Although we’ve been traveling to Italy for over 20 years, we had never left mainland Italy until our trip to Sardinia. I knew little about typical Sardinian food and how it differs from other regional Italian cuisine. I was intrigued when I researched what to eat in Sardinia. We share our top tips on how to visit Sardinia for food and wine.
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What To Eat In Sardinia Italy
I knew very little about Sardinian dishes before we started planning for our trip. But, because our goal is to visit every Italian region (we are more than halfway there) it was food and travel research I relished.
We have a friend from Cagliari and because we were traveling in the off-season we focused our stay in and around Cagliari. By staying in the capital of Sardinia, though, we were able to find the most traditional Sardinian food and dishes.
In this Sardinia Food Guide, we are providing our list of recommended dishes that you are most likely to find on a Sardinia restaurant menu. We will provide recommendations on some of the best places to eat in Sardinia to find these traditional dishes. For us, travel tips on Italy always focus on food!
We will also share some background information on some of the most typical food and wine products to help you learn how to eat the best food in Sardinia. It’s why this island is one of the best food places in Italy.
In this guide to Sardinian cuisine, you will learn:
- What are the typical dishes to order when dining at restaurants in Sardinia Italy. Our list includes meats, seafood, and of course pasta dishes.
- How to navigate a Sardinia restaurant menu. This includes our Italian to English translations.
- What is Sardinia famous for when it comes to food and drink. What are the must-eat dishes in Sardinia.
Visiting Italy? Learn what to pack for Italy.
Sardinia – One Of The 5 Blue Zones In The World
This was something I was not aware of before we chose to visit Sardinia. Sardinia is one of the National Geographic Blue Zones, which until recently, I had no idea existed.
Perhaps it is because we already eat a typical Mediterranean diet (at least most days) by living in Spain, I had never heard about Blue Zone countries.
National Geographic (along with author Dan Buettner) found that these “Blue Zones” host the healthiest people in the world. They have the highest concentration of people over 100 years old, and this is attributed to their longevity diet.
Along with specific regions of Greece, Japan, Costa Rica, and California, the Ogliastra Region of Sardinia is one of the Blue Zones. The Ogliastra Region is on the east side of the island. It hosts the world’s highest concentration of men over 100 years old.
I will say we did not consult the Blue Zone foods list when researching what to eat in Sardinia, and was happy to eat gelato several times during our trip. I am sure gelato is not on the list. I just thought this was one of the more interesting facts about Sardinia culture and food products. The island’s place on the list is due to it’s amazing local product, including vegetables and fruits native to Italy.
Want to check out another Blue Zone? See our 14 Day Food-Focused Itinerary For Japan
Sardinian Cheese Guide
When researching Sardinian cuisine, I continued to see reference to two main food products: cheese and cured meats. To me, it’s not uncommon to eat cheese and cured meats all over Italy, so I was confused as to why this is special.
First, it’s because of how good Sardegna cheese is. Second, it is because of a particularly way of eating in Sardinia that brings these two products together (learn more below).
There are a handful of Sardinia cheese varieties that you must try when visiting Cagliari and the rest of the island. Cheese is generally produced from sheep’s milk or goat’s milk, as it is not common to find cows on the island.
Sardinia is probably most known for its pecorino cheese. Although made elsewhere in Italy, it is famous in Sardinia. Look for Pecorino DOP, which means the cheese is certified by the Italian government. It can be found younger, which is soft and mild, and aged, which is a harder cheese.
Fiore Sardo is another style of pecorino which is less commonly found elsewhere in Italy. It’s a lot more pungent with flavors of nut and salt, while also offering a bit of sweetness. It can be aged for several months.
Where To Taste And Buy Sardinian Cheese
Check out Sabores Formaggi i Vini, which has two locations. They have a wine bar and shop just off Via Roma on Via Lodovico Baylle, which is a great place for aperitivo. It’s a small bar, so it’s best to get there early, or two reserve a table.
Sapori di Sardegna also has a cheese, wine, and Sardinian product shop a few blocks east on Via Roma at Via dei Mille, under the Portico. It’s a great place to shop for food souvenirs and taste some of the cheese before buying.
Casu Marzu Cheese – The Sardinian Cheese We Didn’t Eat
When we posted on Facebook that we were traveling to Sardinia, one of our most food-focused friends in Italy asked us one important question: “Were we going to eat casu marzu?”
Casu Marzu has to be one of the most famous unique foods to eat in Italy. That’s because casu marzu is, essentially, Italian maggot cheese. It’s a cheese that is left to age with insect eggs inside, which after a few months, eventually hatch. When it is “done” there are hundreds of little maggots inside the wheel of cheese.
Let’s just say, on this trip, we did not find ourselves eating cheese with worms, nor did we see it on Sardinia restaurant menus. The European Union government has banned the cheese for health reasons. This means it is only found on the black cheese market.
