A funny list of sayings and idioms proving how much Italians are obsessed with food
Eating (good) food is part of Italian culture, not only when we’re sitting around a table, but all day long. The centrality of food is clear in our language too, as there are a lot, I mean, A LOT, of sayings about food. I thought about it and I counted almost 40 proverbs and idioms that every single Italian has used at least once in his life. And I am sure there are dozens more!
Here’s a list of my 12 favourite Italian sayings about food:
Avere le mani di pastafrolla (Literally: to have hands made of shortcrust pastry)
- Meaning: to be clumsy, to be unable to grab/bring something without dropping it. For example: “you dropped your telephone 5 times today! You truly have shortcrust pastry hands!”
Avere il prosciutto sugli occhi (Literally: To have ham over your eyes)
- Meaning: to be unable to see the truth. When someone has prosciutto over his eyes, he cannot realise something that is clear to everyone but him. For example: “Don’t you see that he is in love with you? You have prosciutto over your eyes!”
Essere un pezzo di pane (Literally: To be a piece of bread).
- Meaning: To be “a piece of bread” means to be nice and kind. Another expression with a similar meaning is buono come il pane (As good as bread), which could be compared to “as good as gold”. I told you, we are Italian. There’s nothing like food to express a concept!
Farsi mangiare la pastasciutta in testa (Literally: to let people eat pasta on your head)
- Meaning: to be unable to make people respect you. Someone who “eats pasta on your head” is taking advantage of you, because you let him. For example: “Don’t let your boss treat you like that! You’re letting him eat pasta on your head!”
Al contadino non far sapere quanto è buono il formaggio con le pere (Don’t tell the farmer how good is cheese with pears)
- Meaning: Do not reveal a secret to somebody. This proverb is said to be born in Tuscany in the Middle Age, when there was a strict separation between aristocrats and other social classes. Aristocrats didn’t want to disclose their habits to the people belonging to other classes, and the perfect couple of pears and cheese was a good symbol for these. So, Italians use this saying when they want to tell someone “keep this secret for yourself!”. By the way… in case you have never tried this food match, please do it. It’s the best!
Gallina vecchia fa buon brodo (The old chicken makes a good broth)
- Meaning: When a chicken is old, its meat is less tender and requires a longer cooking. So, if you use it to make broth, the result you’ll get is more flavourful, due to the longer boiling time needed. This proverb refers to the wisdom typical of the old age: “the old chicken” is a metaphor for “elderly people”, who “makes a good broth”, meaning that thanks to their experience, they sometimes can have more qualities than acknowledged.
Oh, and if you don’t know how to use such a gorgeous broth, consider making this creamy saffron risotto!
Non tutte le ciambelle escono con il buco (Not every donut comes out with a hole)
- Meaning: Regardless of how much effort you put into something, not everything turns out as planned. Not every donut comes out perfect, even if you put all your effort in making them properly.
Come il cacio sui maccheroni (Literally: Like cheese on maccheroni)
- Meaning: this is quite simple to understand. Maccheroni are perfect with some grated cheese on them! When something is like cheese on maccheroni, it perfectly fits with something else. For example, the matching accessories on an outfit. Another idiom about food that expresses the same is “essere la ciliegina sulla torta” (to be the cherry over the cake). So, if you’re dating an Italian guy and he says to you “you’re like cheese on my maccheroni”, don’t take it as an insult, he’s probably just trying to say that you’re perfect to him!
C’entra come i cavoli a merenda! (It fits like cabbage for the afternoon snack)
- This is exactly the opposite of the previous saying: it refers to something (or someone) which doesn’t fit, it’s inappropriate for a certain situation. To keep using the clothing example: “those red socks and that yellow dress fit like cabbage as a snack!” You know, Italians have appetizing food for an afternoon snack. No one would like to eat cabbage instead!
Togliere le castagne dal fuoco (Literally: to take the chestnuts away from the fire)
- Meaning: to solve someone else’s problems, when he/she doesn’t deserve your help (if you leave chestnuts on the fire too long, they may burn).
Non mettere troppa carne al fuoco (Don’t put too much meat on the fire)
- Meaning: do not start too many tasks or activities all in once. For example: if your collegues are planning the tasks they want to accomplish in a certain period, let’s say, a week, you could say: “These tasks seem to be a lot to be accomplished in just one week. Please, don’t put too much meat on the fire at once”.
Essere come il prezzemolo (Literally: To be like parsley)
- Meaning: to be like parsley means “to be always in the way”, both realistically (to disturb, to stay in the way, for example in the middle of a passage) and metaphorically (to be present in every situation, in things that are not a one’s own). It obviously refers to the wide use of parsley in the Italian cooking!
We had told you already: in Italy, we take food quite seriously. The sayings about food I’ve just reported here are a little proof of it. So, remember: if an Italian tells you “you’re are piece of bread”, don’t take it as an offense. He/she is not insulting you at all!
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