Pieces of cake and sour grapes: food idioms

Angela Bax / Moment / Getty Images

by Kate Woodford

This week, we’re looking at English idioms that feature food and drink words. As there are lots of these idioms, we’re focusing today on idioms containing words for sweet food. Next month, we’ll publish a post on savoury (UK) or savory (US) food idioms.

Starting with a popular item of food, cake has a number of common idioms associated with it. If something is very easy to do, we sometimes say informally that it’s a piece of cake:

The first paper in the exam was a piece of cake.

If someone selfishly wants two advantages that cannot be experienced at the same time, you might say they want to have their cake and eat it (too):

You can’t have a steady girlfriend and yet flirt with all the women in the room. That’s called having your cake and eating it!

A thing that makes a situation that is already positive even better is often described as the icing on the cake:

It’s a great job, in a great company and – the icing on the cake – I get to work with Ollie!

If a product sells like hot cakes, it sells quickly and in large numbers:

Property in this area is selling like hot cakes.

As you might expect, various items of fruit feature in idioms. The apple of someone’s eye is the person they love most and are most proud of, usually their child. It’s a slightly old-fashioned idiom, but one that you sometimes hear:

Melissa, his youngest child, was the apple of his eye.

In British English, another/a second bite at the cherry is another opportunity to do something:

He missed a chance to score just before halftime but got another bite at the cherry in the final minutes of the game.

Again, in British English, if a plan goes pear-shaped, it fails:

Our intention was to make an early start and get there by midday, but that all went pear-shaped.

If you describe someone’s criticism as sour grapes, you are suggesting that they are only being negative about something because they could not do or have it themselves:

Joe wasn’t impressed with Harry’s apartment but I suspect it’s just sour grapes because he can’t afford one himself.

The word fruit itself features in a useful idiom. The phrase low-hanging fruit refers to things that are easy to do or deal with, especially compared with other things:

I know that writing about my family for this essay is low-hanging fruit, but I don’t have time to research and write about anything else.

We would love to hear any common food idioms in your language!

49 thoughts on “Pieces of cake and sour grapes: food idioms

  1. Sol

    In Brazil, when something is really easy to be done, we say it’s “mamão com açúcar” (papaya with sugar). It’s similar in meaning to “piece of cake”.

    1. In Serbia for something which is easy to accomplish we say “prosto k’o pasulj” (as simple as beans)
      Btw, have you got any idea why is “pear-shaped” considered to be a failure? I’m just curious abiut the origin of the idiom.
      Anyhow, great post. Thanks!
      Best regards, Natasha

  2. Totto

    In spanish we have some equivalent idioms:
    The icing on the cake – La cereza del pastel
    The apple of someone’s eye: Ser la luz de sus ojos (somebody’s eyes)
    Sells like hot cakes, it sells: Se vende como pan caliente
    It’s a piece of cake: Es pan comido

  3. Jose

    In Spain we susbstitute the word “cake” for “bread” when something is easy to do: “hacer eso es pan comido”.
    If something it’s not important for you we use “radish”: “me importa un rábano”.
    If you are angry, we use “milk”: “está de mala leche”.
    And if oyur friend is very thin, we use “noodle”: “está delgada como un fideo”.
    If you know something, we use “garlic”: “él estaba en el ajo”
    Or if one girl is very pretty, we use “cheese”: “está como un queso”.

  4. Maryem Salama

    Hi Kate, Two of your idiom collections somehow remind me of two idioms commonly used in our culture. If you criticize someone unfairly, they may say to you “who cannot get grape cluster he will describe it bitter” (very sour)
    We have a sweet dish called Besisa (a powder of some ingredients melted in oil and honey or sugar) we derived a verb after the name of this dish to say idiomatically “the one who prepares Basisa he will lick his finger.” Of course, they use a spoon to mix this dish, but it is just a figure of the advantage that may one get if he takes the initiative of a work. .

  5. Dr. R.J. George

    Extremely useful idioms used in day to day life. I love to share these idioms with my students along with the usage examples. A big Thank You to the author.

  6. I have always been as suspicious of the phrase as the ‘low hanging fruit’ itself. Both literally and metaphorically it is the least clean and wholesome. In picking fruit one shouldvalways consider how far above dog level it grows…

    In German, somebody who is smartly turned out is ‘wie vom Ei gepellt’ (lit. As peeled from the egg) – as flawless as a hard boiled egg.

    Whereas in English we refer to a formal dinner to describe the completeness of a whole thing (‘from soup to nuts’) as these were the traditional first and last things eaten, the Latin concept is the same, but the food differs. The Romans started with eggs, and ended with apples, so their equivalent is ‘ab ovo ad
    malo’. (Lit. From the Apple to the egg).

