What is merenda in Italian?


Last Updated on November 9, 2023 by Laura Teso

What is merenda in Italian? I fear that there’s no proper translation in English for the word merenda, which is one of my favourite in the whole world (not for its sound but rather for its meaning, because I’m a real glutton, more precisely I have a sweet tooth). All I could find in the dictionary was “snack” or “tea break” but I’m not sure that this conveys the idea.

Merenda is a tiny (sometimes not so tiny) meal, usually taken by kids (and by me) between lunch and dinner (I so feel like Pippin Took right now… Yes, sometimes I have an Hobbit’s appetite, I must admit). In Italy we say “fare merenda” (whose proper translation is “to have merenda”, but literally it would be “to do merenda”).

When you grow up, it’s sort of a shame to acknowledge that you still do merenda. Not to me, I’m not ashamed at all. I can’t do without it. But, in order not to gain too many pounds, this little meal usually means a fruit and a thin slice of wholemeal bread with a cup of tea. Or just a fruit. But when I really need to treat myself to something special, then merenda means cake.

The word comes from the late Latin verb “merere” (deserve), and means “things you have to deserve”. Therefore only those who deserve it should have it (hard workers, children and young students, in short – sadly – people who consume a lot of calories).

Merenda in Italian lifestyle

The most common merende are:

Sweet merenda

  • pane e Nutella (bread and nutella cream)
  • a merendina (a supermarket snack cake)
  • a slice of homemade cake
  • a fruit
  • a fruit juice
  • a yogurt
  • a gelato in summer

Savoury Italian merenda

  • some crackers
  • rice cake
  • small panino with cheese, cold cuts and/or veggies
  • tramezzino (little sandwich)
  • a handful of almonds

When I was a kid, everyone at school had supermarket snacks (it was the time of consumerism, the time when our mothers trusted TV and commercials), except my best friend Sara. Her parents owned a café/restaurant so she always had croissants or wonderful homemade panini. Nowadays, parents are more careful about the nutrition of their children.

La merenda of our nonni

While my two brothers, 15 and 13 years older than me, every now and then tell me of the merenda our grandmother used to prepare for them when they were kids: bread, butter and a pinch of sugar. Other options were bread, tomato and a pinch of salt. Or just bread and olive oil with salt (I love it). Simple bread and milk. Or even warmed up leftover polenta, alone or with milk.  These were the merende of our nonni. In fact, my father in law every now and then still eats polenta this way.

Did you know… An Italian way of saying (a bit obsolete actually) is: “Starci come i cavoli a merenda”, something like “to fit in like cabbages at tea break”, meaning having no relevance to the topic or the context, having nothing to do with it. I find it very funny.

Who’s hungry now after this post? Well, let’s do merenda! 🙂