71 Italian Food Sayings To Learn By Heart In Order To Speak Excellent Italian [Food = Most Loved National Hobby!]

Italian Food Sayings

It’s not surprising that the Italian language has a lot of sayings related to food, probably the most practiced and loved national hobby!

Here you’ll find 71 Italian ways of sayings about food, and more we’ll publish in future updates!

The first Italian idiom we want to present is really significant about the Italian culture and the great love of Italians for food:

1. A tavola non s’invecchia

Literal Translation: At the table no one ages.

English Idiom: Good food keeps you young

Meaning: Eating is very healthy and prevents aging.

Being in the company sitting around a table is good for your health.

2. Capita a Fagiolo – Casca a fagiolo

Literal Translation: Happens at the bean – Falls at the bean

English Idiom: No English corresponding way of saying

Meaning: It comes handy, it comes to bang on cue (as if planned to happen exactly at that moment)

Origin o this saying: The first reference for its genesis can be the English fable “Jack and the bean plant”.

The young protagonist Jack exchanges the cow, his family’s only source of income, with a handful of beans, much to the dismay of the mother who throws the beans out the window.

From this, a plant will then be born on which the protagonist will find a chicken with golden eggs.

That plant is “bean fall”, it was born at the right time, in the right place.

3. Chi dorme non piglia pesci

Literal Translation: he who sleeps does not catch fish

English Idiom: No English Equivalent

Meaning: This is the Italian version of “the early bird catches the worm”.

The meaning is that, if you are lazing around, you get nothing.

The fisherman must be constantly attentive, therefore without being distracted or even falling asleep, in order to be able to pull the fish up when it bites.

4. Se non è zuppa, è pan bagnato

Literal Translation: If it’s not soup, it’s wet bread

English Idiom: no English equivalent

Meaning: This proverb refers to a fact or a declaration that, even if called or presented in a different way, is substantially the same.

All in all, it is a captivating and convincing way of saying, less direct and, therefore, more diplomatic.

Zuppa derives from the gothic “suppa” which means exactly “slice of wet bread”.

Here then the saying takes on a precise meaning and indicates two different ways of calling the same (poor) dish.

5. Buono come il pane

Literal Translation: Good as bread

English Idiom: Heart of gold, good-at-heart

Meaning: It is a somewhat “popular” expression with which we define someone particularly “tender” from the heart, good in feelings, delicate in saying and doing.

One to which we can say everything; almost one to which we can “do” everything, because the goodness of his heart is not affected.

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6. Non e’ pane per i miei denti. 

Literal Translation: It’s not bread for my teeth.

English Idiom: It’s not my cup of tea.

Meaning: Something that I am not able to do/perform

7. O mangi la minestra o salti dalla finestra. 


Literal Translation: Eat this soup or jump out the window

English Idiom: My way or the highway

Meaning: This proverb known by everyone (in Italy) suggests settling for what you have, otherwise you risk ending up badly

Origin o this saying: Literally means “food served at the table”.

Metaphorically the concept of having soup on the table has over time acquired the sense of having something concrete, realistic, a real starting point, so the proverb has taken on the meaning of accepting a situation, even if unwelcome.

8. Mangia-pane a tradimento

Literal Translation: bread-eater in betrayal

English Idiom: Scrounger

Meaning: Expresses all the bitterness and reproach of those who use a good without having a right to it.

It is very commonly used against the Italian politicians, who are popularly considered a mass of “mangia-pane a tradimento”.

9. Meglio un uovo oggi che una gallina domani

Literal Translation: better an egg today than a chicken tomorrow

English Idiom: better some of a pudding than none of a pie.

Meaning: Better to settle for what you have, albeit little than the risk for something much bigger and difficult to reach

The egg represents the present, good for those who live by the day, while the chicken that can produce many more eggs represents the future, or rather a bet for the future, which, however, according to this proverb is to be considered risky.

10. Ha molto sale in zucca

Literal Translation: Has a lot of salt in his gourd

English Idiom: Little pigheaded

Meaning: She’s/He’s very clever.

Origin o this saying: Pumpkin, courgettes, watermelons, melons and similar are part of the wide Botanical Species belonging to the CUCURBITACEAE.

