Sardinian food is unique and delicious. As you surely know, food in Italy is very regional which means that what you’ll eat in Sardinia can’t really be easily found in the rest of the country, so make sure to gorge on it during your trip as that will be your only chance!
Planning to visit Sardinia? Make sure to read my post “10 Absolutely Unmissable Things To Do In Sardinia.”
What’s interesting about food here is that although Sardinia is an island, most of the traditional food in Sardinia is based on meat products – with a strong focus on pork and lamb dishes, and some of the best pecorino cheese you’ll ever taste. This is because traditional activities in Sardinia include sheep farming, and food usually reflects the culture of a place and its people, its history and even the dominations that affected it.
You can rest assured that Sardinian food is full of flavor – and at times plain weird. But I promise you won’t leave disappointed and Sardinia will live up to its reputation of being an incredibly welcoming place.
This post explains you what Sardinian food you really should eat and highlight some unique ingredients. Let me however start by sharing some tips on how to make the most of Sardinian food.
How And Where To Find The Best Sardinian Food
Go on a food tour or a cooking class
There is no better way than going on a food tour or – even better – attend a cooking class to learn about local food. Unfortunately not many tours are available for sale online in Sardinia, so I recommend to enquire locally for more options. Meantime, you can consider these:
- Culurgiones cooking class Cagliari
- Sardinia countryside home cooking class and meal at a farm house
- Wine tour Sardinia
- Sardinia cooking class
- Cheese and wine experience around Cagliari
- Cagliari market tour, cooking demo and dinner
Look for a festival
You will find delicious Sardinian food at festivals and the good news is that there is a festival of small or big proportions pretty much every week. The best one though is Autunno in Barbagia – which takes place in the fall each weekend in a different village of the Barbagia region, from September to December. Other options are the culurgiones festival, or the porceddu festival.
Enjoy a Sardinian aperitivo
Aperitivo is a literally a ritual in Sardinia and a chance to try some of the best Sardinian food. Our aperitivo has a strong focus on cold cuts and cheese so you can expect to try things such as dry sausage, pancetta, lard, ham and various kinds of aged and semi-aged pecorino, accompanied by local bread. It’s best with wine – obviously Sardinian. But make sure to drink lots of water as it it oh so salty.
Search for an agriturismo
You will find the best traditional Sardinian food at an agriturismo – a rural farm where you can also rent a room and which serves food cooked using its own products. There even are some ittiturismo – where the focus will be on fish and seafood.
What to eat when
Sardinian food is quite seasonal so certain dishes won’t be found throughout the year. Moreover, and quite importantly, certain dishes take hours to prepare so don’t expect to sit down at a restaurant, order them from the menu and have them within minutes. For example, if you want to eat porceddu you have to find a restaurant or agriturismo that serves it and let them know in advance that you intend to order it.
Do a bit of research about Sardinia Blue Zone
That Sardinian food is better than most is proved by the fact that here in Sardinia we have one of the very few blue zones in the world. These are places where people live longer than in the rest of the world – some well beyond 100 years. Research proves that this long life expectancy is due to a combination of healthy diet, strong family and social bonds, daily exercise and overall happiness.
Now, without any further ado, let me tell you about the best Sardinian food.
Must Try Sardinian Food
There is bread, and then there is Sardinian bread. We have so many varieties of bread here that there even is a dedicated section at the Ethnographic Museum in Nuoro, in the center of Sardinia. Bread here is made using “su framentu” – natural yeast. Some of it is made for special occasions – such as the most intricate coccoi in the picture above.
This thin, incredibly crispy bred is probably the most well known Sardinian bread outside of the island, as it is even found in the supermarkets. Yet, the best kind is that produced by local bakeries in the region of Barbagia – it has a more wholesome flavor. If you add olive oil and salt to it, you can make “pani guttiau” – but I warn you, it is highly addictive.
Like pani carasau, this bread is baked in a wood over. It is a daily bread and regularly found in bakeries. The best one is that from Sanluri, a small town in the region of Medio Campidano. It’s the perfect kind of bread to prepare bruschetta.
Another local bread baked in the traditional wood oven, it is eaten less frequently than the two other kinds. It has a thick and somewhat dry pulp and a thick, crispy crust which make it perfect for spreading things on it. Some kinds are very elaborate. It can last several days.
Sardinian cheese is famous throughout Italy and the world. The production of Sardinian pecorino is actually a very important element of the local economy, and a cause of concern when the price of milk keeps decreasing. Below are some kinds of cheese you may want to try.
There are about a million kinds of Pecorino cheese in Sardinia – from semi-fresh to hard. If you like a full flavor, peppery kind of cheese, go for the hard one (stagionato).
A pecorino cheese that is typical of Gavoi, a small town in the center of Sardinia.
