been rid of the excess, muck like bones used to make stock.

“Questa cosa mi fa venire il latte alle ginocchia”
Literal translation: This thing gives milk in my knees (good one, uh??)
What it means: It is said of something (or someone) boring and exasperating, something that makes you want to get away as fast as possible!

13 Responses to “Italian Food Idioms”

  1. Oh my goodness, I love this! Some of them are straightforward and analogous to ones in English, but others are so colorful. I love the prosciutto on the eyes and being in the way like parsley. Hai molto sale in zucco!

  2. … and don’t forget “O mangi questa minestra o salti dalla finestra”… this idiom always brings me back to my primary school :(

  3. This post is very interesting,

    Do you know if this idioms exists even in american language?

    BYe Ezio

  4. Ciao Ezio,
    Many food-related idioms exist in the English language- like “piece of cake” to say something is really easy. Not all have a direct relationship with ours, but I know that “cherry on top” is really the same as in Italian! My friend Sean is “my” expert in English food idioms, as he inspired this post, and right now I am drawing a blank. Sean, any chance you have any other good food idioms in English???

  5. I am as full as an egg
    What it means: I am stuffed, I can’t eat anymore (very useful when someone is trying to fill your plate yet again!)

  6. Nessa, you forgot the most important idiom; the one you should know the most: “Hai voglia di zucca gialla!”
    Hanging around with romagna-people I also learned “Sembri quello che ha attacato la malattia ai cavoli” (many times refered to our common friend Pippi). Translation is up to you!

    Quello là.

  7. Robi, I never heard either one!! I am not even sure what they mean, although a bit of Romagna fantasy is making me able to fathom! ;)
    One is “You crave yellow squash”, the other is “You look like the one who spread the disease to the cauliflower”. Since yellow squash is not very common, I assume it means “You want the impossible”, while the second probably refers to a skin condition, like acne- right?

  8. Nessa, I’m sorry but you spent too much time out from Romagna, and you lost your romagna-touch.
    You are quite close to the first one: it means something like a whimsical and tiresome person, but at the same time means that you whant something impossible.
    The cauliflower one is not related at all to skin condition: it means to be sad and anti-social, to be in a bad mood.
    And what about “essere sulla schiena del buratello” (to be on the back of the eel; that is to say being in a very risky situation) and “fare la fine del garagolo” (to end up as the garagolo – do not ask me what it is, I’m not from Romagna, you know!). I skipped the final part of the idiom: may be to gross for your blog!

  9. There are some really good ones in there! It’s funny some of the idioms you come across, it makes me wonder where some of them came from.

  10. My aunt is an Italian and she teaches me sometimes some of these stuff. Thanks for sharing this.

  11. Really good italian idiomatic expressions :P

  12. well done!!

  13. Siete dei broccoli!!!!!

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