Such fruits and verdure are notoriously crammed with water, difficult to trace in them some trace of Clorurio di Sodio, aka NaCl, that is the common salt used in the kitchen.

Who, therefore, proves to possess a little bit of salt in PUMPKIN, is really a phenomenon …. as, despite being in the midst of that tide of water, it proves to hold a conspicuous part of gray matter, aka brain.

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11. Tutto fa brodo 

Literal Translation: Everything makes broth, soup.

English Idiom: Anything goes.

Meaning: Every little thing is important.

Origin of this saying: The broth, originally quite different from the one we know, was the basis of peasant food throughout the Middle Ages.

It was a kind of more or less thick soup that remained to simmer continuously in a large pot on the side of the hearth and was continuously enriched with all the edible kinds that could be found.

Thus came legumes, roots, different vegetables, bones, meat residues.

From these various sayings would originate, such as “everything makes broth”.

12. Avere il prosciutto sugli occhi

Literal Translation: To have ham over your eyes.

English Idiom: wool over the eyes/ a compass in his eye

Meaning: Don’t see what’s obvious

13. Sono pieno come un uovo

Literal Translation: I’m full as an egg.

English Idiom: Really stick to your ribs

Meaning: Very satiated, who ate a lot: I got up from the table full as an egg

Origin of this saying: The egg is the perfect container because you know what its perimeter is but you never know its area.

In a few words… it is the only container that its liquid fills a good 98% of its space.

14. Mangiare per vivere e non vivere per mangiare

Literal Translation: Eat to live, don’t live to eat.

English Idiom: Work to live, don’t live to work.

Meaning: Another case in point of the importance of food for Italians!

“We do not live to eat but eat to live”, said Socrates.

Eating well does not mean satisfying one’s appetite only in a pleasant way, but above all, it means guaranteeing the body a state of integrity and health.

15. Rendere pan per focaccia

Literal Translation: To give back bread for focaccia.

English Idiom: An eye for an eye, tit for tat.

Meaning: It means repaying a wrong or an offense, revenge against someone, sometimes with greater harshness.

It is a very ancient way of saying, it is also found in the Decameron, the collection of short stories by the famous Tuscan poet Giovanni Boccaccio.

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16. Fare polpette di qualcuno

Literal Translation: To make meatballs of someone.

English Idiom: To make mincemeat of someone.

Meaning: it means that we have torn someone to pieces, badly hurt, both physically and morally; in a sporting context it means having swept over him.

17. Sei come il prezzemolo

Literal Translation: You’re like parsley!

English Idiom: You turn up everywhere!

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Meaning: You are everywhere!

Origin of this saying: to indicate a person who is always present we use to say that it is like parsley because parsley is an aromatic plant that is used a little everywhere.

18. Avere la faccia da pesce lesso

Literal Translation: Have a face of a boiled fish.

English Idiom: Have a slack-jaw.

Meaning: Looking sweet. Look showing you’re in love…

19. Che baccalà!

Literal Translation: What a salted cod!

English Idiom: What a fool!

Meaning: To look like a codfish is to look like a fool, while to stay like a codfish is to stay still, not knowing how to react to a certain situation.

20. Avere le mani in pasta

Literal Translation: To have the hands in the dough.

English Idiom: Have a finger in every pie, to be very well connected.

Meaning: The expression is widespread and means being involved, involved, in a situation, in a project, financially or more generally for personal interests.

Sometimes it is used to express a negative concept, in the sense of involvement in “dirty” business, in situations that are not very honest.

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21. Ti do una pizza

Literal Translation: I’ll give you a pizza

English Idiom: no English equivalent

Meaning: I’ll give you a slap

22. Avere lo stomaco chiuso

Literal Translation: To have the stomach closed

English Idiom: To have the stomach in a knot.

Meaning: not to be hungry.

23. Essere una buona forchetta

Literal Translation: To be a good fork

English Idiom: To be a big eater

Meaning: That you like to eat, but above all that you eat abundantly.

24. Avere le mani di pasta frolla

Literal Translation: To have pastry dough hands.

English Idiom: To be a butterfingers.

Meaning: a person who regularly drops or fails to keep hold of things.

25. Cavolo!

Literal Translation: Cabbage!

English Idiom: Heck! Darn! Bugger!