I can’t really comment about Casu Marzu (literally “rotten cheese”), as I have always refused to try it, but some Israeli friends who did said it is delicious, and it is such a unique Sardinian food that I ought to mention it. This pecorino cheese is laid outside, holed are dug in it and flies go in to lay their eggs. The larvae open and feed on the cheese, and give it a creamy texture. You won’t find it easily as not many produce it, so you will have to ask around. And if it were as dangerous as they say, Sardinia would be even less populated.
Pasta and soups
Sardinia has its own kinds of pasta, but don’t expect anything similar to what you’d have in Italy. We have our own pasta shapes, our own recipes, our own fillings. Traditional Sardinian pasta dishes require hours of preparations and technique you’ll learn with a lot of experience, so they aren’t exactly every day dishes. You will find them at the best restaurants, which use quality ingredients.
These are some pasta dishes you should try in Sardinia.
Malloreddus alla Campidanese
Referred to as “gnocchetti sardi” outside of Sardinia, malloreddus are a small pasta that tends to be chewy, with a strong bite and virtually impossible to overcook. They are traditionally served with a “campidanese” sauce (from Campidano, the plain of Sardinia). This is prepared by cooking together pork saugage, tomatoes and saffron. They are served with pecorino cheese.
Do you want to make malloreddus yourself? Find the recipe in my post “How To Prepare Malloreddus Alla Campidanese (Gnocchetti Sardi).”
Fregola con le arselle
To give you a proper understanding of what fregola is, just picture a cous cous whose pearls are much larger. This is a very famous Sardinian food prepared with semolina, water and salt mixed together and then rubbed between the fingers to get a rounded, rough shape. The best way to eat it is with a broth-y sauce made with clams (arselle), tomatoes, parsley, a tiny amount of garlic and a hint of chillies. You know it is good when you have to eat it with a spoon.
FACT: You can’t leave Sardinia without having tried culurgionis. The concept is similar to that of ravioli: so it is a filled pasta. But the shape and the flavor are completely different. Typical of the region of Ogliastra, the basic recipe calls for a filling of potatoes, mint, garlic and cheese; but each village makes them slightly differently, using a different kind of cheese or different proportions.
I keep saying the best culurgionis are those from Seui, which are made with a cheese called “cas’e fitta” that is kept in water and salt. They are served boiled with abundant pecorino cheese (no oil) or with a plain tomato sauce.
You won’t easily find good culurgiones, although they are often on the menu. The best ones are either homemade or eaten at well known agriturisimi. The good news is that many restaurants in Cagliari are now focusing on this traditional Sardinian food, so you may have better luck there. Some are even venturing with innovative versions that include a seafood bisque and a sauce made with burrata, such as the ones you can find at Le Segrete, one of the best restaurants in Cagliari.
This dish is typical of Gallura, in the north of Sardinia, where it is called “suppa cuata.” It is made using stale bread which is soaked in sheep broth and layered with pecorino cheese, mint and parsley. The mixture is then baked in the oven until the cheese melt and served hot. A lighter version is prepared using a beef broth.
This is Italy’s rarest pasta, and only three women in Sardinia now master the art of making su filindeu – one of them is Paola Abraini, who occasionally holds filindeu workshops in Nuoro without ever spilling the full secret of how to make this pasta. The basic recipe calls for water, flour and salt – in unknown proportions – to prepare a very flexible dough that is pulled 7 times to create 256 thin strands of pasta that has to be laid down to dry. The pasta is cooked in a thin sheep broth and served as a soup, accompanied by pecorino cheese.
Spaghetti ai ricci
Though spaghetti isn’t exactly a typical Sardinian pasta, we love this dish so much that I ought to mention it in this post. This is a more modern dish which is prepared by using sea urchins pulp. Once cooked, the spaghetti are drained and passed in a pan with olive oil, garlic, parsley and chillies and adding the sea urchin at the last minute.
GOOD TO KNOW: Keep in mind that there are strict regulations with regards to the fishing of sea urchins, so these can’t always be found.
Meat and fish dishes
Sardinian cuisine has an abundance of meat and fish dishes. Some of them are actually plain but require hours of preparations, so you need to call the restaurant ahead of time to let them know you want to try them.
This is the most well known Sardinian food, prepared strictly using a milk piglet born and raised in Sardinia. The animal is split in two and slowly roasted over the fire until the meat is tender and moist and the skin crispy. For best results, lard and mirto leaves are rubbed on the skin.
It takes an average of 4 hours to roast a porceddu, so this isn’t the kind of dish you can expect to have at a random restaurant. You will find the best at an agriturismo or alternatively at some local home (work on your friendships here, guys!).
Pecora in cappotto
The meaning of this dish, which is typical of Barbagia, a mountainous region of central Sardinia, means “sheep in a coat.” It’s a stew prepared using carrots, potatoes, herbs such as parsley and bay leaves, onions, celery and sundried tomatoes, in which you throw the sheep meat. Locals and tourists alike swear by it. I am a local and I can’t even stand the smell. You decide for yourself.
