We can probably all agree that Italian food is one of the most influential cuisines in the World. And it is much more than pasta, pizza and gelato. Each region has its own traditional food, and Sardinia is one of them.
This is our selection of traditional food in Sardinia.
Fregula (Fregola) is a type of pasta that typically consists of semolina dough that has been rolled into balls 2–3 mm in diameter and toasted in an oven. Its core ingredients are semolina flour and water and they are normally toasted in the oven.
It is probably the most traditional food in Sardinia. You will find it everywhere, cold in salads and also as a main meal. A typical preparation is to simmer it in a tomato-based sauce with clams or seafood.
The picture above is from Trattoria Zara Cafe in San Pantaleo, one of our favourite restaurants in the area.
Fregula has become very popular outside Italy as well, and you can easily find it in the supermarkets in the UK. It is also available on Amazon.
Culurgiones is another very traditional dish of Sardinia, more specifically from the Ogliastra area (North East). It is a stuffed pasta, similar to ravioli, made of semolina flour, white flour, eggs and water.
The filling can vary, being ricotta and pecorino cheese the most common ones. Boiled potatoes, garlic, mint, nutmeg and other types of cheese are also common ingredients. Some other places go beyond that and serve them with pork chops or beef, and even fried.
The picture above is from Pizzeria Zio Pedrillo, one of the most popular (and good) restaurants for pizza and pasta in Cala Gonone. If you are around, I totally recommend it.
Bastardoni (“Big Bastards”) was the most original -and maybe strangest- food we tried in Sardinia. They are basically prickly pears from cactus plants.
You will find them in all markets, and even in some restaurants. And you may also see people picking them up on the road with some sort of stick.
You have simply as a fruit. Fresh is also made into juice and jams. In terms of taste, it is close to a pear, with a mild and citrus flavour. It has a lot of big seeds, but don’t be scared, people just swallow them.
The best ones are harvested in late spring, during a process known as the scozzolatura. For more information about Bastardoni you can visit this website.
Focaccia.. and Ichnusa!
I doubt Focaccia needs too much explanation, as it is well-known around the World. It is a flat oven-baked bread similar in style and texture to pizza dough. It can be used as a side to many meals, as a sandwich, hot and cold, as a starter, filled or topped up, and more.
What is more representative of the island is its local beer, Ichnusa. It is a hoppy lager brewed in Assemini, a town near the Sardinian capital Cagliari. It is named after the Latinized ancient name for Sardinia, Hyknusa. I especially like its unfiltered “Non-filtrata” version. You will see its logo everywhere: flags, towels, umbrellas, t-shirts, hoodies, caps, and more.
Update 2020. This year we tried a new local beer called Isola and we liked it a lot. According to a local bar owner in Alghero, Ichnusa is now owned by Heineken (like many beer brands in the World), so many local bars are offering Isola as a more local alternative.
Porchedu (suckling pig) is a delicious slow-cooked pork. It is normally cooked on a spit for 4 to 6 hours, resulting in tender and crispy pork which is served with myrtle leaves on a cork or wooden tray.
The most common side dishes for pork are potatoes (boiled or grilled), vegetables and salad.
Zuppa Gallurese is a traditional dish of northern Sardinia, an area called Gallura, hence its name. It consists of a number of layers of bread, cheese and meat, which are drenched with a lamb broth and served in a warm casserole with a crispy crust.
“Zuppa” is an Italian soup, but this is not a liquid dish and it is actually similar to a lasagne.
Seafood (Octopus salad)
Seafood is another speciality in Sardinia, as in any other island in the Mediterranean. Octopus salad seems to be one of the favourite dishes, as we saw it in most restaurants.
Oysters, scallops, clams, squid and cuttlefish are the most common types of seafood you will find on the island.
The local cheese. It’s hard, and salty (not as much as Parmesan) and it is often used for grating, made with sheep’s milk. The name “pecorino” simply means “ovine” or “of sheep” in Italian; the name of the cheese, although protected, is a simple description rather than a brand: “[formaggio] pecorino romano” is simply “sheep’s [cheese] of Rome”.
Even though this variety of cheese originated in Lazio, as the name also indicates, most of its actual production has moved to Sardinia. “Pecorino romano” is an Italian product with a name recognized and protected by the laws of the European Community.
Pane carasau is thin and crispbread, usually in the form of a dish half a meter wide. It is made by taking baked flatbread (made of durum wheat flour, salt, yeast, and water), and then separating it into two sheets which are baked again.
The recipe is very ancient (prior to 1000 BC) and was conceived for shepherds, who used to stay far from home for months at a time. Pane carasau can last up to one year if it is kept dry. The bread can be eaten either dry or wet (with water, wine, or sauces).
Its name comes from “toasted bread”, from the past participle of the Sardinian verb carasare “to toast”, referring to the crust) is a traditional flatbread from Sardinia.
In a full traditional Italian meal, dolce (dessert) comes after antipasti, primi and secondi (and all of them after aperitivo). And Seadas is the most traditional one in Sardinia.
It is prepared by deep-frying a large semolina dumpling (usually between 8 and 10 cm in diameter) with a filling of soured Pecorino cheese and lemon peel in olive oil or lard and is served covered with honey, sugar and, sometimes, salt.
It is obtained from the myrtle plant through the alcoholic maceration of the berries or a compound of berries and leaves. Myrtle grows freely in Sardinia, where the liqueur was consumed as part of a local niche market, in two varieties: the one with blackberries and the other one with white ones; legend has it that, long ago, Sardinian bandits introduced this particular usage of the plant to the nearby island of Corsica, where the liqueur has also been considered a traditional drink since then.
Bear in mind that each region of Italy has its own amaro. For instance, Fernet Branca from Milan, Amaro Montenegro from Bologna and my favourite, Amaro del Capo from Calabria.
You can easily find it online if you are in the UK.
Aperitivo is another classic all around Italy, and Sardinia is not the exception. It is a pre-meal drink (and snack/nibble) specifically meant to whet your appetite. Italians go to their favourite bar around 7 p.m. to get it. These places offer a nibble with each drink, which could be cheese, olives, crisps, quiches, vegetables, cured meats, pizza and even pasta.
The “aperitivo protocol” establishes that during the appropriate time range, the free appetizer is served together with the drink. You may notice that some cocktails are a bit expensive, and this is because of the food. You normally need to “opt out”, or they will bring the food for you.
Recommended drinks for aperitivo are vermouth, Aperol spritz (see picture above), Campari with orange juice, Negroni, Americano, Amaro.
One of our favourite aperitivo of the trip was in Caffe Nina, in the beautiful town of San Pantaleo.
Additional travel tips and recommendations
- Visit our “Best beaches in Northern Sardinia” post to find more information about beaches in this beautiful Italian island.
- If you have time I’d recommend visiting La Maddalena (some beaches from the link above are located there). And If you like hiking, visit our Hike to Cala Coticcio, a unique beach in La Maddalena post.
- Visit Best Restaurants and Wine Bars in Alghero, for a full list of the best places in town, including agritourism and type os wine.
- Check Discover Northern Sardinia in a week to know more about the island, including a full itinerary.