Meaning: Expression used when surprised or angry (“Che cavolo vuoi? – “What the hell do you want?”

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26. Non fare il salame!

Literal Translation: Don’t act like salami!

English Idiom: Don’t be an idiot!

Meaning: Don’t be stupid!

27. Conosco i miei polli

Literal Translation: I know my chickens.

English Idiom: To know like the back of your hand.

Meaning: When we say “conosco i miei polli”, we want to reassure the person we’re talking to, pointing out that we know what to do because we know very well the people we’re dealing with.

28. Non si fanno le nozze con i fichi secchi

Literal Translation: you can’t make a wedding with dried figs

English Idiom: no English equivalent

Meaning: Dried figs are a rural simple meal.

If you’re organizing something “big”, like a wedding catering, people expect you to serve “important” foods: lasagna, cannelloni, meat, fish, cake…

It would probably be a certain shock for the guests (actually I’d love to see such a scene) if all the wedding lunch would consist of dried figs!

29. Dire pane al pane e vino al vino

Literal Translation: saying bread to bread and wine to wine

English Idiom: to call a spade a spade

Meaning: A person who is used to speak the truth is a person who is used to name things with their real name.

So she says “bread” to bread, and “wine” to wine.

30. Una ciliegia tira l’altra

Literal Translation: One cherry leads to another.

English Idiom: To be moorish (something you can’t stop eating).

Meaning: It means that some actions are repeated almost compulsively, without being able to stop them.

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31. Chi si loda, s’imbroda

Literal Translation: He who praises himself, gets broth all over himself.

English Idiom: To toot one’s horn.

Meaning: People who compliment themselves lack credibility.

32. Non è farina del mio sacco

Literal Translation: That’s not flour from my sack.

English Idiom: It wasn’t my idea.

Meaning: This expression is used to indicate that everything that has been made has as its sole creator a single person, who has not used any external help.

33. Non m’importa un fico secco

Literal Translation: I don’t give a dried fig.

English Idiom: I don’t give a damn.

Meaning: To not attribute to anything even the low value of dried fig.

34. Essere un pezzo di pane

Literal Translation: being a piece of bread

English Idiom: no English equivalent

Meaning: Someone who is a piece of bread is someone very nice and very easy-going.

For example:

“How is it going with your new manager? Is he ok?”

“Oh very well, he is a piece of bread”.

35. Cascarci come una pera (cotta)

Literal Translation: To fall for something/someone like a (baked) pear.

English Idiom: Fall for it, fall head over heels.

Meaning: To be tricked by or to become infatuated with someone.

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36. Essere un polentone

Literal Translation: To be a polenta eater.

English Idiom: To be a slowcoach/slowpoke.

Meaning: Someone who is physically slow, awkward, goofy.

37. E’ la solita minestra riscaldata

Literal Translation: it’s the usual reheated soup

English Idiom: no English equivalent

Meaning: This is used for something that is well known, that has been discussed many times already, but that is proposed again.

For example, we hang out and you start to moan that your job sucks.

But it’s years already that you’re saying so, without acting to change job.

I could say “i know, it’s the usual reheated soup. It’s useless to repeat it over and over, please do something about it!”.

38. Piatto ricco, mi ci ficco

Literal Translation: rich plate, I dive in it

English Idiom: no English equivalent

Meaning: You say it when there’s an inviting meal in front of you, and it’s a big pleasure for you to eat it.

38. Pancia mia, fatti capanna

Literal Translation: my tummy, become a hut

English Idiom: no English equivalent

Meaning: This also is something you say when you’re about to eat, in this case, you mean “let’s make room -a hut size room!- in my tummy for this delicious food”.

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39. Avere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca

Literal Translation: having the full barrel and the drunk wife

English Idiom: You can’t have your cake and eat it too

Meaning: You say it to someone who wants two things that can’t happen together.

For example, you say “You can’t have the full barrel and the drunk wife, my dear” to a student who says he wants high marks at school, but he also wants to enjoy life, go out with friends every day and not study a lot.

40. Ridi, ridi, che mamma ha fatto i gnocchi

Literal Translation: laugh, laugh because mum made gnocchi

English Idiom: no English equivalent

Meaning: It’s usually said to someone who is laughing for a silly reason, or for something that annoys you.

