Saturday, February 5, 2011

A small compendium of Italian food expressions

As previously stated in the pages, or rather, screens, of this illustrious blog, the Italians have lots and lots of idioms, sayings and proverbs about food and wine. Let's take a look at some. I make no claim to being exhaustive, as there are also many local sayings in dialects I don't know. Many have already been presented in previous posts. Here goes.

Tanto ci va la gatta al lardo che ci lascia lo zampino. The cat goes to the lard so many times that she leaves her paw-print. If you keep doing something wrong, there will be consequences, you'll get caught. Some think this refers to an actual paw caught in a trap made with lard. However, they are wrong and I know better; the moral is the same anyway. I am mildly offended by the fact that they made the cat female, as if we were recidivist troublemakers. I also did not know cats loved lard so much. I thought they loved "cheezburgers". Come to think of it, cheeseburgers are the modern American equivalent of lard. I can just see someone's cat leaving its (note: its, neutral) paw-print in the melted cheddar cheese patty at Mickey Dee's.

Chi ha denti non ha pane, chi ha pane non ha denti. He who has teeth doesn't have bread, he who has bread doesn't have teeth. The young who have the conditions to enjoy life don't have money and possessions, the old have financial stability but not the beauty, health etc. to make the most of it. A cheerful thought for your Saturday morning.

Chi non risica non rosica. He who doesn't risk doesn't gnaw (= eat). Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Il vino fa buon sangue. Wine makes for good blood. Namely, it improves your HDL cholesterol level and probably some other stuff.

In vino veritas. In wine (there is) truth. Yes, I know this is Latin, but it is so close to the Italian that they say it all the time. Alcohol lowers inhibition and the real person comes out. True.

C'entra come i cavoli a merenda. As appropriate as cabbage for a snack. Said of something irrelevant, a non sequitur.

Al contadino non far sapere quanto e' buono il formaggio con le pere. Don't let the farmer know how good cheese is with pears. WTF? This is so obscure an Italian food scholar had to write a book about it. Result: he increased the obscurity, something intellectuals have been known to do.

Finire a tarallucci e vino. To end up with tarallucci cookies and wine. When some dispute or unpleasantness ends amicably.

O mangi la minestra o salti dalla finestra. Eat this soup or jump out the window. You have no real choice: it's my way or the highway.

Volere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca. He wants a full wine barrel and a drunken wife. He wants to have his cake and eat it too. Showing that Italians prize wine more than cake. How right they are.

Bacco, tabacco e Venere riducono l'uomo in cenere. Bacchus, tobacco and Venus turn man to ash. Booze, smokes and sex will do you in.

L'appetito vien mangiando. Appetite comes to you while eating. Not true, as anyone who has ever been on a diet can tell you.

Dire pane al pane e vino al vino. To call bread, bread and wine, wine. To call things by their name, to speak frankly. To call a spade a spade.

Se non e' zuppa e' pan bagnato. If it's not soup it's soggy bread. It may not technically be something, but it's damn close. It's practically the same thing by another name.

Una ciliegia tira l'altra. One cherry leads to another. Like the old Lay's potato chips ad: betcha can't eat just one.

A tavola non s'invecchia. One does not grow old at the table. Time spent at the table is so pleasant it is to be subtracted from the usual tedium and vexation that make up our life.

E' meglio l'uovo oggi che la gallina domani. Better an egg today than a hen tomorrow. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Buono come il pane, bello come il sole. As good as bread, as beautiful as the sun.

Chi si loda, s'imbroda. He who praises himself, gets broth all over himself. People who compliment themselves lack cred, not to mention good taste.

Chi dorme non piglia pesci. He who sleeps doesn't catch fish. The early bird catches the worm. Italians prefer fish to worms. Me too. I also like to sleep, and have successfully combined my love of slumber and seafood, thus disproving the proverb. So there.

Non e' farina del mio sacco. It's not flour from my sack. It's not my cup of tea. It's outside my field of competence. Something like that.

Gallina vecchia fa buon brodo. An old hen makes good broth. Mildly sexist proverb on the supposed virtues of aging females. I would rather be twenty-nine again, to hell with the broth.

Il diavolo fa le pentole ma non i coperchi. The devil makes pots but not lids. There is no perfect crime, plans for wrong-doing are flawed and will fail. Made up by the same person who spoke of the cat and the lard. Did they ever think that successful wrong-doing seems impossible because by its nature it's undetected?

Il pesce puzza dalla testa. Fish starts stinking from the head. Groups or organizations go bad from the top.

La farina del diavolo va tutta in crusca. The devil's flour all turns to chaff. Made up by the same person responsible for the cat and pots proverbs above. Wishful thinking.

Mai piangere sul latte versato. Never cry over spilt milk. Notice that the Italians do not say mai piangere sul vino versato.

Come la ciliegina sulla torta. Like the little cherry on the cake, an addition to something that is already pleasant.

Ne ammazza piu' la gola che la spada. The throat kills more than the sword. This is probably true, if only because people no longer use swords. But in America, the number of people killed by guns and killed by eating like pigs is pretty close.

Nella botte piccola c'e il vino buono. The small barrel has good wine. Good things come in small packages.

Non c'e fumo senza arrosto. There's no smoke without a roast. Where there's smoke, there's fire, and being Italians, they are using the fire to cook.

Non m'importa un fico secco. I don't give a damn, literally, I don't give a dried fig.

Non tutte le ciambelle riescono col buco. Not all doughnuts turn out with a hole. You win some, you lose some. However, if you are making doughnuts without holes, you are a terrible cook and an idiot, and I want you to get off my blog.

Parla come mangi. Speak the way you eat. Be yourself, be natural. Although, what with all the culinary pretentiousness going around, I wouldn't be so sure.

Rendere pan per focaccia. To give bread in return for focaccia. To fight fire with fire, to give as good as you get.

Ridi ridi che la mamma ha fatto i [sic] gnocchi. Proof positive that Italians are a little crazy and always have been. Laugh, laugh, 'cause mom made gnocchi. There is actually a Facebook page on this with over 150,000 friends. Apparently said ironically to people who are laughing inappropriately. Although to be happy at the thought of home-made gnocchi is highly appropriate, if you ask me.

Tanto fumo poco arrosto. All smoke little roast. Someone who is all talk, all show, and no substance.

Troppi cuochi guastano la cucina Too many cooks ruin the kitchen. Too many cooks spoil the broth.

Non e' pane per i miei denti. It's not bread for my teeth, it's not my cup of tea.

Una mela al giorno toglie il medico di torno. An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

L'ospite e' come il pesce- dopo tre giorni puzza. Guests are like fish, they start to stink after three days. Don't overstay your welcome, folks.

Sta come il cacio sui maccheroni. It's like cheese (cacio is a popular word for cheese) on pasta. The opposite of cavoli a merenda. It fits it to a T, it's just right, perfect combination.

Magro come un'acciuga. As thin as an anchovy. As thin as a rail.

Del maiale non si butta niente. Nothing is thrown away from the hog. All parts of the pig are used. Historically the Italians have really eaten all parts of our porcine friends. Not just prosciutto.

Salvare capre e cavoli. To save both goats and cabbage, to reconcile opposing interests. A win-win situation. Apparently goats eat cabbage, so that if you want to raise both goats and cabbage, you need to get around this.

Cascarci come una pera (cotta). To fall for something/someone like a (baked) pear. To be tricked by or to become infatuated by someone. However, a properly-made baked pear does not fall apart.