Idioms are sayings or expressions that often can’t be translated literally. They’re widely used in spoken Italian so a great way to express yourself and make you sound more like a local. In this language lesson, we’re going to look at some idiomatic expressions related to food. As you know, Italy is famous for its food. And quite rightly so! There are lots of fun and colourful food sayings we’ll look at today. Hopefully you can use some of them when speaking Italian in future. 

There are some food idioms similar to ones we have in English, for example ‘Essere dolce come miele’ means to be as sweet as honey. ‘Essere la ciliegina sulla torta’ means to be the cherry on the cake, or better still, to be the icing on the cake’. ‘Piangere sul latte versato’ is the same as crying over spilt milk in English. 

Now we’re going to look at some that can’t be translated directly. We just have to learn the meaning of these:

 

 

Che pizza!

Literal translation: What a pizza!

Real meaning: How boring!

 

Rendere pan per focaccia

Literal translation: To give back bread for focaccia

Real meaning: An eye for an eye i.e. payback for something

Note: Focaccia is a type of Italian bread, often with rosemary

 

Andare liscio come l’olio

Literal translation: To go smooth like oil

Real meaning: To go very well and smoothly, without any problems

 

Far venire il latte alle ginocchia

Literal translation: To make milk come out your knees

Real meaning: To be really boring or irritating

 

Essere buono come il pane

Literal translation: To be as good as bread

Real meaning: To be a really good person. In English, we could say ‘to be as good as gold’

 

Non c’è trippa per gatti

Literal translation: There’s no tripe for cats

Real meaning: There is no chance of you getting what you want. You could also translate as ‘no way!’ or ‘not a hope in hell!’.

 

C’entra come i cavoli a merenda

Literal translation: It fits in like cabbage at snack time

Real meaning: It has nothing to do with it, it doesn’t fit in, or it is inappropriate

 

Ridi, ridi, la mamma ha fatto i gnocchi

Literal translation: Laugh, laugh, your mum has made gnocchi

Real meaning: Keep on laughing! You would say this to someone who is laughing but in your opinion there’s nothing to be laughing about

 

Essere pieno come un uovo

Literal translation: To be as full as an egg

Real meaning: To be really full and stuffed so that you can’t eat anything else

 

Avere il proscuitto sugli occhi

Literal translation: To have ham on your eyes

Real meaning: To have your head in the sand i.e. to be oblivious and not see something that is clear to everyone else

 

Tutto fa brodo

Literal transation: Everything makes broth

Real meaning: Every little helps

 

Non puoi avere la botte piena e moglie ubriaca

Literal transation: You can’t have a full barrel and a drunk wife

Real meaning: You can’t have your cake and eat it, or you can’t have the best of both worlds

 

I’d like to leave you with one final food idiom - Finire a tarallucci e vino. Taralli or tarallucci are little Italian crackers or biscuits from the south of Italy, they can be sweet or savoury. At the end of a meal, they would traditionally be served with some wine. Literally this expression means to finish with tarallucci and wine. However, what it really means is that a disagreement has ended on a positive note. In English we would say: all’s well that ends well.