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Many English-speakers consider the ability to enjoy good food one of life's great pleasures.
The importance of good food is reflected in the fact that there are a lot of different English idioms that refer to food and eating.
If you are trying to learn English, you need to learn different English idioms. Idioms can be confusing as the real meaning of an idiomatic expression has nothing to do with what the phrase translates to.
The following English idioms about food are examples of how idioms are used in daily life to talk about a variety of ideas and feelings. You should try to memorize them and incorporate them into your daily conversations with English speakers.
Meaning: To be involved
If someone has a “finger in the pie” they are involved with something. It’s often used to imply that someone is very busy or important.
As one of the top salespeople in the company, Harold has a finger in almost every pie.
Meaning: The best
When someone uses this English idiom, they are describing an object. They are saying that something is the best of what’s available. It can also be used to describe a person or an animal who is considered elite or a prime example.
The puppy’s father is an award-winning show making him the cream of the crop.
Meaning: Something that is bad for you, illegal
If an English-speaking person says that someone or something is “forbidden fruit”, they are saying that it should be avoided because it is bad for you. It can also refer to something that is taboo or illegal.
While cannabis is legal in Amsterdam, in other parts of the world it’s forbidden fruit.
Meaning: Popular, best selling
This is another one of those English idioms about food that is used to describe an object. If something sells “like hot cakes” it means that it is selling out fast.
The new iPhone is selling like hotcakes, good luck getting one now.
Meaning: Present the best side or outcome
If someone is “sugarcoating” a piece of news, they are trying to present it in the best possible light.
Don’t sugarcoat it, I know sales are bad.
Meaning: An easy task
You will probably hear this idiom is used when tasks or jobs are being assigned. If an English speaker says that something is a piece of cake, they are saying that it will be easy to accomplish. This is also used as words of encouragement, the implication being that they have confidence you can handle a job.
I took up calculus last summer, this will be a piece of cake.
At your fluency level, spending two weeks studying in Paris will be a piece of cake.
Meaning: A simple task
This English idiom is quite similar to “piece of cake”. If an English speaker says this, they mean that a task is simple and easy to accomplish.
It is easy as pie to gain fluency in French by watching movies on Netflix.
Meaning: Without a good plan
If something is described as “half-baked”, the implication is that it is doomed to fail. You have acted without having a good plan or thinking things through.
Your business plan is half-baked, you’re going to lose your investment.
Meaning: In a bad situation, in trouble
When someone says this, they are saying that you are in a less than ideal situation.
Did you lose the directions to Kenji’s house? Now we’re in a pickle.
Meaning: An important person
This is an English idiom about food that is a slang term to refer to a boss or a superior. A “big cheese” is someone who commands respect because they are important or powerful.
In a small town like this, the mayor is the big cheese.
Meaning: Leader or boss
This is similar to the idiom “the big cheese”. It is used to refer to someone who people look to for leadership.
Arthur is the top banana, no one does anything without consulting him first.
Meaning: Hard to understand or get to know, secretive
If someone is described as a “hard nut to crack”, the implication is that they are very reserved and even secretive. You will have a hard time getting to know about them or getting their real opinion on something.
Arnel is a hard nut to crack, he never goes out with his co-workers.
Meaning: Ordinary but decent
This is another English idiom about food that is used to describe or compliment another person. When a person is described as this, they are considered decent and kind even if they are not important or of high social standing.
Her parents are real salt of the earth types, even if they are not rich, they always help out their neighbors.
Meaning: Corrupt or bad
This English idiom about food is not a compliment. It is meant to imply that someone is shady or not of good character.
Many people feel that the American police force is rotten to the core.
Meaning: To be nice to, flatter
If you want to ask for a favor from someone, you might compliment them first to make them feel kinder towards you. If that’s your strategy, you are “buttering them up”.
Butter Mary up by complimenting her dress before you ask to borrow her class notes.
This English idiom is usually used when a speaker is talking about a purchase they made or are thinking of making. If they bought something “for peanuts” they bought it cheap.
I found a lot of Spanish language learning textbooks for peanuts at the secondhand bookstore.
