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Food For Thought: Food Idioms in Russian Posted by on Jul 25, 2016 in Culture, language

A good number of Russian sayings feature food. Let us take a look at their literal meaning and idiomatic usage. Scroll to the end of the post to test your understanding and fill in the blanks in authentic contexts.

cut vegetables

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Аппетит приходит во время еды

Literally, “appetite comes during the meal.” It is used figuratively to mean that an activity grows on you once you start practicing it.

Знает кошка, чьё мясо съела

cat peeking from behind a cover

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Literally, “the cat knows whose meat it has eaten.” Used to say that a guilty party knows what they’ve done.

Индюк тоже думал, да в суп попал

“The turkey also thought and ended up in soup.” This is a tongue-in-cheek response to someone saying “I thought…”

Кашу маслом не испортишь

“You cannot spoil kasha (cooked grits) with butter.” Close in meaning to “you can never have too much of a good thing.”

Не красна изба углами, а красна пирогами

“A (log) house is not pretty for its corners but for its pies.” This means that pretty/expensive furniture and décor do not a home make, but kind and hospitable owners do.”

Не хлебом единым жив человек

different kinds of bread

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This is actually a biblical saying — we covered a few of them on this blog — equivalent to “not by bread alone.” This is meant to say that a person’s spiritual needs are as important as physical ones.

Сытый голодного не разумеет

Literally, “a full person does not understand a hungry one.” This means that it is hard for a well-to-do or privileged person to empathize with someone in need.

Первый блин комом

“The first pancake comes out a lump,” meaning that the first attempt will often be unsuccessful.

Хрен редьки не слаще

“Horseradish is no sweeter than a radish,” said to mean that two things are equally bad and one is not a good alternative for the other.

Test Yourself!

Try filling in the blanks/gaps in the following contexts.

  • Обескураживающая разница наших с Высоцким жизненных статусов била в глаза. Все чаще вспоминалась мне горестная русская поговорка: «…..». (The discouraging difference between my and Vysotsky’s status in life was apparent. A joyless Russian saying came to my mind more and more often — “…..”)
  • На смену русским купцам явились американские и др. ….. (Russian merchants were replaced with American ones and others. …..) [По Камчатке. Чукотка (1924) // «Полярная звезда», 1924.09.28]
  • Добрые жители принесли нам мяса, вина (…..), и, к нашему счастию, пробыли мы здесь двое суток. (The kind locals brought us some meat and wine (…..) and, luckily for us, we spent two days here.) [В. М. Головнин. Описание примечательных кораблекрушений, претерпенных русскими-мореплавателями (1822)]
  • Но недаром говорят: …… Овладев городом, великий князь задумал отобрать землю и у галицких князей. (It’s true what they say — ….. After taking the city, the grand prince set out to take lands away from the Halych princes, too.) [Анатолий Тютюник. Не всякому наследнику доставался великокняжеский стол // «Родина», 1996]
  • — Мы думали, что это последняя машина…
    — …..!
    (– We thought that was the last car…
    [Николай Коляда. Барак (1987)  ]
  • Мы проиграли только первый матч. Как говорится, ….. (We only lost the first match. As they say, …..) [Павел Лысенков. Форвард сборной России Илья Ковальчук: Кто сказал, что мы плохо стартовали? // Советский спорт, 2011.05.02]
  • Говорят, да еще приговаривают: …..! И я, действительно, начинаю сомневаться и экзаменовать себя, точно ли я не виноват. (They say that and add, “…..!” And I, indeed, start doubting and cross-checking myself to see if I am really innocent.) [М. Е. Салтыков-Щедрин. Письма к тетеньке (1881-1882)]
  • Так что ….., и лучше всего приобрести две страховки. (So ….., and it’s best to purchase double insurance coverage.) [Нигина БЕРОЕВА. На полисе КАСКО можно сэкономить // Комсомольская правда, 2007.10.30]
  • Но ведь не зря изречено: ….. Только слепой не увидит, что главная проблема современного человека―его смысловая и ценностная дезориентация. (It was rightly said that….. Only a blind man cannot see that the main problem of people today is their desorientation when it comes to meaning and values.) [Евгений ЯМБУРГ, директор школы. Все беды от полузнайства // Известия, 2007.12.24]
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About the Author: Maria

Maria is a Russian-born translator from Western New York. She is excited to share her fascination with all things Russian on this blog. Maria's professional updates are available in English on her website and Twitter and in Russian on Telegram.


  1. Bonnie Loshbaugh:

    My taller half often uses the phrase “из спасибо каши не сваришь” – you can’t eat thank yous!