Sardinian food defies all rules.
Despite being an island at the heart of the Mediterranean, most traditional food in Sardinia is actually not fish or seafood base. Sardinia, one of the 20 regions of Italy, is different from the rest of the country on many levels. Isolated from the mainland, from where it is very far, its food reflects its ancestral culture and traditional activities.
The majority of traditional Sardinian food is pork or lamb based, and you’ll find a lot of sheep cheese. This is because on of the most traditional occupations on the island was (and still is) sheep farming.
Food in Sardinia is tasty, unique and at times plain weird. One thing for sure, people who visit Sardinia are hardly disappointed with it.
In this post, I will highlight all the best Sardinian food that you should try, and share a few tips to fully enjoy Sardinian cuisine.
All The Sardinian Food You Should Try While On The Island
There are more kinds of bread in Sardinia than I can possibly name in this post – to the point that an entire exhibit is dedicated to traditional bread in the Ethnographic Museum of Nuoro, one of the main cities of Sardinia. Traditionally, bread is made using “su framentu” – natural yeast. These kinds of bread are the most common, and at times used for other preparations.
Probably the most famous Sardinian bread outside Sardinia, it is commonly found in supermarkets. It’s a very thin and crispy bread typical of the Barbagia mountain region. With olive oil and salt it becomes known as “pani guttiau.” It it highly addictive.
Traditional Sardinian bread baked in a wood oven. It’s a bread that is consumed daily and it is still found in many bakeries. The most famous one is produced in Sanluri, a small town in the Campidano region.
Less common compared to the other two kinds of bread, it’s made with semolina and cooked in the traditional wood oven. The pulp is very thick and somewhat dry, and the crust thick and very crispy, if not hard. It’s meant to last several days.
Sardinia is one of the most famous cheese producing regions in Italy. Sardinian pecorino is exported all over the world and it’s as important for the local economy as tourism – which is why Sardinian shepherds took to the streets to throw away their milk in a protest for the ridiculously low price of milk.
You’ll find a million different varieties of Pecorino cheese in Sardinia – from semi-fresh to hard. The harder the cheese, the stronger the flavor. The “stagionato” (hard) variety has a peppery taste.
This kind of pecorino is typical of Gavoi, a small town in the heart of Sardinia.
Pasta and soups
Much like in the rest of Italy, pasta is a staple in Sardinia as well. Pasta dishes here are nothing like what you get in other regions. We have our own, unique shapes and our own fillings and sauces. Traditional Sardinian pasta dishes aren’t an every day business: they are meant for special occasions. They are the kind of dishes that you should only eat at the very best restaurants, as they require excellent quality ingredients and hours of preparations.
Having said so, there are a few excellent pasta dishes and soups among the Sardinian food that you should try. Here are some.
Malloreddus alla Campidanese
Campidano is the main plain of Sardinia. This is where malloreddus, a pasta that is often referred to as “gnocchetti sardi” comes from. Malloreddus are best when homemade, and they tend to be a very chewy pasta, with a strong bite to it – the kind that will hardly ever get overcooked.
The best way to enjoy malloreddus is “alla campidanese,” a sauce that is made by cooking together a rather rough pork sausage, tomatoes and saffron. The end result is a thick, somehow sweet sauce that is full of flavor. For the perfect touch, once malloreddus are tossed in the sauce, they are sprinkled with abundant pecorino cheese (more about that later).
Fregola con le arselle
Fregola is similar to cous cous, but with more of a bite to it as its “pearls” are much bigger. This pasta is made with semolina, water and salt. It’s together and then rubbed between the fingers to get the rounded shape. There are various ways to prepare it, but the most traditional one is with clams (arselle), tomatoes, parsley, garlic and just a hint of chillies. The best fregola is a bit soup-ey, so you should eat it with a spoon.
Culurgionis is similar to ravioli in concept – it’s a filled pasta – but completely different in flavor. They are typical of a region of Sardinia called Ogliastra and are made with potatoes, mint, garlic and cheese. Different villages make them differently – some use pecorino cheese, others a local cheese called “cas’e fitta”, and the end result can be very different depending on where you eat them.
