Edible Expressions From the Netherlands

Food-Related Dutch Idioms, Proverbs and Sayings

Dutch bread
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Food-related expressions can tell quite a bit about Dutch (food) culture, which is why we find them so fascinating. Here's a list of some well-known phrases, but this list is by no means exhaustive.

Zelfs in de lekkerste appeltaart zit wel een pit.
Literal translation: 'There's a pip in even the most perfect apple pie'.
Meaning: You can always find something negative if you look hard enough, i.e. 'Nothing's perfect'.

Een appeltje voor de dorst (bewaren).
Literal translation: 'To keep an apple for the thirst'.
Meaning: Making provisions for later.

Hij is net zo geacht als de rotte appel bij de groenteboer.
Literal translation: 'He is just as popular as a rotten apple at the greengrocer's'.
Meaning: Used to describe a rather unpopular person.

Als je mijn appeltjes niet moet, moet je niet aan mijn boompje schudden.
Literal translation: 'If you don’t want my apples, don’t shake my tree'.
Meaning: If you don’t want anything to do with me, don’t ask me for a favor.

Schone appels zijn ook zuur.
Literal translation: 'Beautiful apples can be sour'.
Meaning: Physical beauty is not the only thing that counts, i.e. 'Beauty is only skin deep'.

Wij gaan de bietenberg op.
Literal translation: 'We are going up the beet mountain'.
Meaning: Used to express that everything's going the wrong way.

Zo rood als een bietenkroot.
Literal translation: 'As red as a beetroot'.
Meaning: Usually used to refer to someone blushing a deep red.

Een natte mei geeft boter in de wei.
Literal translation: 'A rainy May brings the best butter'.
Meaning: A bit of rain in May is good for the grass in the meadows, which helps the cows to produce better milk (and tastier butter).

Je eigen boontjes doppen
Literal translation: 'Shelling your own beans'.
Meaning: Used to convey that someone can take care of themselves and doesn't need any outside help.

Een afgelikte boterham.
Literal translation: 'A sandwich that's been licked clean'.
Meaning: It is used as a derogatory way to describe someone who has had many lovers.

Literal translation: 'As necessary as bread'.
Meaning: Used to indicate that something is of crucial importance.

Daar kan ik geen chocola van maken
Literal translation: 'I can't make chocolate from that'.
Meaning: When something is illogical, or so incoherent, incomprehensible or strange that the information is useless.

Iemand uitknijpen als een citroen
Literal translation: 'To squeeze someone like a lemon'.
Meaning: Similar to the English expressions ‘To squeeze someone dry’ or ‘To squeeze someone until the pips squeak’, i.e. to take advantage of a person.

Wel gekakel, geen eieren.
Literal translation: 'A lot of cackling, no eggs'.
Meaning: Its meaning can best be summed up by the English expression 'much ado about nothing'.

Twaalf eieren, dertien kuikens.
Literal translation: 'Twelve eggs, thirteen chicks'.
Meaning: Used to express that someone has had a stroke of good luck.

Twee hanen in een hok geeft veel gekakel en weinig eieren.
Literal translation: 'Two cocks in one cage provide too much cackle and not enough eggs'.
Meaning: Two bosses in the same place leads to a lot of talk but very little action.

Het feestvarken zijn.
Literal translation: 'Being the party pig'.
Meaning: Used to describe someone as being at the center of a celebration, or the 'Life of the party'.

Als een haring naar de sloep staren.
Literal translation: 'Staring at the sloop like a herring'.
Meaning: Used when someone is looking rather down in the mouth.

Een koekje van eigen deeg gepresenteerd krijgen.
Literal translation: 'To give someone a cookie made with their own dough'.
Meaning: When you play a trick on a person in the same way that they played a trick on you. It has a similar meaning to "turnabout is fair play" or "getting a dose of your own medicine" in English.

Ergens kaas van gegeten hebben.
Literal translation: This popular Dutch expression is a rather difficult one to translate. Roughly, it means 'having eaten cheese of something'.
Meaning: It is used to express that someone is in the know about a particular topic. Conversely, Ergens GEEN kaas van gegeten hebben means that someone is clueless about something.

Ieder kaasje heeft zijn gaatje.
Literal translation: 'Every cheese has its hole'.
Meaning: Used to express that we all have our flaws, or 'Nobody's perfect'.

