Bread and a filling of choice is one of the most usual lunch options for office workers, in the UK and in Italy. In Italy, you choose between a panino and a tramezzino and that’s pretty much it; here I found an incredible range of names and shapes, which made my lunch breaks quite confusing at first. And as good linguist, after figuring out what it was, I asked myself “how’s that in Italian?” and “where does this word come from?”.
So I did a bit of research with the help of the Oxford dictionary and I will take you on a little tour of the names bread is traded under in the UK, and how could that be translated in Italian.
- Bagel: “A dense bread roll in the shape of a ring, characteristic of Jewish baking.” Bagels are becoming more known in Italy, due to the influence and popularity of American baking, but they’re not quite the sensation they are here in the UK or in the US- they are still the prerogative of big cities and quite a hip thing to eat. I was wondering why they are not common in Italy, since there is a big Jewish concentration in some cities and their bakeries are lush, but I then discovered that bagel originated in the Askhenazi community, so it makes sense they are not typical of Southern Europe.
- Bap: “A large, round, flattish bread roll, typically with a spongy texture and floury top”. This is basically a Scottish version of brioche and is generally filled with breakfast items, ie. sausage and egg or bacon and egg. In Italian we don’t have an equivalent, mainly because we don’t do savoury breakfast and the most plausible translation for this would be simply a panino; if you want to be more specific panino al latte (literally “milk bread” ) could do as it has a brioche dough, but the top is generally shiny as glazed with egg yolk or milk, not dusted in flour.
- Bun: “a bread roll”; this word is also used in Scotland and Jamaica to indicate a rich fruit cake. Bun is generally a brioche bread, such as the one for hamburgers or hot dogs. Depending on the recipe, the bun can resemble the aforementioned panino al latte; however, if you’re looking for a hot dog bun, you can simply ask in supermarkets for pane da hot dog . Mind you, they’re full of preservatives!
- Buttie: inf., Northern of England “a filled or open sandwich” . According to Oxford dictionary, the word originates from butter+y,; others say is the contraction of bread and butter, as the bread is buttered before filling the sandwich. The most common butties are with bacon and with chips. I was astonished the first time I’ve heard of a chip buttie- do you really have to put fried potato between two slices of buttered brioche? I haven’t had the chance to try it yet, but thinking about it, it’s not that different from pasta e patate (a soup with pasta and potatoes) or pizza topped with potatoes- foreigners generally frown upon those. How to translate bacon buttie? Again, panino con il bacon could do the trick.
- English muffin:” A flat, circulary spongy bread roll made from yeast dough and eaten split, toasted, and buttered.” I was always convinced that muffin were those cute little cakes, now very fashionable in Italy too; imagine my surprise when reading a brunch menu, I found out that Eggs Benedict were served with a muffin. I quickly realised they were not sweet and they were, again, another kind of brioche. I would not translate this one is it is the name of a specific recipe.
- Flatbread: “A type of flat, thin bread that is typically unleavened. I know the translation of this one: pane azzimo (which literally means “bread without yeast”). Is quite unusual to find a sandwich made with pane azzimo in Italy, although the unleavened bread itself is easy to get hold of, especially in Jewish bakeries; on the contrary, I see more and more flatbread here among the lunch options, even though it is even more energy dense than the normal white bread, so its popularity cannot be due to health consciousness. Maybe it can be due to London’s cultural variety?
- Panini: “A sandwich made with Italian bread, usually discussed.” I already discussed the panini confusion here; the curious thing is that the Oxford dictionary defines this item as “made with Italian bread”, which I find quite confusing. Is it only made with bread coming from Italy? What is about a bread that makes it italian? There are so many different types of bread in the peninsula that “Italian bread” is an approximation. I think they mean a ciabatta-like bread, so the most correct translation would be ciabatta tostata (or simply panino scaldato).
- Pitta: “Flat, hollow, slightly leavened bread which can be split open to hold a filling” . The thing I find fascinating about this bread is its etymology rather than the possible translation. Pitta is the bread served with kebab and in the Greek and Middle-Eastern cuisines; the word, which can be spelled either pitta or pita, derives from the Greek and Turkish pide. In the area of Catanzaro, in the South of Italy, they have a bakery product called pitta which is also a flattened bread dough, used in the past to test whether the oven was ready to bake the bread; Catanzaro is in the area of the so called Magna Graecia, a Greek colony in the VII century B.C. . The same pitta might also be the root for the most famous Italian word of all, pizza, and maybe even of piada, another kind of flatbread from Romagna.
- Roll: “A versy small loaf of bread, to be eaten by one person”. I love the “to be eaten by one person”…. can’t a roll be shared? The other thing I realised is that I always see either bacon roll or lobster roll, nothing else seems to be put inside of it. How would I translate it in Italian? Panino as a general translation; if there’s a picture from which I can infer the shape, I’d choose the most appropriate among the range of small bread shapes we have in Italy, which are too many to name!
- Sandwich: “An item of food consisting of two pieces of bread with a filling between them, eaten as a light meal.” Generally, a sandwich is made by soft, untoasted bread, the kind known in Italian as pancarrè. The origin of this word is not clear, as it is in a pseudo-French and it should mean “square bread”, clearly because of its shape; a synonym is pane in cassetta, meaning “bread in box”, recalling the tin in which the loaf is baked. The translation for sandwich, however, should not give rise to any doubt: it is tramezzino, a word coined by the intellectual Gabriele D’Annunzio to curb the use of the term sandwich in Italian.
- Toastie:” A toasted sandwich or snack”. This is what in Italy is called toast- I admit the word is not very Italian, though! Toast is made by two slices of pancarrè filled usally with cheese and ham and toasted. As simple as that.
- Wrap: “A tortilla wrapped around a cold filling, eaten as a sandwich”. Wraps are now becoming more popular in Italy and I have seen some places selling them with this name, but I don’t see this word becoming very popular in my language, especially due to the challenging spelling and pronunciation. I remember seeing somewhere wraps being called rotolini, (literally meaning something that has been rolled around something else), and I don’t mind this translation; I would suggest calling them piadina but the purist would frown upon this as the tortilla is different from the piadina (and even more so from the original corn tortilla). Do you have any suggestion?
Do you have anything else to add to the list? Please do so in the comments, and share this carb-loaded post- it won’t make you put on weight, I swear! 😉