The Italian You Won’t Learn in Class: Food Idioms in the Italian Language

Mar 9, 2016


Il cibo


A Guest Post by Valeria Biancalani 

Food (il cibo) is strongly linked to the Italian culture and consequently to the Italian language. Many idioms in Italian use words related to food. Although you may not learn them in class, Italian people commonly use these expressions in everyday life (nella vita di tutti i giorni). It is important to know them in order not to misunderstand (fraintendere) Italian speakers. So, let's see how to use them:

PizzaEssere una pizza (literally: to be a pizza) — to be boring

The international word pizza is not only used to refer to one of the most famous Italian dishes, but it can also be used in a figurative sense to express that something is very boring (per esprimere che qualcosa è molto noioso).

For example: I film di questo regista sono una pizza! — This director's movies are very boring!

Diventare rosso come un peperone (literally: to become as red as a red pepper) -– to blush Peperone

When Italian people feel embarrassed, they usually blush (arrossiscono) like red peppers. So, instead of becoming as red as a tomato (come un pomodoro), we use another vegetable, il peperone.

Example: Quando ho visto la mia ex fidanzata sono diventato rosso come un peperone — When I saw my ex-girlfriend I blushed.

Andare liscio come l'olio — to go smoothly (like oil)

When we say that something went smoothly like oil (è andato liscio come l'olio), it means that there were no problems and everything went according to plan.

Example: Il colloquio di ieri è andato liscio come l'olio… penso che mi assumeranno — Yesterday's interview went smoothly… I think that they will hire me.

BreadEssere buono come il pane (literally: to be as good as bread) — To have a good heart

If we want to express that someone has a good heart, in Italian we can say that the person is as good as bread (buono for a man, buona for a woman, come il pane).

Example: Il mio amico Francesco è gentile e buono come il pane — My friend Francesco is kind and has a good heart

Non capire un cavolo (literally: to not understand a cabbage) — to not understand anything Cavolo

Cabbage (il cavolo) is commonly used in Italian in order to emphasize what we are saying. In this case, the idiom non capire un cavolo means to not understand anything.

Example: Non ho mai capito un cavolo di matemática — I have never understood anything about math.

Valeria Biancalani is an Italian teacher and the founder of Parlando Italiano, an Italian language school that offers Italian lessons online with native and qualified tutors.

Dianne Hales is the author of MONA LISA: A Life Discovered and LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.

Click below to watch a video on these food idioms:


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