Sa Cordula and Sa Trattalìa
Made of internal organs of either goat or lamb which are kept together by thin guts and cooked over the fire on a spit, slowly until the guts become golden and crispy, this is a real local delicacy. Some versions are more like a stew with peas and vegetables.
Agnello coi carciofi
Among the best Sardinian food there is this recipe of lamb stewed with artichokes until both become incredibly tender and moist. The flavor is very delicate. Eat it with abundant amounts of bread.
Spigola alla vernaccia
Seabass passed in flour, covered in vernaccia wine and to which black olives are added. It’s cooked in the oven until the wine thickens to become a delicious sauce to accompany the fish.
Burrida a sa casteddaia
This dish of dogfish cooked in vinegar and walnuts is typical of Cagliari. It’s on the heavy side but honestly delicious and never missing on special occasions.
A delicious soup of mussels, clams and octopus cooked in vermentino wine with olive oil, garlic, onion, parsley and chilli peppers.
Aragosta alla catalana
Typical of Alghero, where Catalan is the main language, the boiled lobster is served with thin slices of tomatoes and onions.
Anemones passed in flour and semolina and deep fried. They are not very easy to find.
Fish a la Scabecciu
A dish typical of Cagliari, it is made of fried fish marinated in oil, vinegar, salt, garlic and parsley. Some also add capers and chopped tomatoes.
These dishes are proper meals!
One of the staples of Sardinian food is this dish of pane carasau soaked in broth (preferably sheep) and layered with a poached egg, onions, tomatoes and basil and grated pecorino cheese. It’s full of flavor.
Find a great recipe to make pani frattau here.
This Sardinian food will remind you of the empanadas you can find in South America – the concept is the same. Originally from Assemini, a small town not far from Cagliari, you can find variations of it all over Sardinia. A dough made with flour, lard, water and salt is laid on a tray and stuffed with a mixture of potatoes, sundried tomatoes, parsley, garlic, olive oil and either lamb or eel. It’s baked in the oven until the dough becomes golden and crispy and the filling is moist and bursting with flavor.
Sardinian sweets are usually prepared using almonds or cheese. The best ones are homemade – usually by women – and require long hours of work.
The most famous Sardinian dessert outside of Sardinia it is made by filling a very thin dough with a mixture of mild cheese slightly cooked with lemon peel and sugar. It is then deep fried and served piping hot with local honey. The cheese melts and the dough becomes crispy. It is honestly addictive.
These sweets are made with ricotta and saffron, a little sugar and a bit of flour. They are baked until they become a deep orange color. They are soft and moist.
Pabassinas and Pan’e Saba
Pabassa is Sardinian for raisins, an ingredient used in both sweets (along with eggs, flour, candied orange peel, walnuts and almonds) which are usually served on special occasions such as Christmas or Easter.
A favorite of children and never missing from a party, they are very sweet, made with sugar, almonds, orange flowers water and lemon peel and then wrapped in thin colored paper.
I will talk about Sardinian wines separately. Meantime, here are some good Sardinian liquors and spirits
Made of myrtle berries, it is thick and syrupy. You can find it in stores in Italy, but the best one is homemade.
Filu e ferru
The name means “iron thread,” and is a reference to the fact that it had to be hidden underground and an iron thread had to be left outside for people to find it. It’s like a strong grappa.
Other interesting stuff
We call bottarga Sardinian caviar. It is a fish roe made by pressing together tuna or mullet eggs, which are then salted and dried. We put it on other dishes such as pizza and pasta either grated or in thin slices. Die hard like my parents have it sliced with olive oil and lemon, on bread. It’s full of cholesterol, but once in a while…
Honey made with arbutus flowers which is sweet and bitter at the same time.
I have no idea why we call this snack with a word that resembles pizza, since it is nothing like it. It is made with phyllo pastry stuffed with tomato sauce, capers and an anchovy. It becomes crispy on the outside and moist and chewy on the inside. You will find it at coffee shops and supermarkets and at times good bakeries. We love snacking on it. Real pros have it for breakfast.
Further readings about Sardinia
For more readings about Sardinia, make sure to check these posts:
- Where Is Sardinia?
- The 15 Best Beaches In Sardinia
- A Guide To The Things To Do In Cagliari
- What To See And Do In Alghero Sardinia
- The Best Places In Sardinia To Discover Its History, Culture And Traditions
- Hiking In Sardinia – 14 Incredible Trails
- 11 Amazing Surfing Spots in Sardinia
- Where To Take The Nicest Pictures Of Sardinia
- A Guide To Hotels In Cagliari: Where To Stay In Sardinia’s Capital
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