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's the imperative form of the verb mangiare, to eat, and it means “eat up!”
No matter how old you are, Italians (not just nonna, but the entire family) will constantly implore you to eat more of everything if you're having a meal at their house, or with them at a restaurant.
Apparently concerned that you might be wasting away after eating a mere three plates of pasta a day for the last month, they'll just keep on saying it while piling more food onto your plate.
And despite the fact that everyone else seems to have mastered the art of shouting across the table while eating at the same time, you haven't, so every time you stop eating to join in the conversation, guess what reply you'll get?
– Mangia, sta andando a freddo!
– Eat up, it's going cold!
One of the first phrases I figured out in italian was this rather feeble defence:
– grazie, ma sono piena (pieno if you're male)
– thanks, but I'm full
But they just took this to mean I was ready for the fruit course, and then several desserts.
My example might be a bit extreme, since my Italian family is from Puglia. But you're going to get this to some degree wherever you go in Italy.
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?
And if you ask Italians for a restaurant recommendation, they often talk about places where you'll “eat well.”
– Conosci un ristorante dove mangiamo bene?
– Do you know a restaurant where we'll eat well?
And when you get home, you'll need to reassure your Italian family:
– Si, abbiamo mangiato molto bene
– Yes, we ate very well
They might want you to describe the meal. My Italian husband calls family members and, instead of asking how they are, says:
– Che belle cose hai mangiato oggi?
– What nice things have you eaten today?
But even in a restaurant, don't expect to be given a break. As I once told a waiter at a restaurant near Bari:
– Per favore, niente più cibo, siamo molto pieni
– Please, no more food, we're very full
His response was to bring over some tiramisu, and smile broadly: “No problem!”
At this point, I've completely given up trying to tell people I'm full.