Het is moeilijk met de kalkoen het kerstdiner te bespreken.
Literal translation: 'It is difficult to discuss the Christmas dinner with the turkey'.
Meaning: It is used to express the notion that it's sometimes hard to discuss difficult issues with the affected party.

Er als de kippen bij zijn.
Literal translation: 'To be on it like a chicken'.
Meaning: The saying is used to express that someone is quick to seize his or her chance, like chickens that pounce on their feed in a flash.

Aan de geur van de kaas herken men de geit.
Literal translation: 'By the smell of the cheese one can identify the goat'.
Meaning: You can't hide your roots.

Het groeit als kool.
Literal translation: 'It grows like cabbage'.
Meaning: Used to indicate that something grows quickly and easily.

Mosterd na de maaltijd.
Literal translation: 'Mustard after the meal'.
Meaning: Used to express the idea that something has happened too late.

Geduld, en gras zal melk worden.
Literal translation: 'Patience, and the grass shall become milk'.
Meaning: It is used to express that patience is often rewarded.

De kat bij de melk zetten.
Literal translation: 'Putting the cat with the milk'.
Meaning: It is used to express that you're deliberately asking for trouble.

Een tint als melk en bloed.
Literal translation: 'A shade like milk and blood'.
Meaning: Used to express that someone has a very healthy complexion, with creamy skin and rosy cheeks.

Wie een omelet wil bakken, moet eerst eieren breken.
Literal translation: 'You have to break some eggs if you want to bake an omelet'.
Meaning: Sacrifice is required in order to achieve something

Je bent een pannenkoek
Literal translation: 'You are a pancake'.
Meaning: Used when someone has done something stupid. It's essentially the Dutch equivalent of 'You're acting like an idiot'.

Uit de pan rijzen
Literal translation: 'To rise up the saucepan'.
Meaning: When something has shot up quickly or when a situation is getting out of control (mostly negative).

Met de paplepel ingegoten zijn
Literal translation: 'Having been fed something with the porridge spoon'.
Meaning: Used to express that a certain behavior was learned in childhood.

Literal translation: 'As expensive as black pepper'.
Meaning: Black pepper is such a common pantry item these days, it's hard to believe it was once so valuable that it was used as currency.

Met de gebakken peren zitten.
Literal translation: 'Being stuck with the baked pears'.
Meaning: It is used to express being stuck with the negative consequences of something that was caused by somebody else.

Zo oranje als een sinaasappel.
Literal translation and meaning: 'As orange as an orange'

Het lieveheersbeestje steelt wel eens een snoepje
Literal translation: 'The ladybug steals candy from time to time'
Meaning: It is used to express that even good people sometimes make mistakes.

Een snoepreis
Literal translation: 'A candy trip'.
Meaning: It is used to describe trips abroad that are paid for by the company or client, such as incentive trips, team-building trips or other business trips that involve work and play.

De kat op het spek binden
Literal translation: 'To tie the cat to the bacon'
Meaning: When something is unduly tempting, because it was made so attractive or inviting that giving in to temptation is practically unavoidable.

Voor spek en bonen (meedoen)
Literal translation: 'To work for bacon and beans'.
Meaning: The saying was once used when laborers received a hearty meal as payment for their toil. In modern times, it expresses dissatisfaction, e.g. when people feel that their contribution was for nothing, their efforts futile.

De soep wordt nooit zo heet gegeten als ze wordt opgediend.
Literal translation: 'The soup is never eaten as hot as it is served'.
Meaning: Things are usually not as bad as they first appear

Als je hart bitter is, zal suiker in je mond niet helpen.
Literal translation: 'Sugar in your mouth won't help against a bitter heart'.
Meaning: Embittered people cannot experience anything as positive.

Boven zijn theewater zijn.
Literal translation: 'To be above his tea water'.
Meaning: It can be used to express that someone is agitated, angry, or drunk.

Als vijgen na Pasen.
Literal translation: 'Like figs after Easter'.
Meaning: After the fact, or too late. At first glance, the idiom seems a little curious, because figs only ripen in the summer, i.e. you always eats figs after Easter, but the idiom dates from a time when figs were mainly imported into the Netherlands in dried form. Dried figs were a permissible foodstuff during the Catholic fasting period known as Lent, and could be eaten with abandon in the weeks leading up to Easter. After Easter, when the fasting period was over, people could enjoy all their usual foods, and dried figs became unnecessary.

Vis moet zwemmen.
Literal translation: 'Fish must swim'.
Meaning: Used to express the (rather pleasant) notion that one should always drink wine when eating fish.