Meaning: Don’t take it seriously, think about it
You might hear this from an English speaker if they think that you might be following bad advice. They might also say this if they want to say that you shouldn’t worry too much.
Bob only studied German for two weeks, take it with a grain of salt when he says it is a difficult language.
Meaning: In summary
You might hear an English speaker say this at the end of a meeting or presentation. They will say this before summarizing what happened or if they want to say that they are finishing up.
In summary, we need to decide on one of two actions moving forward.
Meaning: Made more powerful or stylish
This is an idiom that is used to describe something that is cool or impressive. The key to using this idiom correctly is that the object, like a car or a computer, was modified from its original form to be more impressive.
All the cars in the Fast and Furious franchise are souped-up.
Meaning: To love sweet food
This idiom is used to describe someone who loves sweets and sugary foods.
She has such a sweet tooth she always takes two pieces of cake.
Meaning: Issue, controversial subject
This is one of those English idioms about food that have nothing to do with food. When someone refers to something as a “hot potato” they are saying that something is controversial or difficult to discuss. It’s similar to the idea of a “hot button topic”. Basically, it’s a subject that can lead to an argument or on which there are many different views.
Mark is an environmentalist so the idea of nuclear power is a hot potato.
Meaning: That’s just the way things happen
You might hear an English speaker use this idiom if they want to comfort you after you got some disappointing news. The implication is that sometimes you don’t get what you want but it’s okay.
That’s a hard course to get into, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.
Meaning: Encourage to do something
If someone is “egging you on” they are encouraging you to do something.
If they hadn’t egged Bob on, he might have never talked to Paula.
Meaning: Always calm
This idiom is used to describe someone who is always cool and collected. A calm person is “cool as a cucumber.”
Timothy’s a great person to talk to in a crisis, he’s cool as a cucumber.
Meaning: An intelligent person
If you hear an English speaker use this idiom to describe someone, they are saying that that person is smart. It is an expression of admiration.
Andres is one smart cookie, he’s a polyglot.
Meaning: Loved one
This is a sweet English idiom about food that is used to say that you think very highly and even love someone.
Her children are the apple of her eye, she’d do anything for them.
Meaning: Good at your job or a task
If you want to tell someone that they are doing a good job, you could tell them that they are “worth their salt.”
Meaning: Someone disagreeable
If an English speaker describes someone using this idiom, you will want to avoid that person. They are saying that that person is disagreeable or unpleasant. You can also use it to describe someone who is temporarily in a bad mood.
The shopkeeper is sour as vinegar, always scolding the neighborhood children.
The pain in her knee is making her sour as vinegar.
Meaning: Buy something worthless
If someone says this, they are saying that they ended up spending money on something that was not worth it.
Jasper bought a lemon, that car is in the shop more than it’s on the road.
Meaning: Kind, good-natured
This English idiom is quite complimentary. Someone who is described as “sweet as honey” is pleasant and kind.
Patsy is as sweet as honey; everyone loves spending time with her.
Meaning: Try new things
This English idiom doubles as life advice. If someone says this, they are encouraging you to try new things.
I like to learn new languages and about new cultures; variety is the spice of life.
Meaning: A disappointing outcome
If a situation did not turn out exactly to your liking, but you have to accept it anyway, it is “a bitter pill to swallow”.
It was a bitter pill to swallow when I didn’t get into my number one college choice.
Meaning: Get good results
This is another wise English idiom that is meant to encourage you to work hard and put in an effort. If your actions have “borne fruit”, your hard work has paid off and enabled you to reach your goal.
Memorizing those lists of idioms bore fruit! I now understand Pedro better.
If someone is very busy or has too many tasks, they might use this idiom to imply that they feel overwhelmed and might need help.
You bit off more than you can chew trying to learn both Russian and Korean at the same time.
To help you learn English idioms, we recommend that you download lists like this and go over them with a native English-speaking language tutor.
Download this PDF of English idioms about food and discuss them with your tutor. Hopefully, you can do so after having a meal because talking about these food idioms might make you hungry!
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