In a country where the commonly accepted number of meals per day is five, food is clearly always on people’s minds. Add that to the fact that Spaniards adore words with double meanings and you’ve got a web of food idioms and double entendres that could take a lifetime to unscramble.
For example, in Spain awesome things aren’t “the shit,” they’re “the milk.” An offended woman would never “slap the crap out of “a handsy bar acquaintance, she would “give a cake” to him. Corrupt politicians are “chorizo” sausages. And shouting “oysters!” means you’re surprised. If you forget something important you might “shit in the milk,” if you want someone to f*ck off you might tell them to “go fry asparagus,” and if you do something particularly badass you might say it was “the host” (as in the small wafer that represents the body of Christ during communion- careful with this one, it can be highly offensive).
No matter how many times I hear most of these expressions, I still find it extremely hard not to burst out laughing when they come up in a serious conversation. And I still proceed with an abundance of caution when talking about any type of oblong fruit or vegetable (read corresponding embarrassing story here). Nevertheless I adore the way people here talk about food. Here are some of my favorite food-related Spanish phrases.
Que no me lo den con queso
Direct translation: “Thou shalt not give it to me with cheese”
What it means: “Be careful that they don’t rip you off.” No good wine should ever be served with cheese because the fats from the cheese stick to the inside of your mouth, effectively coating your tastebuds with the creamy wonderfulness of the cheese and masking the flavor of the wine. Thus, a crappy wine will taste alright after a bite of cheese and a cheap bartender (or “friend”) can rip you off by serving sub-par or old wine.
How to use it: “Be careful when you buy that used Vespa. Que no te lo den con queso.”
Direct translation: “Gas can”
What it means: The shitty liquor that is often served at night clubs. While the bottle may say “Absolut” vodka or “Cacique” rum or “Dyk” whiskey, the headache-inducing fire that pours forth from it sure isn’t the stuff you’re used to, it’s garrafón.
There are two unproven, yet commonly accepted theories as to why: either the club refills the bottles with super cheap, super crappy alcohol from another brand (picture plastic bottles of vodka) or the brand itself sells low-quality alcohol to the bar in the same bottle as the good stuff. A bar owner once told me there were five different qualities of Dyk rum (one of the most popular Spanish rums) he could order, all of which came in the same bottle.
How to use it: “There is no way I can make it to El Rastro today. I have a killer hangover from the garrafón they were serving last night at Independance.”
El que de joven come sardinas, de viejo caga espinas
Direct translation: “Those who eat sardines when they are young, poop fish bones when they are old.”
What it means: “Everything has consequences.”
How to use it: “Go ahead and eat a Big Mac every week… But just remember, el que de joven come sardinas, de viejo caga espinas!”
De grandes cenas, están las sepulturas llenas
Direct translation: “Graves are filled from large dinners.”
What it means: Large meals are for lunch time. Dinner, according to the Spanish, should be a light meal often consisting of little more than a yogurt and a pear or a couple slices of jamón, cheese and bread.
How to use it: “Are you seriously thinking about having lentils for dinner?!? Don’t you know that de grandes cenas están las sepulturas llenas?!?!”
Direct translation: “Over the table”
What it means: Sobremesa is so much more than a word. It’s an institution, a mindset, a way of life. It is the time period after the last bite of a large meal has been eaten and the finale of espressos arrive at the table and before everyone resigns to the meal being over and gets up from the table. On any given Spanish Sunday the sobremesa following an epic (aka completely normal-sized) lunch can stretch for hours. Particularly good sobremesas blur the line between lunch and dinner and before I know it it’s 9 p.m. and we have to leave the lunch restaurant in oder to go to the dinner restaurant.
It epitomizes so many of the things I love about Spain. During a sobremesa the bustle and stress of the work-a-day world is sequestered outside. There is no rush, no hustle and nothing to do except enjoy the company, the conversation and often (in my case) the scrumptious glass of crema de orujo, a Bailey’s like Spanish moonshine. If there was one thing I could import to the U.S. from Spain, it would be the sobremesa.
How to use it: “Sorry I’m late for dinner! Our sobremesa stretched a bit long and I completely lost track of time!”
Direct translation: “scrape” or as I like to think of it “re-bathe”
What it means: To sop up all the sauce and flavorful goodies left on your plate using a hunk of bread. To rebañar is a fundamental part of eating in Spain. For one, there is always always bread on the table and second, because that puddle of olive oil that dripped from those roasted peppers is just to marvelous to let go to waste! They say it is quite rude to rebañar in a communal dish until all the food as been eaten from it, but good luck resisting.
How to use it: “No! Please don’t take the plate yet! I have to rebañar the sauce!”
Sin comerlo ni beberlo
Direct translation: “Without eating it or drinking it”
What it means: Something that happened all of a sudden without you even realizing what was going on.
How to use it: “I had a roomie dinner with my roommates last night and sin comerlo ni beberlo we had a raging party going on in our flat!”
Campo de nabos
Direct translation: “Field of turnips”
What it means: “Sausage fest.” As with so many seemingly innocent fruits and vegetables in Spain, turnips also have a double meaning.
How to use it: “We went to a bar last night but it was a campo de nabos so we left.”
Con las manos en la masa
Direct translation: “With your hands in the dough”
What it means: “Caught red handed.”
How to use it: “Don’t tell me you didn’t cheat on your math test, Jorge*. I saw you con las manos en la masa. Your book was open on your lap!”
*Name has been changed to protect the identity of an otherwise good third-grade kid.
El pan, pan y el vino, vino
Direct translation: “The bread, bread and the wine, wine.”
What it means: “Don’t beat around the bush” or “Give it to me straight”
How to use it:
Boy: “Your earrings are butt ugly.”
Girl: “That’s a bit harsh. Do have to be soooo honest?”
Boy: “Al pan pan y al vino vino!”