  7. Vero González

    Thanks, Kate, for this interesting article!
    I’m from Argentina, and as it usually happens, some idioms are similar in Spanish, but with slight differences. For instance, instead of ‘it’s a piece of cake’ we say ‘it’s a potato’ (‘es una papa’), and regarding ‘sells like hot cakes’ we say ‘bread’ instead of cakes. As for ‘the icing of the cake’, we say ‘la frutilla del postre’ (‘the dessert’s strawberry’).
    Among other idioms that mention fruits, there is ‘verde como un limón’ (‘green as a lemon’), which means that something is not ready yet, or that it still needs more work.
    Finally, when something is very difficult, even impossible, we say that is ‘pedirle peras al olmo’ (‘to ask the elm tree for pears’).

  8. My mother tongue is Chinese, and now I live in a French-speaking area. When I read this I tried to find equivalents in these two languages:
    “a piece of cake”: French “un jeu d’enfant” (a child’s play), Chinese 小菜一碟 (a small dish, I guess it’s because it’s easy to prepare)
    “have their cake and eat (it)”: French “avoir le beurre et l’argent du beurre” (to have butter and its price), Chinese 鱼与熊掌[,不可兼得] ([it’s impossible to] have both fish and bear’s paw, the latter being considered as a rare delicacy, I won’t try it though)
    “the icing on the cake”: French “la cerise sur le gâteau” (the cherry on the cake), Chinese 锦上添花 (embroider flowers on silk cloth)
    “the apple of someone’s eye”: Chinese 视若至宝 (consider it the most precious treasure)
    “go pear-shaped”: Chinese 泡汤 (soak in soup)
    “low-hanging fruit”: Chinese 垂手可得 (fruit/success/etc. that you can get without lifting your arms and hands, but we just omit “fruit”)
    For these three I don’t know their French equivalents.
    Curiously, for “sour grapes”, in Chinese we have similar saying, but I suspect it being a translation.For the others I can’t think of Chinese equivalents for the moment (I mean, as 4-word sayings).

  9. BEZANT

    Hi, Dear Kate!
    Here often used idiom “cherry on the cake” corresponding to the delightful or stunning details of any case, event, phenomenon, process.

  10. Hendrikus Buga Raya

    In Indonesian we have some idioms with fruit “buah”.
    A very common one is “buah jatuh tidak jauh dari pohon”. It literally means a fruit falls not far from the three. It implies that children’s behavior are “not far” from their parents.

  11. Mariana

    Loved this post! In Argentina, we have some equivalent idioms. “La frutilla del postre” and “se vende como pan caliente” are similar in meaning to “the icing on the cake” and “sells like hot cakes”, respectively. Also, some people may say “es una papa” as an equivalent to “a piece of cake”. Thanks!

  12. Miss faiqarch

    Its really good to write a blog about idioms. Although it was the first time i read on this blog, but i have learned a lot of idioms. It is such a door of knowledges.😇

  13. Ralf Eisenbeiss

    In Germany, when someone acts or looks just like his father/mother we say: „Der Apfel fällt nicht weit vom Stamm.“ Literally translation: „The apple doesn‘t fall far from the stem.“

  14. Carlos Alberto Corrales Blanco

    This informativo is if great value to me because I’m avance student of Américan English Who is trying yo understand evrything specially the famous Ted Talk and also I am learning writting.

  15. Aysu Taşkın

    In Turkiye , we are saying ” it is a toy of the child “(çocuk oyuncağı) in meaning “it is a piece of cake” in english. We are using ” sell like cheese and bread” (peynir ekmek gibi satmak) in meaning sell like hot cakes.

  16. MaryU

    More fruity fun:

    In American English, “You’re a peach!” means the person has been helpful, kind, lovely to work with.

    Also, “Everything is peachy here” indicates everything is great, or fine; this term can also be used sarcastically, to indicate things are pretty bad, but everyone is either pretending otherwise or can’t say the truth about how things truly are.

  17. Hector

    Similar to mentioned above:
    es pan comido.
    la frutilla del postre.
    se vende como pan caliente.
    querer la chancha y los 20 chanchitos.
    Others: (mainly in Argentina)
    remar en dulce de leche.
    esta mas buena/o que el dulce de leche (catcall).

  18. Norbu Jamtsho

    Thanks, Mrs Kate. I am from Bhutan- a country where English as second language. I am always fascinated by the beauty of English. English is music for me. you are doing a great job. you are offering Knowledge for free. God bless you. and i will wait for next post.

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