The best culurgiones to me are those from a village called Seui. They are typically served just boiled with no oil and abundant pecorino cheese sprinkled on them. Alternatively, they are eaten with a plain tomato sauce.
Finding good, traditional culurgiones is very hard. You’ll often see them on the menu in restaurants and trattorie, but unless they are very well known restaurants, most places don’t make them from scratch. The best culurgiones are usually home made or eaten at a well known agriturismo (farm house).
INTERESTING FACT: A lot of restaurants are now offering modern versions of culurgiones, so you may come across variations that include a seafood bisque, a sauce made with burrata, and so on. For an innovative, delicious version of culurgiones, go to Le Segrete, a lovely restaurant in Cagliari.
Locally known as “suppa cuata,” this dish is typical of Gallura, a region in the north east of Sardinia. It’s made using stale bread which is soaked with sheep broth and then layered with pecorino cheese mixed with parsley and mint. It’s then cooked in the oven until the cheese melts, and served piping hot. For a lighter flavor, it can be done with beef broth.
Known as Italy’s rarest pasta, the tradition of su filindeu is currently held by no more than two or three women in Sardinia – one of them is Paola Abraini, whom I’ve had the pleasure to meet during a filindeu workshop during which, however, she didn’t spell the secret on how to make this unique pasta.
The pasta is made with water, flour and salt – though proportions are unknown – and the dough stretched and pulled seven times to create 256 thin strands of pasta which are then laid down to dry. Once dry, the pasta is cooked in a thin sheep broth and served with pecorino cheese.
Spaghetti ai ricci
Fine, spaghetti ai ricci (spaghetti with sea-urchin) isn’t exactly a Sardinian food that can be defined traditional, since it is mostly a modern dish. But it is something that we in Sardinia consume abundantly – except when the local authorities restrict the fishing of sea urchins in an attempt to protect the species and allow them to reproduce.
Spaghetti are drained when al dente, and thrown in a pan where garlic, chillies and parsley have been lightly fried in oil. Sea urchin pulp is added at the very last, for a delicate yet intense flavor.
Meat and fish dishes
Most of the meat dishes of Sardinian cuisine require hours of preparation. If you intend to eat them while visiting, you really need to research a place where you can try them, and request them in advance.
As far as traditional Sardinian food, porceddu (maialetto in Italian) is probably the most famous dish. It is a milk piglet that was born and raised in Sardinia, which is split in two and roasted ever so slowly on a spit over the fire, until the meat is soft and moist yet the skin crispy. The best one is made occasionally rubbing lard and mirto leaves on the skin of the piglet.
Porceddu takes an average of 4 hours to cook properly, so don’t expect to pop at a restaurant and have it fresh made to order. The best porceddu is usually eaten at home, where it is prepared for special occasions, or at a good agriturismo.
Pecora in cappotto
Literally meaning sheep in a coat, this is a dish typical of Barbagia, a mountainous region of central Sardinia. It’s a very flavorful stew prepared using carrots, potatoes, various herbs such as parsley and bay leaves, onions, celery and sundried tomatoes. You either love it or hate it. I admit I am not a fan of it, but many locals as well as tourists swear by it.
Sa Cordula and Sa Trattalìa
This is for the real so called “foodies” – those who aren’t afraid of trying new things. They are both made with the internal organs of either goat or lamb, which are kept together by the thin guts. It is usually cooked over the fire, on a spit, very slowly until the guts become golden and crispy. Other versions are stewed with peas and other vegetables.
Agnello coi carciofi
One of my favorite dishes of traditional Sardinian food is lamb slowly stewed with artichokes. Both of them become incredibly soft and moist, and the dish is very delicate in flavor, with a sweet hint. I recommend eating it with large amounts of bread.
Spigola alla vernaccia
A very simple dish made by oven roasting a large seabass covered in vernaccia wine, adding black olives. The wine thickens to become a delicious sauce to accompany the moist fish.
