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37 Interesting French Idioms About Food

by Calli Zarpas
Interesting French idioms about food

The French love their language. They even have a whole council called the Académie Française that is devoted to keeping the French language in pristine shape. One of the things this committee is constantly fighting against is the influence of English in their language. For example, most French people translate the word e-mail to mail, but technically it should be translated to the more French version mél. But if there is something the French love more than their language, it’s their idioms

Idioms are an important part of every language, but when you grow up with them they don’t seem so strange. For a long time, I never thought how weird it is to say “bite the bullet” when you want to get something over with that is inevitable, or “under the weather” when you’re feeling a little bit sick. So, when I heard people in France talk about not being in their plate, or to squeeze their teeth, I was very confused. I would soon learn that pas dans son assiette means to be under the weather, and serrer les dents means to bite the bullet. 

If you read the piece I wrote about 5 untranslatable French words I wish existed in English, you’ll know I’m already partial towards idioms that use food words, like avoir un coeur d’artichaut. This idiom, which literally means to have an artichoke heart, is used to talk about a hopeless romantic. I’m a huge foodie, so anytime I can talk about food I most likely will, which is why French idioms are great because a lot of them use food terms.

When I was doing my research I was overwhelmed by how many French idioms there are, so I decided to focus on what myself and the French adore: their food. This list is not exhaustive, but it has a lot of the most-frequently used idioms, and some of the funniest. I think my favorite is ne pas savoir quelle sauce on va manger.

Fruit/Vegetable Idioms

Occupe-toi de tes oignons 

Literally: Take care of your onions
True meaning: Mind your own business


Literally: To carrot
True meaning: To swipe/to swindle

Les carottes sont cuites 

Literally: The carrots are cooked
True meaning: There’s no hope

Mettre du beurre dans les épinards 

Literally: To put butter in the spinach
True meaning:  To top up your income

Tomber dans les pommes

Literally: To fall into the apples
True meaning: to faint

C’est pour ma pomme 

Literally: It’s for my apple
True meaning: It’s my treat/it’s on me

Pauvre pomme! 

Literally: Poor apple!
True meaning: Chump

Pomme d’amour

Literally: Apple of love
True meaning: Candy apple

Pomme de discorde 

Literally: Apple of disagreement
True meaning: Bone of contention 

Pomme de douche

Literally: Apple of shower
True meaning: shower head


Literally: Mashed potatoes!
True meaning: Sugar! Fudge!

Mi-figue mi-raisin 

Literally: Half-fig half-grape
True meaning: Hesitant/between two options

Bread Idioms

Avoir du pain sur la planche

Literally: To have bread on the bread board
True meaning: To have a lot on your plate

C’est du pain bénit 

Literally: It’s blessed bread
True meaning: It’s a godsend 

Ça ne mange pas du pain 

Literally: That doesn’t eat bread
True meaning: It can’t hurt

Coller un pain à quelqu’un / Filer un pain à quelqu’un

Literally: To stick bread to someone / To give bread to someone
True meaning: To punch someone in the face


Literally: Win-bread
True meaning: Livelihood or breadwinner

Long comme un jour sans pain 

Literally: Long like a day without bread
True meaning: Long like a month of Sundays

Ne pas manger de ce pain-là 

Literally: To not eat that bread there
True meaning: To want nothing to do with it 

Planche à pain

Literally: Bread board
True meaning: flat-chested

Pour une bouchée de pain 

Literally: For a mouthful of bread
True meaning: For next to nothing

Prendre un pain 

Literally: To take a bread
True meaning: To take a punch

Dairy-Product Idioms

French Dairy Idioms

Ça se boit comme du petit-lait

Literally: To drink something like it’s whey
True meaning: That goes down easy!

En faire tout un fromage / En faire tout un plat / En faire tout un cake 

Literally: To make a whole cheese/dish/cake
True meaning: To make a mountain out of a molehill

Dent de lait

Literally: Milk tooth
True meaning: Baby tooth

Être soupe au lait

Literally: To be milk soup
True meaning: To be short-tempered

Si on lui pressait le nez, il en sortait du lait

Literally: If we pressed his nose, milk would come out of him
True meaning: He’s barely out of the cradle

Surveiller quelqu’un comme le lait sur le feu

Literally: To watch someone like milk on the stove
True meaning: To keep a close eye on

Condiments Idioms

Avoir la moutarde qui monte au nez 

Literally: To have mustard that goes up the nose
True meaning: To lose your temper

Casser du sucre sur le dos de quelqu’un 

Literally: To break sugar on top of someone’s back
True meaning: To talk about someone behind his/her back

À ma sauce

Literally: To my sauce
True meaning: Suit my style

Ne pas savoir quelle sauce on va manger

Literally: To not know which sauce we are going to eat
True meaning: To not know what fate has in store for you

Mettre son grain de sel

Literally: To put in your grain of salt
True meaning: To put in your two cents

Dessert Idioms

La cerise sur le gâteau 

Literally: The cherry on top of the cake
True meaning: The cherry on top/the icing on the cake

Maman gâteau 

Literally: Cake mom
True meaning: Overindulgent mother or mother hen

Papa gâteau 

Literally: Cake dad
True meaning: Indulgent father

Vouloir sa part de gâteau 

Literally: To want your piece of the cake
True meaning: To want your share of the spoils

I hope you enjoyed learning all of these French idioms! Next time you have an opportunity to use one, you should. Ça ne mange pas du pain

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