It’s not that we are opposed to trying local delicacies, no matter how strange they are. After all, we’ve eaten snake in Vietnam and walrus in Latvia. But, we did not seek it out. If it were offered to us, I probably would have tried it. If you’ve tried this Sardinian maggot cheese, let us know in the comments below what the experience was like!
Sardinian Food Guide Pro Tip
If traveling in Sardinia during the week, look for a Menu Completo. Similar to a menu del dia in Spain, this is a two or three-course mid-week lunch special for a set price. The price is normally around €15 for two courses, a side dish, and a beverage, including wine.
Sardinia Cuisine – Must Eat Dishes In Sardinia
So, if you plan on skipping the maggot cheese, what else is there to eat in Sardinia? Here’s our list of must-eat Sardinian dishes, from starters and breads to desserts and everything in between.
Sardinian Bread And Pane Carasau
There are hundreds of varieties of bread in Sardinia. The most typical Sardinia bread, and the one we were served most often, is pane carasau. Pane carasau is a thin, crisp flatbread.
We ate pane carasau with meat and cheese and sometimes it came to the table topped with tomato, like a Sardinian-style bruschetta. It is less filling than a typical bread and I found it almost addictive. This will not be a dish you will need to track down. It will come to you, guaranteed.
Could this be the ultimate in Italian snacks? Cheese and meat together in Sardinia mean tagliere. Tagliere is the Italian word for meat and cheese platters. They are common in other Italian regions, particularly in Bologna and Emilia Romagna.
But the Sardinians take it to a whole new level. Not only does every Sardinia restaurant menu include a series of options for Tagliere as starters, but it is also the thing to eat around 7 pm almost every night.
Aperitivo in Italy takes various forms depending on the region. In Milan and Turin, it takes the form of a free food buffet between 6-8 pm each night with the purchase of a drink. Elsewhere a drink around this time might come with a few bites of food, which is also common in Cagliari.
More often it seemed that people in Sardinia, particularly in Cagliari, dine on large and elaborate plates of cured meats, sausages, Sardinian cheese, and pane carasau for aperitivo. Sometimes these platters take the place of a large dinner.
Look for local Sardinia cured meats including salsiccia sarda, a Sardinian sausage. And, try the various forms of pecorino as well as more fresh cheeses including ricotta and goat cheese.
Where to go for Tagliere in Cagliari: In addition to Sabores, mentioned above, check out Civicozero La Prosciutteria and Inu Sardinian Wine Bar.
To me, eating in Italy means eating pasta and the pasta in Sardinia is unlike anything we’ve eaten before when in Italy. There are so many different Sardinian pasta shapes that I’ve not seen before. All of them yummy and one in particular, slightly addictive.
In addition to the pasta dishes below, look for pani frattau, a typical dish made with the pane carasau flat bread with tomato sauce and cheese.
Malloreddus alla Campidanese
Eating out in Sardinia means one thing, eating Malloreddus alla Campidanese. This is the most common Sardinia pasta on restaurant menus. Although on a plate this pasta shape might look a little bit like a plate of worms it’s nothing like the worm cheese.
Malloreddus is most commonly served in a tomato sauce made with sausage. The small ball of pasta is rolled on a reed basket or mat to make the small indentations.
This is another Sardinian pasta shape that I had never heard of before. This pasta is shaped into tiny balls or pearls of pasta. It has a soft consistency, which is a little moister than a traditional flour-based pasta. It’s often mixed into a light red sauce with pecorino and seafood.
Lorighittas is a braided pasta and one that was unfamiliar to our friend who is from just outside of Cagliari. This is a pasta that is unique to the north coast of Sardinia, showing that even within Sardinia there are regional differences. The pasta takes the shape of a long, braided earring.
The most addictive pasta for a dumpling lover like myself. I love all things dumpling, and that includes any type of ravioli. Culurgiones are the closest thing to ravioli in Sardinia, but there is a lot more to it than that. It’s a past stuffed with pecorino, potato, and often fresh mint, particularly in the south of Sardinia.
A typical plate of culurgiones will include no more than six or seven pieces because they are so big and dense. It also includes a little bit of a braid on one side and is, apparently, not easy to make.
This pasta is most commonly served in a simple tomato sauce, with pecorino and nut, or in a creamy mushroom and cheese sauce.
Sardinia Fish And Seafood Dishes
Being an island, there is no surprise that Sardinia food relies heavily on fish and seafood. Some of the most popular pasta dishes are served with clams or mussels. Or, try a fritto misto, a mixture of fried seafood. The most interesting fritto misto we had included fried mussels, which we had never eaten before.
Sardinian Meat Dishes
There are a handful of meat dishes that are also popular to eat in Sardinia. It’s most common to eat pasta as a first course (primi) and meat as a second course (secondi). Normally, Eric and I would each order our own pasta and then split a meat course. Don’t be surprised to see horse on the menu, it is quite commonly eaten in Sardinia.
Sardinian Meat Guide: Here are some tips on how to read a menu in Sardinia
La Vitella – Veal
Il Pollo – Chicken
L’agnello – Lamb
Il Maialetto – Pork
Il Cavallo – Horse
D’asino – donkey
La Capra – Goat
Most Americans associate meatballs as the meat on top of a mound of spaghetti. First off, spaghetti and meatballs in an Italian-American invention. Pasta and meatballs would be served separately.
