Buon appetito! Why are there no words in English to express my culinary triumph?

Posted by on June 16, 2009

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It would be no exaggeration to say that I have a history of both triumph and tragedy in the kitchen. Delia Smith I am not. I don’t believe in recipes; I’m not going to be told what to do by all those egotistical, narcissistic celebrity chefs; I cook by my own rules. The result is that I am somewhat hit and miss when it comes to delivering edible, safe meals and have acquired a reputation as ‘the Queen of Cordon Bleurgh’. Last Sunday’s rhubarb fool fooled no one; it was rhubarb soup. My hand-made, stone-baked margharita pizza was so monstrously yeasty it looked like something James T. Kirk once did battle with, my Boxing Day sprout risotto still makes my brother retch at the very mention of it and the only surprise about my marrow surprise was that my partner was able to go to work the next day. Have I made my point? I think so.

However, on Friday evening the culinary gods had finally decided to give me a break. I made that old Tuscan classic Cacciucco alla Livornese, a throw-it-all-in fish stew. My better half sat down at the table with some trepidation, but relief soon spread across his face. It looked (and smelled) genuinely delicious. He wouldn’t have to give it to the cat when I wasn’t looking, after all. ‘Buon appetito!’ we chimed in unison, forks and spoons at the ready. Or as we say in English … er, actually, what do we say in English? How do we convey the sentiment that we want someone to have an enjoyable gastronomic experience when presented with a plate of tasty nosh? As we chewed on our squid rings, we tried to think of the English equivalent. Here are the contenders (none are convincing):

Good appetite!/Have a good appetite! Clearly no one has ever said this.
Enjoy your meal!/Have a nice meal! Only spoken by McDonalds employees. Doesn’t count.
May the sauce be with you. Only really relevant when eating chips with Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Tuck in/Get stuck in! What are we, pigs?

Of course, the sad truth is that there is no equivalent expression for Italy’s Buon appetito, France’s Bon appetit, Germany’s Guten appetit, Spain’s Buen provecho, Uzbekistan’s Yoqimli ishtaha … OK, you get the gist. The translations offered on www.omniglot.com aren’t much better: Happy eatingChow downGet your laughing gear around this … the Goodfellas-inspired Eat already! and the unbelievably lame This looks nice.

What does this gastronomic gap in our idiomatic repertoire say about anglophone culture? Has the British so-called ‘food is fuel’ mentality stunted our culinary language? What is the reason for our lack of refined dinnertime expressions? Maybe we English speakers are just content to stick our heads in the trough and chow down; we don’t want to spend precious seconds on culinary niceties. Who knows?

What about at the end of a meal? What do we say to express satisfaction? It doesn’t get any better, I’m afraid:
I’m full.

I’m stuffed.
I’m fit to burst.
I’m dreadfully sorry but if I eat any more I may physically explode.

… think Mr Creosote in that horrendous Monty Python scene. In fact, an Italian tutor once told me that she found the way English people describe their satisfaction at the end of a meal exceptionally vulgar. ‘You English just shovel it down and then say you’re full. That’s not very elegant.’ In Italian, she told me, the correct expression would be ‘sono satio/a’ – I am sated. We’ll take this on board. Here is a sneak preview of next Friday’s dinner table conversation:
Would you like another helping of chicken a la marmite?

No thanks, darling. [scraping food into bin] I am sated.

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Comments (4)
  • Why bother making up our own when we’ve borrowed and assimilated ‘bon appetit’ (albeit with horrendous crimes against French pronunciation) into our own language? I quite like the simplicity and flourish of ‘Enjoy!’ from the chef as she/he serves up dinner. But my favourite French culinary term is ‘amuse bouche’ for those tiny tasty mouthfuls you get when you arrive at a nice restaurant.

    Posted by Claire Pye on 17th June, 2009
  • In my opinion the absence of a certain term or expression in a language does reflect on culture. The other day, with some friends, we were tyring to find the Hungarian equivalent for the English verb ‘brew’ (e.g. leave the tea to brew). The translations were equally lame. Needless to say, Hungarians are not tea drinkers.

    Posted by Kati Sule on 17th June, 2009
  • Well, I always say, “Have a good meal” (before I’d even heard of McDonalds) or “Bon appetit”. I think the reason why we haven’t got anything more in the lines of ‘appetite’ is because most culinary terms are borrowed from French. Don’t let us forget that in old England, the upper class spoke French and they are the ones who could eat food other than potatoes!

    Posted by Chiew on 27th June, 2009
  • The standard response in our family is “no more thanks, I’ve had an elegant sufficiency.” It comes from an elderly aunt of my grandmother’s who apparently actually used it 🙂

    Posted by Ingrid on 12th May, 2012
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