If you ask people who’ve recently arrived in Italy and are learning the language what their favourite Italian words are, this one comes up a lot.
It’s probably one of the first words you’ll learn if you spend any time around Italians, mainly because it will be repeated a lot at every mealtime.
As you might know, it means ‘eat up!’
It’s pronounced ‘man-jah‘, and is the imperative form of the verb mangiare (‘man-jar-eh’): to eat.No matter how old you are, you’re very likely to find that Italians (not just nonna, but the entire family) will constantly implore you to eat more of everything, whether you’re at their home or in a restaurant.
Apparently concerned that you might be wasting away after eating a mere three plates of pasta a day for the last week, they’ll just keep on saying it while piling more food onto your plate.
And, while everyone else has mastered the art of shouting across the table while eating at the same time, you haven’t, so every time you pause to join in the conversation, guess what you’ll get?
– Mangia, sta andando a freddo!
– Eat up, it’s going cold!
One of the first phrases I ever managed to string together in Italian was this rather feeble defence:
– Grazie, ma sono piena (pieno if you’re male)
– Thanks, but I’m full
But they simply took this to mean I was ready for the fruit course, and then several desserts.
My Italian family is from rural Puglia, where feeding people appears to be a competitive sport. But you’re going to get this treatment to some degree wherever you go in Italy.
Be aware that saying ‘no grazie‘ to food is often something people do out of politeness, before finally accepting another helping after some pressing from the host.
So if you really don’t want any more, you may need to say so three or four times – if you have the energy to argue.
You may also hear ‘mangiatelo‘ – which means ‘you can/have to eat it’, depending on the context. This is usually used within a sentence, rather than as a stand-alone instruction.
Another food-related phrase you’ll hear constantly if you’re staying with an Italian family is this:
– Cosa vuoi mangiare oggi/dopo?
– What do you want to eat today/later?
Don’t be surprised if you’re quizzed on what you’d like for dinner while you’re still trying to fend off a third plate of pasta at lunch.
And if you want a restaurant recommendation, don’t ask for a “good” place to eat, but for somewhere you’ll “eat well”.
– Conosci un ristorante dove mangiamo bene?
– Do you know a restaurant where we’ll eat well?
When you get home, you’ll need to reassure your Italian family:
– Si, abbiamo mangiato benissimo
– Yes, we ate very well
They’re likely to want you to describe the meal in detail, including how different items were cooked – so we hope you were taking notes in the restaurant.
And not forgetting that the word appears in various Italian idioms and sayings, for example reader Chris suggests ‘l’appetito viene mangiando‘: which literally translates as ‘appetite comes with eating’ and means something like ‘the more you have, the more you want’.
Whether you’ve just eaten, are eating later, or are still eating, food is always a popular topic of conversation in Italy.