Burrida a sa casteddaia
Typical of Cagliari, it’s a dish of dogfish cooked in vinegar and walnuts. It’s not exactly light, but it is oh so tasty. It is never missing on special occasions.
This soup is prepared by cooking mussels, clams, octopus, mullet in vermentino wine with olive oil, garlic, onion, parsley and chilli peppers. If you like seafood, it’s a must.
Aragosta alla catalana
This lobster dish comes from the area of Alghero, which is a Catalan enclave in Sardinia. Lobster is boiled and then served with thin slices of onion and tomatoes.
Insalata di polpo
Literally octopus salad. The recipe varies from place to place, but the most traditional version calls for fresh, boiled octopus, boiled potatoes and celery dressed in abundant oil with garlic and parsley. It’s usually served as an appetizer.
Orziadas is the Sardinian word for anemones, which are passed in flour and semolina and friend in abundant oil until golden. It’s a favorite local appetizer, though not very easy to find.
Fish a la Scabecciu
Fish is fried and then marinated in oil, vinegar, salt, garlic and parsley. Occasionally, capers and chopped tomatoes are added to the mixture. It’s typical of Cagliari.
I wouldn’t know how else to classify these typical dishes – they are commonly consumed as a full meal.
This traditional Sardinian food is prepared by slightly soaking pane carasau in broth (preferably sheep) and then layering it with a poached egg, onions, tomatoes and basil, and an abundant dose of grated pecorino cheese. It’s very nutritious, and incredibly delicious.
The idea of this dish is similar to that of empanadas, of which you have probably heard while traveling across South America. It is typical of Assemini, a small town near Cagliari, but can be found all over the island.
In Sardinia, panada are usually large – though there is now a trend to make single portions. A dough made of flour, lard, water and salt is thinly laid on a tray, then filled with a mix of meat (usually lamb) or eel mixed with parsley, garlic, sundried tomatoes, potatoes and olive oil. The dough then covers the mix and everything is cooked in the oven.
The dough becomes crispy and golden, while the filling piping hot, moist and full of flavor.
Most Sardinian sweets involve the use of almonds or cheese. Much like the rest of Sardinian food, the best are home made by women who know all the secrets to their preparation. These are just a few you should try.
This sweets are probably the most famous Sardinian ones outside of Sardinia. A very thin dough is filled with a mild cheese cooked with sugar and lemon peel, and then fried in oil and serve boiling hot with abundant honey on top of it. Yes, it is delicious.
Lovely sweets made with ricotta, saffron, sugar and very little flour. They are moist, rich and delicate at the same time. Simply mouthwatering.
Pabassinas and Pan’e Saba
Pabassa is the Sardinian word for raisins, which are highly present in both sweets – typically consumed during Christmas or Easter. Other ingredients are eggs, flour, candied orange peel, walnuts and almonds.
Ever present when you buy a tray of Sardinian sweets, sweeter than sweets, gueffus look a lot like very large candies as they are wrapped in thin colored paper. They are made with lots of sugar, almonds, orange flowers water and lemon peel.
Sardinian wine deserves a post of its own, so I won’t even begin talking about it here. The ones below are drinks that we in Sardinia typically enjoy after a large meal.
A strong liquor made of myrtle berries. Commercial one is easily found in supermarkets and liquor store, but the best one is always the homemade stuff.
Filu e ferru
Literally meaning “iron thread,” a name that refers to the thread of iron that allowed people who stored it illegally underground to find it. It’s a very strong kind of grappa.
Weird yet tasty stuff
I promise all of this is eatable.
I have honestly never tried Casu Marzu (literally “rotten cheese”), but people who have say it is delicious. It’s a very strong pecorino which is laid outside, holes dug in it for flies to lay their eggs. The larvae open up and feed on the cheese, giving it a creamy texture. It’s not exactly easy to find, but were it dangerous as they say, generations of Sardinians would have been wiped out.