For example, if you fall and someone laughs about you, you reply “laugh, laugh because mum made gnocchi”.

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41. È inutile piangere sul latte versato

Literal Translation: it’s useless to cry over poured milk

English Idiom: no English equivalent

Meaning: This proverb simply says that “what is done is done”, it’s useless to regret past actions or errors over and over.

Let’s say that we park downtown and we go shopping, but you forgot to lock our car.

When we go back to the parking, we discover that someone stole the car.

If you start to whine that you’ve been stupid, that it was all your fault, I could tell you “well, it’s done.

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Now it’s useless to cry over the poured milk, let’s call the police and see if they can help us”.

42. Salvare capra e cavoli

Literal Translation: saving goat and cabbage

English Idiom: To run with the hares and hunt with the hounds.

Meaning: This saying is typically used in an emergency or in difficult situations.

It’s the ability to make decisions that allow you to protect your assets in such contexts.

Think at the classical game of the farmer who is on a riverside, with his goat and his cabbage.

There is also a wolf on the same side. He has to bring his goat and his cabbage to the other side of the river by using a boat, and he can only bring one between the three (wolf, goat, cabbage) on each trip.

There is a solution that allows the farmer to “save goat and cabbage” without risking that when he is not present the wolf eats the goat, or that the goat eats the cabbage.

43. Spuntare come funghi

Literal Translation: Coming out like mushrooms

English Idiom: To spring up like mushrooms.

Meaning: It refers to the speed with which mushrooms grow.

The day before there is nothing in the woods, but a little rain and some heat, and the day after there are mushrooms everywhere.

For example, if you wake up and you find a lot of bumps on your face you can say “ouch! these bumps are coming out like mushrooms!”

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44. Nella botte piccola c’è il vino buono

Literal Translation: In the small barrel there’s the good wine

English Idiom: Good things come in small packages.

Meaning: It’s pretty obvious. This is probably one of the Italian food sayings that I use more to joke about my height (I am rather short).

“Yes yes, I am short, but you know: in the small barrel there’s the good wine!

45. Gettare troppa carne al fuoco

Literal Translation: throwing too much meat on the fire

English Idiom: To bite off more than you can chew

Meaning: Very popular. For example, you’re in a meeting and your colleague is listing all the things that your team needs to do this week.

If the list is too long and it’s difficult to process all this information, you can say “wait, let’s not throw too much meat on the fire, let’s focus on the first two tasks, and then we’ll think about the rest, ok?”.

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46. Togliere le castagne dal fuoco

Literal Translation: Taking the chestnuts away from the fire

English Idiom: No English equivalent

Meaning: It’s a problem if you keep the chestnuts roasting on the fire for too long, they may become burnt.

Taking them away is: solving a problem. This is the meaning of this proverb.

47. Gallina vecchia fa buon brodo

Literal Translation: old chicken makes good broth

English Idiom: Good broth can be made in an old pot.

Meaning: It’s a very common proverb in Italy, it simply says that the old people and the old stuff are usually good.

For example it someone says “wow your cell phone is a dinosaur but it still works perfectly!” you can reply “oh yes, old chicken makes good broth!”

48. Chi ha il pane non ha i denti, chi ha i denti non ha il pane

Literal Translation: those who have the bread don’t have the teeth, those who have the teeth don’t have the bread

English Idiom:  To have the means but not the know-how

Meaning: This phrase speaks about a mocking fate. Imagine, for example, two girls.

One is very poor, her family gives her a lot of freedom.

She wants to study at the university but she doesn’t have enough money, so she has to quit school and go to work very young.

The other girl is from a wealthy family who pushes her to study and take a degree at the university, but she doesn’t like to study and she wants to go to work as soon as possible.

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49. Mica pizza e fichi

Literal Translation: it’s not pizza and figs

English Idiom: No English equivalent

Meaning: Pizza and figs are a humble traditional meal. Let’s say that a friend comes to visit you and says “Wow your new house is great!

And the garden is gorgeous too!” you can proudly reply “Of course they are. It’s not pizza and figs!”

50. Finisce tutto a tarallucci e vino

Literal Translation: everything ends with tarallucci (Italian biscuits) and wine

English Idiom: “To make it up before a glass of wine” or “To end up good friends”

American English Idiom: To sing Kumbaya”. (They ended up singing kumbaya)

Meaning: Tarallucci (little savory doughnuts) and wine is popular combination in Italy.

