As the cliché says, food is extremely important in Spain. As is true of other Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Greece, Spanish culture is quite often based on food, and most of our social activities are related to food. It is a common joke to say that it is impossible to have a social life while fasting since most Spanish meetings with friends and family are conducted around a table full of food and drinks.
Many anthropologists and linguistic experts realize how important culture is when we talk about a language. For that reason, we know why Eskimos have so many words to define “snow” (falling snow, snow on the floor, melting snow…) or why Galicians (people from Galicia, the most rainy region in Spain) have around seventy words related to “rain.” This probably also explains why Spanish people have so many idiomatic expressions based on food.
However, beyond this academic explanation, it is quite important to learn and to be aware of these expressions because it can make the difference between a native level speaker (or a well immersed foreigner) and a person who only can speak Spanish because he or she can conjugate and use the subjunctive tense. I do not want you to misinterpret my previous comment: grammar is an essential part of learning a new language. However, it is also something that you can get from any grammar book.
Here, you will find fifteen idiomatic expressions related to food that you may not learn at school or at an academy. In each case, you will learn the expression in Spanish and its direct translation in English. The English translation only serves the purpose of identifying the food in the sentence. The translation will not make sense at all in most cases. That is why you can also find an explanation and example for each expression.
Take note that most of these are very common in spoken Spanish, and you may hear them more than you would expect if you visit Spain. Of course, you might also find them in written texts. However, since they are primarily colloquial expressions, it is far more common to encounter them in spoken Spanish:
Expression #1: Ser la pera / la monda
Translation: To be the pear / the peel.
Explanation: To be someone (or something) who is fantastic, fun, and with whom people enjoy spending time.
- Pedro es la pera / monda, nos lo pasamos muy bien cada vez que viene a visitarnos.
Expression #2: Ser pan comido
Translation: To be “eaten” bread.
Explanation: Something that is very easy to do or achieve.
- El examen fue pan comido, todas las preguntas eran muy sencillas.
Expression #3: Ser un chorizo
Translation: To be a chorizo.
Explanation: To be a thief.
- En España hay mucha corrupción: muchos políticos son unos chorizos.
Expression #4: Ser carne de cañón
Translation: To be flesh (meat) for a cannon.
Explanation: To be an easy target. Metaphorically, the person who will potentially be sacrificed for a goal.
- En las cárceles, los presos más débiles suelen ser carne de cañón para recibir absus y palizas.
Expression #5: Estar como un fideo
Translation: To be like a noodle.
Explanation: To be skinny.
- Alberto tiene que engordar un poco, lleva una temporada que está como un fideo.
Expression #6: Tener (muy) mala uva / mala leche
Translation: To have bad grapes / bad milk.
Explanation: To have a bad temper.
- Tu hermano me da un poco de miedo cuando se enfada, tiene muy mala uva / leche.
Expression #7: Darse una torta
Translation: To give oneself a cake.
Explanation: To get hurt.
- ¡Vaya torta se dio Alicia ayer cuando se cayó de la escalera!
Expression #8: Dar calabazas
Translation: To give pumpkins.
Explanation: To reject someone (especially romantically).
- Ramón le pidió una cita a Laura, pero ella le dio calabazas. Ramón se quedó muy triste.
Expression #9: Dar las uvas (a alguien)
Translation: To give grapes.
Explanation: A situation that is taking more time than expected for someone.
- Deberías vestirte más rápido o nos darán las uvas.
Expression #10: Importar un pimiento
Translation: To care a pepper.
Explanation: To not give a damn.
- Me importa un pimiento si Beatriz está enferma o no, tiene que entregar este proyecto lo antes posible.
Expression #11: Ponerse como un tomate
Translation: To become like a tomato.
Explanation: To blush due to being embarrassed.
- Cuando su madre le gritó en medio del mercado, Ana se puso como un tomate.
Expression #12: Ponerse como una sopa
Translation: To become like a soup.
Explanation: To get soaking wet.
- Cuando he salido de la oficina estaba lloviendo muchísimo y al no tener paraguas, me he puesto como una sopa.
Expression #13: Sacarle a alguien las castañas del fuego
Translation: To pull the chestnuts out of the fire for someone.
Explanation: To solve someone’s problem.
- Estoy harto de que Miguel no pueda arreglar sus problemas. Siempre somos los demás los que tenemos que sacarle las castañas del fuego.
Expression #14: Mandar/Enviar a alguien a freír espárragos
Translation: To send someone to fry asparagus.
Explanation: To tell someone to go to hell.
- Como tu primo no pare de molestarme, lo voy a enviar/mandar a freír espárragos.
Expression #15: Pedir peras al olmo
Translation: To ask the elm for pears.
Explanation: To ask the impossible of someone or something.
- Teresa es una persona muy lenta, pedirle que haga las cosas más rápido es como pedirle peras al olmo.
Surprised? As you may have guessed, some of these idiomatic expressions have an equivalent in English, and possibly have one in other languages as well. However, they are all so typically Spanish that I think Spaniards would not be able to express certain ideas without referring to food. We truly are not able to have a social life without food around us!
Therefore, I can assure you that there are other similar expressions that have not been listed in this article. Do you dare to include any of them in the comments with an explanation and an example? We could build an even larger list of idiomatic expressions related to food in Spanish.
Finally, and above all, do not forget to keep them in mind. Imagine the situations in which you might use them and start using them today!