Ce n’est pas de la tarte

Tartelettes aux fraises

This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to food. Browse the list of idioms featured so far.

This week’s idiom is, “Ce n’est pas de la tarte.”

Approximately translated as, “it’s not pie*,” it means that something is tricky, difficult to do or to handle. Because it is a colloquial expression that is mostly spoken, it is usually elided to, “C’est pas de la tarte.”

Example: “J’essaye de lui faire faire une sieste, mais c’est pas de la tarte !” “I’m trying to put him down for a nap, but it’s not pie!”

* Une tarte should really be translated as a tart, i.e. a pie with no top crust, but then the translated phrase, “it’s not tart,” sounded too ambiguous for quick understanding (tart=pie or tart=sour?).

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

(If no player appears, here’s a link to the audio file.)

Although I wasn’t able to find a definitive source to confirm this, it seems to be a fairly recent expression, appearing sometime in the second half of the twentieth century.

The verbal form of the idiom can be modified to a different tense (“Ce n’était pas de la tarte,” it wasn’t pie, “Ça ne va pas être de la tarte,” it won’t be pie, etc.), but it is always used in the negative.

If you want to express the affirmative, that something is very easy, you should use the sibling expression, C’est du gâteau, it’s cake. (Who said French was difficult?)

Naturally, these two expressions bring to mind their near twins in English, “(as) easy as pie” and “a piece of cake,” which appeared earlier (respectively in the late ninetieth century and in the late thirties); it is possible that the French expressions were inspired by them.

But the real question is, why associate the idea of ease with baked goods? Granted, tarts and cakes are not the easiest things one can make in a kitchen, but these idioms are likely referring to the eating of said baked goods, which few people find difficult to do.

Photo note: Pictured above are strawberry tartlets made from my mother’s recipe, which is included in my cookbook (in the British and French editions as well).

  • Oh how pretty!! I’ve been obsessed with baking with strawberries lately and these tarts are just so simple and pretty.

  • I am SO fond of reading your edible idioms. I hope you compile them into a book someday !!!

    As always, thank you for a lovely, refreshing blog.

  • I like it. It’s similar to our, “it’s a real peach”. Wonderful photo.

  • Aiyana

    Neat! So very like the English version, where we say something is “easy as pie” or “a cake-walk.” I’ve never heard it used in the negative in English, though.

    (And I agree– eating pie is a lot easier than making it!)

  • I have been meaning to tell you that I really enjoy the idiom days. I am trying to learn French on my own, and these are perfect in learning more than idioms. They illuminate the way French think. so interesting.

  • Barbie

    C’est fascinant! Merci, Clotilde.

  • This is the most ADORABLE picture I have ever seen. composition and color are fantastic. So glad strawberries are in season! I like to pickle them…

  • RG

    Not Fair. I want a recipe for those adorable tartlets, with a nut-based crust if you please.

  • Love this one – it seems so logical. Also perfect, cos things are so much easier with pie or cake!

  • After reading all your french lessons, soon we will be ready to move there and use it!


  • It would be a crime not to give it a try. adorable picture! Thanks so much…


  • Aspiring Vegan

    Another (positive) English expression is “it’s a piece of cake”.

  • dory

    We also use it in the negative in English, though– “It’s not a piece of cake,” for “it’s not easy.” I love the idioms too!


  • EB

    My thoughts exactly! Who says pie is easy?!?! Or cake!?

  • Magnificent photo!

  • I am really enjoying this series! And this week’s idiom is especially charming :)

  • Really love the edible French idiom~ :D

  • Alice

    Pie crust and cake are easy compared to bread or sausage.
    The phrase comes from when the farmwife cooked everything, and often for a large number of people. My Mother-in-Law thought nothing of popping a couple of pies in the still hot oven after she took out dinner. she rolled them out after everything else was cooking and filled them with fruit she had canned

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