These days Italy might have fiber optic internet, sushi and matcha, but it is still a very traditional country. Family still reigns supreme and dinner time is still sacred.
In fact, I find that the vast majority of Italian’s traditions and have to do with food and their values can be found in the daily rituals of preparing and eating food. But does that really surprise anyone?
Nobody can cook like la mamma, nobody knows digestive tricks like la nonna and nobody has a vegetable garden like il nonno.
Of course times change and though I wouldn’t want to stereotype, what else does a stereotype serve except to give you an idea of how it once was or how it largely is for most or how I see it in my experience?
Italians hold food and cooking and ingredients and mealtime in high regard. They value a good meal and even more when its in good company.
It’s what I love most about the country.
At first I couldn’t see the big deal between fresh basil or homemade pasta but now, now I can celebrate it with the gusto of an Italian. It’s about the senses: the fresh ingredients, the bright lemony smell of basil, the texture, the taste. It’s a way to celebrate the beauty in life, from the big things like family, to the little things like basil. After all, Italians live to eat, not eat to live.
Italy’s love of food is infused in the language as well. The number one theme in Italian proverbs is by far food and eating. I say it time and time again:
If you want to understand Italy, study its food
In this case, it’s through the lens of Italian cuisine that we can get a glimpse of Italy’s overall values – and learn some of the Italian language in the process!
Italian Proverbs and Expressions about Food:
Dire pane al pane e vino al vino
In English we call a spade a spade. In Italian, we call bread bread and wine wine, meaning to speak plainly and describe things as they really are.
Essere buono come il pane
To be as good as bread means to be a really good person. This is a way to say someone is nice, kind, altruistic. If you say someone is a “piece of bread” you mean that they’re good. It’s often used regarding children or to tell someone that they can trust another person.
Essere come il prezzemolo
Literally translated as “to be like parsley,” this expression means that a person or a thing can be found everywhere, just like parsley. Parsley is an omnipresent ingredient in Italian cuisine, it can be found just about everywhere, so if you’re like parsley, then it means you pop up everywhere or get in the way.
Tutto fa brodo
Literally: Everything makes broth, this means every little bit helps.
A tavola non si invecchia
There are few Italian food proverbs that express overarching Italian values better than this one. A tavola non si invecchia literally translates as “you don’t get old at the table.” It means that with good company and good food, time doesn’t pass. You can spend hours chatting over a meal with friends and it will never be time wasted and its an Italian philosophy that still exists today.
Andare liscio come l’olio
To “go smooth like oil” this means to go smoothly, without any problems.
Non c’è trippa per gatti
Tripe is made from the stomach of a cow and though it might be strange for most Americans today, it was once hugely popular and still is served today. Literally, “there’s no tripe for cats,” this proverb is a way to say that there’s no chance of you getting what you want. Today I think we’d say that there’s no chance in hell, but this is certainly a more kind way to say it, perfect for i nonni.
Essere pieno come un uovo
If there’s one thing you should learn to say before coming to Italy it might as well be “I’m so full.” You can of course say sono pienissimo but that would be too boring. Instead, try saying that you’re as full as an egg: sono pieno come un uovo. Then everyone will know that you’re stuffed and can’t eat anything else — and that you enjoyed your meal!
Non puoi avere la botte piena e moglie ubriaca
One of my absolute favorites! The Italian way of saying “you can’t have your cake and eat it too,” it’s literally translated as: “You can’t have a full wine barrel and a drunk wife.” If that’s not perfect Italian, I don’t know what is!
Tutto finisce a tarallucci e vino
And finally, “it all ends with biscuits and wine.” Just another foodie way to say “all’s well that ends well.” Cheers!
A huge part of Italian traditions center around food and eating. Whether with family or friends, at a funeral or a celebration, if you want to fare bella figura or simply have a good time, you can bet that there will be food involved!