It is frequently eaten at the end of a meal, in place of the dessert.

The moment when tarallucci and wine are eaten is typically a pleasant moment: everybody is satisfied with the good food, happy for the wine drunk, and for the conversation.

The concept of this proverb is that even if during dinner you were upset with someone at your table, or you had an animated discussion with him when tarallucci and wine are served the disputes are forgiven, everybody is again in a good mood and friendly.

Example: “How did the meeting go? Were the customers still upset for our delay in delivering the application?”.

“Oh not at all, we talked about everything but the application, like if they suddenly forgot about it.

Everything ended with tarallucci and wine and at the end, they even congratulate us!”

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51. Tanto va la gatta al lardo che ci lascia lo zampino

Literal Translation: the cat tries so often to steal the lard that she loses her paw

English Idiom: “A pitcher goes so often to the well, that in the end it is broken.”

Meaning: Traditionally, in the kitchen, lard is cut on the chopping board with a big knife.

So, the cat tries and tries to steal it, and eventually, her paw is sliced away.

This proverb is often used for people who have “dangerous” behaviors.

For example, if a pop star goes in and out of rehab, but every time she’s out she goes back to cocaine, you could say “hm, I am scared she will end up bad.

The cat tries so often to steal the lard that she loses her paw”.

52. L’ospite è come il pesce: dopo tre giorni puzza

Literal Translation: the guest is like fish: he smells after three days

English Idiom: No English equivalent.

Meaning: This proverb says that when you have a guest in your house it’s easier to get along well in the first stage, but if he stays for a long period after a while the first fights and disputes start.

In other terms, “the fish starts to smell” and the guest is not so welcome anymore.

53. Chi la vuole cotta, chi la vuole cruda

Literal Translation: who wants it cooked, who wants it raw

English Idiom: No English equivalent.

Meaning: Usually different people want things done differently.

Imagine that you’re making a frittata (egg tortilla) for your children, but one says that he wants it well cooked, and the other one says she wants it just slightly cooked.

In this situation, you could answer them “oh, who wants it cooked, who wants it raw! I’ll decide and that’s it!”

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54. Mangiare la foglia

Literal Translation: eating the leaf

English Idiom: To smell a rat.

Meaning: This saying means “understanding the hidden truth”.

For example, if you’re having a family dinner and your sister leaves soon because she says, she has to go to the library, you may actually “eat the leaf” and realize that she’s going to meet her boyfriend, a boyfriend that your parents don’t know about.

55. L’appetito vien mangiando


Literal Translation: the appetite comes by eating

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English Idiom: “Appetite comes with eating”, or “The more you get the more you want.”

Meaning: It means that sometimes you don’t feel hungry, but then you start to eat some food and, slowly, the appetite comes and you keep on eating tastefully.

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56. Il miglior condimento del cibo è la fame

Literal Translation: food’s best dressing is hunger

English Idiom: No English equivalent

Meaning: Not much to explain here.

Is there any sauce or flavoring that makes you enjoy a meal more than hunger?

57. Chi tenne lo foco campà, chi tenne lo pane morì

Literal Translation: those who had the fire survived, those who had the bread died

English Idiom: No English equivalent

Meaning: I’ve always heard this phrase from my grandparents in Segni.

They have a fireplace in their kitchen, and during the cold winters it’s usual that someone notes “hm, having a fire with this cold is a blessing!”.

In that case, my grandpa or my grandma, who lived the difficulties of the war and who didn’t have radiators for sure, would reply “eh you know, those who had the fire survived, those who had the bread died”

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58. Come un cavolo a merenda

Literal Translation: like cabbage as a snack

English Idiom:  “It sticks out like a sore thumb”

Meaning: “This intervention you made fits the topic like a cabbage for snacking!”, I mean that what you said is completely out of context.

After all, not many desire to eat cabbage as a snack!

59. Capitare come il cacio sui maccheroni

Literal Translation: like cacio cheese on maccheroni

English Idiom: To happen as fish & chips.

