If you’ve visited Italy, have Italian friends, grew up in an Italian family, or if you’re just an Italophile, then you know how important food is in Italian culture. It’s no surprise that the country’s cuisine has crept into its language – read on for the top ten Italian sayings about food!
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Top ten Italian sayings about food
Italians take tremendous pride in their culinary heritage, and rightly so: the Mediterranean diet, Neapolitan pizzamakers, and two different areas of grape cultivation for winemaking (the island of Pantelleria, where Zibbibo grapes are grown, and Valdobbiadene and Conegliano, where Glera grapes are grown – those are the ones used to make Prosecco) have been granted UNESCO World Heritage status.
Not only is Italian food recognized worldwide for its deliciousness and excellence, it’s also a common topic of discussion in daily life.
For example, when I used to commute to Bologna from Padua several days a week, I frequently overheard people calling family members, and the conversation inevitably turned to food – what they had eaten that day, what they were going to eat for dinner, when dinner would be ready, etc.
Another thing I love about Italian food culture is that so many people know which towns or areas have the best produce. Mention a small town in Veneto, and people will say, “They have that really good broccoli!” Reference a lake near Rome, and someone will pipe up with, “That’s where the little strawberries come from!”
As I said above, the Italian language reflects this passion for food in lots of everyday expressions.
I chose these specific Italian sayings about food for two reasons. Some of them have been taught to me, and others I’ve heard in conversation, so, in my experience, people actually say them! As you’ll see, some of them are used to describe food or dining, and others involve food words but are actually used to describe other things, like people or their qualities.
If you’re a student of Italian or a lover of all things Italy, check out my top ten list of Italian sayings about food!
Da leccarsi i baffi
This is possibly my favorite of this list. It’s used to describe something particularly delicious – good enough, in fact, “to lick one’s whiskers”. Isn’t that cute?!
There isn’t really an English equivalent – I think we’d just say that the food was excellent, or that you could “eat it all over again” or something like that.
Essere una buona forchetta
Ok, I also love this one. “Essere una buona forchetta” literally means “to be a good fork” It’s used to describe someone who we might refer to in English as “a good eater”, so, someone who likes good food and likes to eat.
Essere pieno/piena come un uovo
Was the meal good enough to lick your whiskers? Have you indulged too much from being una buona forchetta? Then you might be “pieno come un uovo” – or “full like an egg!”
This English equivalent would be “I’m stuffed”.
Nella botte piccola, c’è il vino buono
Ok, maybe I just love all of these Italian sayings about food, because this one is near and dear to my heart too. A friend taught it to me not long after I arrived in Rome. It translates to “in the little barrel, there is the good wine”, which comes from an old tradition of keeping the finest wine in the littlest barrels. It can be used to describe both people and things that are small or seemingly insignificant, but unexpectedly prove to be great.
In English, we might say “good things come in small packages”.
Volere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca
In English, you might want to have your cake and eat it too, but in Italian, you want a drunk wife and a full barrel! Either way, you can’t have both.
(Unless you keep a secret stash of wine or cake, in which case, let’s be friends).
Essere alla frutta
“Essere alla frutta” refers to the Italian tradition of finishing a meal with fruit. In the figurative sense, it means to be exhausted; to have completely depleted energy or resources.
Interestingly, in everyday Italian, it’s often used in news articles about politics, particularly when discussing a political party that’s on its way out (La Lega è alla frutta), or a politician who is stepping down or getting voted out (Berlusconi è alla frutta).
I don’t think we quite have an equivalent in American English. If you’re talking about being low on energy, you could say “I’m beat”, or maybe “I’m running on empty,” but if you’re talking politics, you’d probably just say a person or a party is “done” or “out”.
Here’s more on the structure of a traditional Italian meal.
Essere buono come il pane
You’re unlikely to find an Italian table without bread, so pane was bound to appear in one of these Italian sayings about food! “Essere buono come il pane” literally translates to “to be good like bread”. It’s used to describe a sweet, mild person; someone who doesn’t cause trouble.
The closest English equivalent is “to be good as gold”.
I learned this phrase from my little students when I was an English teacher in my early 20s in Rome.
They taught me many things, including the names of the seven dwarves in Italian, and how to say things like “What’s your second favorite color?”. Also among them was this phrase, “che pizza!”, which seems good because it’s got the word “pizza” in it, but is actually used to refer to something boring.
In case you’re wondering, it was used in reference to a game that I had brought to a lesson that a student was not interested in playing.
Non capire un cavolo
Cavolo, or cabbage, is a very versatile word in Italian sayings, because it’s the perfect substitute for a much harsher word that isn’t appropriate in all situations.
“Non ho capito un cavolo” or “I didn’t understand a cabbage” is the English equivalent of “I didn’t understand a thing”.
For those of you wondering, the stronger word is “cazzo”, and the expression “Non ho capito un cazzo” translates to “I didn’t understand a f*cking thing!”
You can also say “che cavolo!” for “what the heck” and “non fare un cavolo” for “to not do a darn thing”.
Mica pizza e fichi
The most recent Italian saying about food that I learned from a friend, “mica pizza e fichi” or “not pizza and figs”, is used to indicate that something has proved to be unexpectedly valuable or impressive, or that achieving something was a big accomplishment.
Pizza and figs were historically regarded as being food for the poor, so saying that something is not pizza and figs means that it’s kind of a big deal.
For example, if your friend passes their Italian driving test on the first try, you could say “mica pizza e fichi!”
In American English, I don’t think there’s anything similar – maybe we’d just say “That’s awesome!”
I hope you’ve enjoyed this list of my top ten Italian sayings about food.
One last Italian saying about food…
There’s another one that I also love, but I’ve never heard anyone actually say it – it’s mostly written on plates and other decor. The saying is: “A tavola, non si invecchia,” and it means “At the table, one doesn’t grow old”. I love it because it brings to mind long lunches with friends, aperitivi that turn into meals, dinners that stretch out into the night, and the joy of sharing delicious food.
What’s your favorite Italian saying about food?! Share in the comments!
More on Italian food
Here’s my ultimate guide to Italian coffee.
Want something to eat with your coffee? Here’s my complete guide to breakfast in Italy.
Curious about what Italians actually eat? Here’s my post on 15 “Italian” foods that don’t exist in Italy.
Want to try some of the best food in the country?! Here’s my guide to the best pasta in Rome!