In Sardinia, as well as in Naples, meatballs are served on their own. They can be a starter or a secondi (meat course after the pasta). They can be made with beef, but are more likely to be made with a mixture of lamb and pork.
Stewed Goat And Lamb
Sardinia is known for its stewed meat dishes, where sometimes less-than-tender meat is slow cooked in tomatoes, onions, garlic, and other seasoning until it is soft and tender.
This includes stewed lamb with peas as well as stewed goat or even donkey. If you see Cordula di Angello Con Piselli that is a stewed lamb with peas, but the word cordula translates to intestines.
Eric loves a suckling pig, and we tried our hardest to track down the Sardinian suckling pig, Su Porcheddu. It is more commonly found at countryside restaurants and agriturismi than within the cities.
Traditionally it is made by wrapping the pig in bayleaf and myrtle and then slow roasting the pig over an open flame. This is why it can be difficult to find in the cities.
The young pig is roasted until the skin is crispy but the meat is still tender and juicy. In between is a rich layer of fat. This is probably one of the most famous Sardinian cuisine.
Sardinian Food Guide Pro Tip
At most restaurants in Italy, the meat course includes just meat on a plate. It is assumed you will order a side dish of vegetables or potatoes. If you are asked if you want a side, that generally means an extra charge. The exception is when a dish is labeled “con contorno,” which means with a side. Otherwise, side dishes might range from €4-6 a plate.
This is a Sardinian dish that doesn’t fall into the fish and seafood category or the meat category. We’ve become accustomed to eating snails as they are popular where we live in Girona and in the surrounding Costa Brava.
In Sardinia, we found them in a tangy tomato and red pepper sauce. They were certainly messy. You eat the snails by sticking a toothpick into the snail to pull it out.
The snails are even better when you can dunk them again back into the tasty sauce. They are also served with chopped garlic, white wine, and parsley in the north, near Sassari.
Sardinian Dessert – Sebadas
We are not big dessert people, particularly in Italy where it is easy to get filled up during the meal. Instead, we might hit a gelateria for a late or second breakfast, or for a snack on the way home after lunch. Or, we might go through the ever-long list of Italian pastry names in order to find a snack with coffee during the day.
In Sardinia, though, I thoroughly enjoyed the sebadas, a cheese fritter made with pecorino. It is a deep-fried puff with cheese inside, which is then drizzled with honey and lemon peel.
Drinking In Sardinia
Much like every region in Italy, Sardinia produces its own wine. There are three main grapes grown on the island; Grenache (know locally as Cannonau), Vermentino, and Carignan. Sardinia’s climate and geography make it ideal for growing grapes. The wines themselves perfectly reflect the hot summer temperates and volcanic ground associated with Sardinia.
If you are more of a beer drinker, fear not. Sardinia produces its own beer called Birra Ichnusa. Certainly not a craft-style beer, Ichnusa is typical of most massed produced beers. A lager-style beer, it’s hoppy but not as hoppy as an IPA. Best of all, it’s entirely refreshing on a hot Sardinian summer day.
FAQS – HOW TO FIND THE BEST SARDINIAN FOOD
From my research, yes, the small fish known as sardines are named after the island of Sardinia. The English started using the word in the 15th Century to refer to the small, oily fish found near the island. It is more common to find them canned rather than fresh because they are so perishable. They also can be a little on the expensive side.
The summer months are the most popular for travelers seeking a holiday near the beach. Many beach towns can get crowded, though. For travelers interested in food and drink, spring and fall are probably better options. The weather is still good, but it is less crowded and less expensive. Cagliari is a year-round destination.
Sardinia is probably most known for its beaches and crystal clear waters. For food travelers, though, Sardinia is probably best known for its cheese and unique pasta varieties.
Thanks to its location in the Mediterranean Sea, Sardinia and its food have been influenced by numerous outside cultures. Greeks, Arabs, and Catalans have all left their mark on the island and its cuisine. As with the rest of Italy, the cuisine of Sardinia is regional. Dishes you find in Sardinia are difficult to find in the rest of Italy. Some of Sardiniau2019s most famous dishes include Su Porcheddu (roast suckling pig), Culurgiones (stuffed pasta), and Malloreddus, a unique Sardinian pasta shape.
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Check out Food & Drink Destinations original founder Amber Hoffman’s book, the Food Traveler’s Guide To Emilia Romagna, which is available on Amazon. In addition to being a culinary travel guide to the region, it walks through how many of the typical Italian food products are made, like mortadella, prosciutto, and Parmigiano Reggiano.
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Sardinian Food Guide – What To Eat In Sardinia Italy
Planning a trip to Sardinia? Save this food guide to your favorite Pinterest travel board and save all of our tips for later. Be sure to check back with our list when you are in Sardinia to make sure you track down all of these tasty eats!
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