Meaning: The perfect opposite of the previous proverb. Cacio binds very well with maccheroni, so if I say “this hat on that dress will be like cacio on maccheroni!” I mean that it is perfectly appropriate for the dress.

60. Non si vive di solo pane

Literal Translation: you don’t live with just bread

English Idiom: No English equivalent

Meaning: It means that in life there’s the need for more than just the basic things necessary for survival (for example one of the simplest foods, bread, to eat).

If someone sadly says “I am unhappy, but I have a good job and all the money I need… I should be ok” you can answer “Eh, but you don’t live with just bread”.

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61. Usare il bastone e la carota

Literal Translation: using the stick and the carrot

English Idiom: using the carrot and the stick

Meaning: In ancient times, in Italy, mules were used a lot for agricultural works, particularly to carry wood and other heavy objects.

But mules are also considered “stubborn animals”, that sometimes don’t want to cooperate.

So their owners used two methods to convince them to work.

The hard one, a stick to hit them, and the good one, a carrot that was held in front of them, to make them move.

Using the stick and the carrot nowadays means using both gentleness and severity. It is often cited about kids and their education.

62. Al contadino non far sapere quant’è buono il cacio con le pere

Literal Translation: don’t let the farmer know how good is cacio cheese with pears

English Idiom: No English equivalent

Meaning: The food combination cacio + pears is a very good one, but also one people tend not to think of. So it’s like a “secret”. This saying suggests keeping a secret.

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63. Chi mangia da solo si strozza

Literal Translation: he who eats alone chokes

English Idiom: No English equivalent

Meaning: Eating is and has always been considered a social moment in Italy.

According to this saying, you should never eat alone, or you will choke.

64. La farina del diavolo va tutta in crusca

Literal Translation: the devil’s flour becomes all bran

English Idiom: No English equivalent

Meaning: The plans that are made with bad intentions fail.

Traditionally the bran is considered the worst part of the grain (one of the few cases of traditional non-wisdom!) and it is used to feed the animals.

So if the “flour becomes all bran” things went awry.

65. Buon vino fa sangue

Literal Translation: good wine makes good blood

English Idiom: a pint a day keeps the doctor away (referring to beer)

Meaning: This popular adagio has no real meaning, but recently scientists are discovering that wine, particularly red wine, helps maintain good health thanks to some nutrients present in grapes.

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67. Trovare pane per i propri denti

Literal Translation: finding bread for your teeth

English Idiom: to find something to sink your teeth into.

Meaning: “His new girlfriend has a strong personality.

This time he surely found some bread for his teeth”.

It means that for the guy, who is used to being the one who wears the pants in a relationship, things will not be easy this time.

The saying can be also cited in other situations, for example, if I am your boss and I know that you are a very skilled worker, I can assign you a very hard task and say “Here.

This is going to be bread for your teeth. I hope you can do it because it’s a mess”.

68. Fare il pesce in barile

Literal Translation: act like a fish in the barrel

English Idiom: No English equivalent

Meaning: The fish in the barrel stays there, closed in his container, doesn’t know what happens outside, doesn’t have an opinion about any fact.

For example, if there is a controversy and you don’t take any position, you’re “pretending to be a fish in the barrel”.

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69. Una mela al giorno toglie il medico di torno

Literal Translation: an apple a day keeps the doctor away

English Idiom: an apple a day keeps the doctor away

Meaning: This one doesn’t need any explanation since it’s exactly the same as in the English language.

Obviously, it is extremely popular.

70. Essere alla frutta

Literal Translation: being at fruit time

English Idiom: “to be at the bottom of the barrel”, or “to hit rock-bottom”

Meaning: Fruit is usually eaten at the end of lunch or dinner in Italy, so it’s the “final stage”.

This phrase is used ironically to mean that someone has reached his terminal stage, for example: “What, you forgot your keys again? Man, you’re really at fruit time!”.

Another example: “guys, these are our last hundred dollars, and then we are broke. We’re officially at fruit time.”

71. Rompere le uova nel paniere

Literal Translation: breaking the eggs in the basket

English Idiom: “to queer the pitch”, or “to rain on sb’s parade” or “to spike guns”.

Meaning: It means ruining someone’s plans. For example, if I was planning a trip this weekend but my mother-in-law comes to visit unannounced, she surely breaks my eggs in the basket.

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