Good simple food is so fundamental to Italian life that even their idiomatic expressions revolve around it. I was talking to an Italian friend one time, going on and on about how perfect Italy is, how even the traffic jams are charming, when she rolled her eyes and replied in Italian, “You have slices of salami over your eyes.” It took me a second to realize her quip was the Italian equivalent of “looking at life throughrose-colored glasses.”
In subsequent chats with Italians all over the country, along with snippets of conversations heard on the streets, I’ve gathered many more food-centric sayings. Here are my top ten favorites:
1. Italian saying: You’ve got salt on your pumpkin (avere sale in zucca).
American translation: You’re smart as a whip.
To an Italian, you’re clever if you know to sprinkle salt on pumpkin and other winter squashes to balance its natural sweetness.
SEE MORE: Baking Emergencies, Solved
2. Italian saying: It all ends with biscuits and wine (tutto finisce a tarallucci e vino).
American translation: Don’t worry, everything’s going to be fine.
Italians often say this at the resolution of disagreements, whether minor kerfuffles or heated debates. It stems from an old practice in some regions of Italy where legal disputes were concluded with a handshake and a toast of red wine, along with a plate of ring-shaped tarallucci cookies.
3. Italian saying: Children and fried food: The more you make the better they come out (Figliuole e frittelle, quante piu se ne fa, piu vegon belle”).
American translation: Practice makes perfect.
When you fry something, it takes a few tries to get the oil to the right temperature and the batter the right thickness. When it comes to kids, parents are uptight over their first one and worry about everything (babies don’t arrive with a user manual), but as more children come along, parents relax and do a better job.
SEE MORE: 15 Food That Are Better Frozen
4. Italian saying: Call bread bread and wine wine (dire pane al pane e vino al vino).
American translation: Tell it like it is.
5. Italian saying: He steals the steam from the focaccias (rubare il fumo alle schiacciate).
American translation: He’s quick as a wink.
Schiacciata is the Tuscan term for focaccia. You’d have to be very fast and nimble to be able to “grab” the steam that dissipates so quickly from a freshly baked focaccia.
6. Italian saying: Acts like a chocolatier (fare la figura del cioccolataio)
American translation: Nouveau riche
In the 1800’s chocolate was so expensive that chocolate makers quickly became rich and dressed extravagantly.
7. Italian saying: A little wine kicks the doctor out the door (due dita di vino e una pedata al medico).
American translation: An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
8. Italian saying: Don’t let yourself be fenneled (non farti infinocchiare).
American translation: Don’t be fooled.
The taste and aroma of fennel can overpower other flavors, which is why dishonest winemakers and innkeepers in years past used fennel to mask an inferior bottle of wine.
9. Italian saying: We’ve come to the fruit (siamo alla frutta).
American translation: The party’s over.
The expression comes from the Italian love of lingering over meals and conversing late into the night. Dessert is drawn out over several courses, ending in fresh or dried fruit. When the fruit appears, an Italian knows the evening has come to an end. The Italian phrase has morphed, like our use of “the party’s over,” into a general term for when you’ve hit an impasse, the situation seems hopeless, and the fun is gone.
10. Italian saying: Like cheese on macaroni (come il cacio sui maccheroni)
American translation: The icing on the cake
Note that the Italians aren’t the only ones with idiomatic sayings involving food! Even though we can’t imagine macaroni without cheese, for Italians, pasta is revered on its own for its flavor and texture and therefore sauced lightly. A sprinkling of cheese is its crowning glory, just as icing is the crowning glory on a cake. Both expressions represent a bonus, the addition that puts something over the top.
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