Sardinian Food – Where and What to Eat in Sardinia

sardinian food

Francesco Cetti once said, “There is not in Italy what there is in Sardinia, nor in Sardinia what there is in Italy.”

The 18th century zoologist was probably talking about the wildlife. Probably. But he could equally have been talking about Sardinian food.

I’m fast loosing count of the number of times I’ve been to Italy, but my sojourn to Sardinia was the first time I’d visited one of the country’s islands. And, for the first time in a long time, it felt like I was experiencing Italy anew.

Located west of the bulk of the boot of Italy, Sardinia is the country’s largest island and in my mind I pictured a land of beaches, boats and summer sun. But, as my flight cruised over the mass of Sardinia, it was the cloud-high mountainous interior that peaked my interests – and also my appetite. Seafood was going to be on the Sardinian food menu, for sure, but the pastures of the interior promised something more.

Travelling from Cagliari in the south to Olbia in the north, my trip to Sardinia took me from coast to coast and through the myriad hilltop towns in between. The sights were as splendid as you might expect – after all, I was in Italy, (and more on those sights, coming soon) but I spent a lot of my time idling over four course meals, learning that Cetti had nailed it years ago: there is not in Italy what there is in Sardinia, and you have to taste your way through the traditional Sardinia foods to know how true that is.

Sardinian Food – Where and What to Eat in Sardinia

sardinian food meat and cheese

What follows is a quick guide to Sardinian food with plenty of pictures to whet your appetite. At the end there is a list of the places where I ate.

A word on Italian dining: If you’re not familiar with the Italian way of doing dinner you can read about the various courses of Italian cuisine here, but it generally goes:

  • antipasto – small tasting plates or platters of meat, fish, seafood, cheese and vegetables – nibbles, if you like, though fiercely proud Italian chefs would probably beat me to death with a leg of ham for such a vulgar description
  • primo – first course (or starter) – be prepared – this is usually something stodgy like pasta or rice and you will want to pace yourself as there’s a lot more food to come
  • secondo – entree (or main course) usually comprising fish or meat together with potatoes or vegetables
  • dolce – dessert
  • caffe – always an espresso. Never anything long or frothy – you can read more about the complex etiquette of ordering coffee in Italy here.

It’s important to remember the length of a full Italian meal so you don’t stuff your gills by the end of the primo course (as I have done more than once). Think of it as a marathon, not a sprint.

Antipasto

Pane Carasau

Sardinian Food pane carasau

There wasn’t a lunch or dinner in Sardinia that didn’t start with a basket of pane carasau (translation: music paper bread). Unlike any other bread I’ve tasted in Italy, this specifically Sardinian food is closer to a poppadom or crispy taco than bread – which isn’t a bad thing – especially when you’re staring down the end of your fork at four hearty courses.

You can also find Pane Guttiau, which is more heavily salted and includes oregano. My indulged pallet preferred this saltier version.

Pasta Dura

Sardinian Food Pasta Dura

Between you and I, I nicknamed this the ‘angry bread’. Why? It’s spiky, hard, dry and prone to hurt your mouth. Plus, the shape was reminiscent of a dragon’s spine. Still, it’s a Sardinian food, so give it a try. Just make sure you have dental cover on your travel insurance.

Pecorino

sardinian food pecorino

If you’re a cheese lover, you’ll probably have tasted pecorino cheese before, but did you know that most of it is produced in Sardinia? It’s also one of Italy’s oldest cheeses. Expect this cheese to show up time and time again in Sardina: in its pure form, in ravioli, over pasta and even in dessert. Yep, you heard me right.

Fiore Sardo

sardinian food fiore sardo

Distinctly Sardinian, fiore sardo is another type of pecorino cheese that isn’t so commonly found off the island. Personally, I wasn’t so keen on this version. It was so strong that it left a small tingle on my tongue. Nice enough to try but I certainly wasn’t craving for more.

Casu Marzu

I’m all in for a food adventure and there’s not a cheese on the planet I won’t try…apart from this one. Infested with maggots, Sardinia’s casu marzu is a ‘special’ kind of cheese. But not one you’re going to see me eating any time soon. Actually, let’s make that EVER.

If you do want to try this (why, why, why?), you’ll have to do a deal on the black market because its now banned: for health and safety reasons. Obviously.

Sardinian cured meats

Sardinian Food cured meat

I’d be checking my pulse if cured meat didn’t show up on the table during an Italian meal and Sardinia didn’t let me down. Thanks to the extensive cattle and livestock that grazes the interior of the island, most of the hams and salamis that were served were locally produced and tasted all the better for it.

Animal…parts

Sardinian Food - cow brain

Sorry I couldn’t invent a more delicate title and advance apologies to any vegan and veggie readers – it’s just going to be that kind of article with worse to come below. You can find a vegan-friendly guacamole recipe here if you want to tune out.

