Spanish use this expression in a metaphorical way, but its origin from centuries ago is real.
Continue reading if you want to know why.
In medieval days hostelries were unpopular because of the food they served. The most common technique was to give cat meat when customers asked for hare. Today Spanish use this expression when someone tries to cheat with something similar but inferior.
But this was not the only scam they made. True or not, other tricks were used like dressing donkey as beef or dishes where the content was difficult to distinguish like cat instead of rabbit, hare or lamb.
Distrust increased and the owners became suspicious of any meal scam and would say before eating:
“Si eres cabrito, mantente frito; si eres gato, salta del plato”
‘If you are Lamb, keep fried; if you are a cat jump out the plate’
Of course the food never jumped out of the plate but many people said cat meat was a very used alternative even though customers didn’t know.