Sardinian caviar is actually fish roe made by pressing together tuna or mullet eggs, salting them and drying them. It’s usually grated over pasta, pizza, seafood dishes or served sliced with lemon and olive oil for a quick, cholesterol rich appetizer.
Bitter honey is made of arbutus flowers. It’s sweet and at the same time bitter. Interesting for sure.
Pizzette sfoglia aren’t actually weird – they are just tasty. I used to think they are Italian, but realized they are a local thing when my friends in the rest of Italy said they have never heard of them before. A good pizzetta sfoglia is made with phyllo pastry. The greasy, crispy and moist crust is filled with tomato sauce, a couple of capers and an anchovy. The end result is the ultimate snack, which we in Sardinia love at breakfast (instead of the very Italian cornetto) or any time we want to treat ourselves to a snack. Pizzette sfoglia are sold in “bars,” grocery stores and even in some good bakeries.
7 Tips To Find The Best Sardinian Food
Join a food tour
Joining a food tour may be a great way to learn more about local food and culture. There isn’t much available online, but I have managed to select a few tours that may be interesting. Most of the time, food is paired with wine for a more complete experience.
- 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
- South west island experience
- Cagliari market tour, cooking demo and dinner
Make sure to enquire locally for more options.
Attend a festival
One of the best way to discover Sardinian food is by attending one of the many festivals that take place around the island. Many of them are highly centered on traditions, so they will have a focus on traditional food too. If you happen to be in Sardinia during the fall, you can opt for Autunno in Barbagia, which takes place every weekend in a different village for a whopping 29 weeks. Also watch out for culurgiones or porceddu festivals.
Try a Sardinian aperitivo
If you want to try a bunch of Sardinian cold cuts and cheese, the best thing to do is to go for a Sardinian style aperitivo. You will typically get a glass of good local wine and a tray with lots of dry sausage, lard, pancetta, ham and a variety of aged and semi-aged cheese, as well as local olives and bread. Make sure to drink plenty of water because it is very salty – but oh so tasty.
Go to an agriturismo
The best traditional Sardinian food is found at good agriturismi. These are rural restaurants where owners typically cook using their own products. Keep in mind that no agriturismo in Sardinia will ever offer seafood – it just never is on the menu. For that, opt for an ittiturismo.
Learn where (and when) to eat certain foods
As I have tried to explain throughout this post, certain traditional Sardinian food is only eaten seasonally and in certain places. You can’t expect to sit down at an average restaurant and be able to order a portion of porceddu – not unless you warn the restaurant days in advance that you will going there specifically for that reason.
In fact, you should stay away from places that have porceddu or other dishes that require long cooking time on the menu: if they do, chances are that you will be served something that’s been pre-cooked and stored, and then warmed up to be served.
Get to know about Sardinia Blue Zone
I know a lot of the Sardinian food I mentioned in this post sounds very rich, and not exactly healthy. But did you know that some areas in Sardinia are famous for being one of the six blue zone regions in the world? These are places where people live longer than in the rest of the world. Ongoing research proves that a combination of healthy food, family and social bonds, daily light exercise all contribute to a long, healthy and happy life.
Further readings about Sardinia
For more readings about Sardinia, make sure to check my other posts:
- A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia
- An Excellent Guide To The Best Beaches In 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 Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Cagliari
- A Guide To The Beaches In Cagliari And Its Surroundings
- A Guide To Hotels In Cagliari: Where To Stay In Sardinia’s Capital
- A Complete Guide To The Island Of Asinara, Sardinia
- A Complete Guide To Alghero Sardinia
- A Complete Guide To Bosa Sardinia
Further readings about food in the world
If food moves you, you may want to read the following posts:
- Mouthwatering Egyptian Food: 15 Egyptian Dishes You Have To Try
- The Most Delicious Cuban Food: 35 Mouthwatering Cuban Dishes
- 21 Mouthwatering Guyanese Food And Drinks You Need To Try
- All The Food In Rome You Should Eat: 25 Delicious Dishes