Sardinia wasn’t even on my radar, but I jumped head first at the opportunity to spend three weeks there in August. I arrived uninformed and left with much more than just a tan. I had an amazing time hiking, boating and exploring all the stunning, yet crowded beaches (that’s what I get for going in high season!), but most importantly, I got to learn about the long history, local culture, and gastronomy of the island.
From the early Nuragic Civilization, to settlements by the Romans and Spanish, the large island is now an autonomous region of Italy and further sets itself apart through its local food. Sardinians really know how to eat! It’s common to have a full 4-course meal with an appetizer, plate of pasta, then a main dish of meat or fish and dessert.
While on the island, I got to try a ton of local delicacies. Here’s my list of Sardinian food you can’t miss while you’re there:
Roasting a full suckling pig in the fire is a very common dish in Sardinian cuisine. The pork is tender and roasted for quite a few hours before served. One of the best places to try porceddu is at a restaurant of an agritourism. It is very common in Sardinia and most have a farm-to-table restaurant with a set menu. I stayed a few nights on a farm and besides tasting some of the best food on the entire trip, I was able to see how they roasting the pigs on an open fire.
Sardinians do love their cheese, even when it comes to dessert. Pardules are little ricotta cheese tarts usually flavored with saffron, orange and lemon. They are traditionally eaten during Easter, but they’re sold in every bakery and grocery store on the island year round. It was a lovely treat to wake up in the morning and have a pardule for breakfast with my coffee.
It would be really impressive to visit Sardinia and not have tried this unique cracker. Pane caresau is the first thing usually set on the table and is eaten by itself or with an assortment of cheese and cured meats. This local flatbread can be found in all supermarkets and can last up to a year on the shelf, but is best eaten warm, right out of the oven with olive oil and salt. Archaeological evidence suggests that the recipe is so old, it was already eaten in Sardinia in 1,000 BCE. Although I wasn’t really a fan in the beginning, by the end of my trip, it was weird not to have pane caresau on the table. Once, I even brought it to the beach.
Gnocchetti Sardi, also called malloreddus, may seem like normal pasta, but this special shape, unique to Sardinia tastes amazing. So great, that I brought back three bags so I could continue to eat it at home! Gnocchetti Sardi is not made with potato like typical gnocchi. The unique shape was traditionally created by cutting little pieces of dough and rolling each one on a woven basket, giving it the iconic ridge markings. There are many yummy recipes that add wild boar, sausage, ragu or fennel, but I prefer the simplest dish of homemade tomato sauce and a sprinkle of cheese.
This is one dish that I really miss now that I’m back home. Culurgiones are half-moon shaped pastas stuffed with mashed potatoes, cheese and mint. The delicate mint flavor makes for an impressive and unforgettable combination that puts normal stuffed pasta to shame. It’s possible to find many different kinds of fillings and sauces for the dish based on what region of Sardinia you’re in.
Although bottarga is eaten in other parts of Italy and the Mediterranean, it is used frequently in Sardinian cuisine. This little jar filled with gold flakes adds a special flavor of its own. Bottarga is salted and cured fish roe usually from mullet or tuna that has been shaved and is used as a topping on pasta. A little jar was offered to me at many restaurants and adds a nice fishy flavor to a seafood pasta dish.
Here’s another popular pasta dish that looks similar to large couscous. The fregula is toasted in the oven before being cooked, giving the pasta a distinct flavor. Many locals always keep it in their kitchens and the traditional seafood recipe is on most restaurant menus.
This sweet deep fried dessert is the perfect ending to a meal. The crispy outer shell is stuffed with goat cheese and drizzled with honey. Because of the cheese, it can be quite filling, so make sure to leave some room!
Other Sardinian food and drinks to try:
Fresh grilled seafood (see featured image)
Cured meats and local cheese like pecorino sardo
Black pasta made with squid ink
Pasta with fresh lobster
Local wine like Sardinian cannonau
Ichnusa, the local beer from Cagliari
Mirto or fil’e ferru after-dinner liqueurs
Have you been to Sardinia? What’s the one food or drink that you miss the most? Mine is definitely culurgiones! Leave your thoughts in a comment below or check out my destinations tab for more about Sardinia.