If you’re still with me, I visited one restaurant (details below), which tries to serve as much of each animal as it can. Consequently, I was served cow and lamb brain, cow tongue and entrails. There was also tripe. I tried the lot, with the exception of tripe, which I’ve been dared into eating twice, before finally vowing never to try it again.

Tongue I’ve tasted before (the pale brown bit in the background of the above picture), which isn’t too dissimilar to a piece of roast beef. The brains were made edible thanks to the battering and deep frying, which tends to make most things more tasty. I could easily have been tricked into thinking the brain was chicken, which was interesting because the last time I ate brain (that’s right, this wasn’t my first brain rodeo), it was chicken brain, which happened to taste of egg. The mind boggles.

First course (Primero)

Malloreddus alla Campidanese

sardinian food Malloreddus alla Campidanese

Don’t worry malloreddus alla campidanese merely looks like a plate of bugs or worms – it’s actually a kind of pasta that’s native to Sardinia and tastes damn fine. Most commonly served in a tomato sauce with sausage, the secret ingredient (saffron) gives this dish an elegant lift.

If you want to try it at home you’ll find a recipe here and you can get your hands on some malloreddus here

Fregola

Sardinian Food - fregola

Tiny pearls of pasta, some people liken fregola to cous cous, but it’s got a much softer texture and consistency – more akin to rice in my view. Often served with seafood, I tried it cooked in a basic tomato sauce with fresh pecorino. It may sound dull but if you’re familiar with the fresh quality of Italian tomatoes and local cheese, you’ll know that is was anything but.

If you want to try it at home, you can find recipes here and you can buy fregola here.

Culurgiones

sardinian food culurgiones

I’ve just eaten lunch and I’m feeling perfectly full. Still, if you put a plate of this down in front of me, I’d somehow manage to find room. I’d have to. This was one of my favourite dishes in Sardinia and one I’ll definitely be trying to make this at home. What is it?…The simple explanation is Sardinan ravioli but the real treat is found inside: a stodgy yet moreish blend of potatoes and pecorino. Again, a simple tomato sauce is all that’s needed to finish this dish.

You can find a recipe for culurgiones here.

Fish and Seafood

Fish and seafood were my first thoughts when I knew I was travelling to Sardinia and I wasn’t disappointed. Best eaten near the coast, it was nice to have a contrast to the meat I’d eaten during my journey through Sardinia’s hilltop towns.

As you might expect, fish and seafood can turn up in any course (though thankfully not dessert). Here’s what I ate…

Seafood

sardinian food mussels

Mussels are popular in Sardinia and are commonly served with fregola. However, I tried them on their own. Bright orange, juicy (but not too squishy), the drizzle of olive oil added a new flavour combination I’d not tried before; and I’m pleased to say it’s one I will be trying again.

sardinian food seafood

Squid antipasti with artichoke was almost predictable, and a bit disappointing from my point of view. Not that it was badly done, just that I’m not a fan of antipasti in vinaigrette – whether it’s squid, peppers, or anything else. If you do like that sharp flavour, dig in.

sardinian foods mussel soup

Mussels, mussels everywhere – and in this tomato based soup, it was possible to pick up the seafood flavour without losing the taste of the soup. It was served with a curled and fried piece of pane carasau: a nice touch.

Sardinian Food Sardines

Some people say that sardines are from Sardinia (it would make sense) but it’s an ongoing, passionate debate that I don’t intend to throw myself into. What I will say is that these were by far the freshest and most delicate tasting sardines I’ve ever tried. No tins here. Not a single one.

sardinian food whitebait

Whitebait – a.k.a. vile on a plate (IMO). I’ve never liked these tiny fish complete with heads, tails and innards. I tried one, I did, and still it was a no. But, if you like whitebait, you’ll find it on the antipasto menu in Sardinia.

sardinian food prawn

Now, prawn wrapped in bacon and curled with pane carasau I can get behind. The fleshiness of the prawn with the smokey bacon flavour meant this piece of antipasti was gone in one inelegant bite.

sardinian food oysters

Ever since I got oyster poisoning a couple of years ago, I’ve not been willing or able to eat oysters but they smelt fresh, looked great and were popular with the other diners.

Myriad Mediterranean Fish

sardinian food fish

The Sardinian fish was so fresh, it practically swam to the plate. The most difficult part was waiting for it to be cooked.

sardinian foods seafood starters

Let’s face it, risotto is not a photogenic dish. But it doesn’t need to be – the flavours make up for it. This was seafood risotto with sprinkled with coffee – an interesting combinations that I was initially dubious but then pleasantly surprised by.

I tried several kinds of fish in Sardinia including bottarga (mullet), rombo (brill) and orata (bream).

sardinian foods fish and bacon

Plus points for stuffing this fish with bacon. Mega minus points for wrapping it in courgette (zucchini) which, frankly, is the work of the devil. Once I’d freed it from the courgette covering, I was in my happy fish-eating place.

Meat dishes

Before I arrived in Sardinia, I’d imagined the island to be all-but barren of meat but that wasn’t the case. Meat was both abundant and cooked extremely well.

Su Porcheddu

sardinian food suckling pig

Once again, apologies to my veggie readers…and even some non-veggies might need to skip this one.

Porcheddu – sucking pig that is only one month old – is perhaps the most famous of all Sardinian foods. I did have a tiny pang of guilt when this arrived at the table but the delicate scent of roasted pork eventually lured me in. Tender with a very thick rind, I preferred the meat and the crackling to the rich, fatty layer, which was a bit too flabby for me. It was interesting to try, tasty to eat, but I won’t be scouring my homeland to get my hands on anything similar.

If your conscious won’t let you stick a fork into Peppa Pig, there are plenty of pork alternatives on the menu. I tried pork ribs – not something I ever associated with Italy before but a nice alternative to the sticky glazed versions I’ve eaten in the States.

sardinian foods pork ribs

Lamb

And then there was lamb, another popular secondo.

sardinian food paork and polenta

Filleted and served with polenta (above).

sardinian food lamb

Or just plainly roasted and served with potatoes – because that’s all good quality lamb really needs.

Sardinian food – the blue zone

Just as you loosen your belt, wondering if you have space for dessert, I thought I’d mention that Sardinia is one of the world’s Blue Zones – where the locals have unusual longevity. Some people attribute this to the food as well as the lifestyle.

You can find out more in this TED Talk.

And here’s the book if you want to figure out how to eat like a Sardinian at home: The Blue Zones, Second Edition: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest.

Desserts and sweets

Sebadas

sardinian food sebadas

If I said pecorino cheese fritter bathed in local Abbamele honey, I’d understand if you didn’t get too excited by the sound of sebadas. However, you need to trust me – this combination absolutely works.

Sardinian sweets

sardinina food sardinian sweets

Sardinia is also well known for its sugary and almond flavoured sweets from amarettus (the brown biscuits on the right of the picture above) to papassini (the iced biscuits in the picture below) to maringa (the meringues in the bottom picture).

sardinian foods wedding sweets

If you’re lucky enough to find it (it’s usually reserved for weddings and celebrations), try pan’e saba, pictured above, – a fruit and nut combo that’s not too far off Christmas cake.

sardinian food meringueWhere to eat in Sardinia

Cagliari, Ristorante Flora – a traditional-styled restaurant full of antique furniture. Try the porceddu.

You can read reviews on Trip Advisor here.

Laconi, Ristorante Sardegna – a family-run business that’s been going for generations and has great views. Try the culurgiones and fregola.

This restaurant doesn’t have a website but you can read reviews on Trip Advisor here.

Nuoro, Monti Blu – a quirky restaurant that feels a bit like a curiosity shop that has a shop and cafe on the ground floor. Great inventive menu where you can try brains and other animals innards.

You can read reviews on Trip Advisor here.

Oliena, Ristorantino Masiloghi – with rustic decor the focus seems to be on simple, fresh flavours. Try the malloreddus alla campidanese and sebadas.

You can read reviews on Trip Advisor here.

Oliena, Ristorante L’Essenza Bistrot – if you’re in the mood for a modern bistro that serves up fresh seafood and fish, L’Essenza is a great choice. In fact, it was good enough that I’d go back.

You can read reviews on Trip Advisor here.

Castelsardo, Ristorante Da Ugo – this restaurant has too many photos of A-Listers and the glitterati dining here that it can’t get them all up on the wall. Seafood and fish abound. Don’t be put off by the somewhat basic decor and unattractive frontage. The food makes up for it.

You can read reviews on Trip Advisor here.

Have you been to Sardinia? Any Sardinian foods I missed? Let me know in the comments below.

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sardinian food

My trip was courtesy of the Sardinian Tourist Board and was arrange in conjunction with Borghi Italia Tour Network.

Article written by

Jo Fitzsimons is a freelance travel writer who has visited over 50 countries. www.indianajo.com is the place where she shares destination details, travel itineraries, planning and booking tips and trip tales. Her aim: to help you plan your travel adventure on your terms and to your budget.

5 Responses

  1. Where to Go in Sardinia - Self-Drive Itinerary | Indiana Jo

    […] You can read about (and look at pictures of) what I ate in Sardinia here. You’ll find a list o… […]

  2. Paul Smith
    Paul Smith at | | Reply

    Another excellent article x

  3. Claudia
    Claudia at | | Reply

    Girl, you need to come back so you can visit more restaurants. I will take you to some even better ones!

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