Sardinia, the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, is a unique and captivating destination that offers visitors a rich cultural experience, breathtaking landscapes, and a cuisine that is unlike any other.
Nestled between Italy and North Africa, Sardinia has a distinct culture and history that has been shaped by its geographic location, making it a must-visit destination for any traveler looking to explore the rich tapestry of Mediterranean life.
The island’s cuisine, in particular, is a unique blend of traditional Italian and Mediterranean flavors that has been shaped by centuries of local tradition and the abundance of fresh, locally sourced ingredients. From fresh seafood to hearty meat dishes, Sardinian cuisine is a feast for the senses that showcases the very best of the island’s natural bounty.
If you’re planning a trip to Sardinia, then exploring the local cuisine is an absolute must. To help you make the most of your culinary adventure, we’ve put together a list of the top 10 dishes that you simply must try while you’re on the island. From savory pork dishes to sweet pastries, each of these dishes is a unique and delicious representation of Sardinia’s rich culinary heritage. So pack your bags, grab your appetite, and get ready to explore the rich and flavorful world of Sardinian cuisine.
Porceddu is a beloved Sardinian dish that dates back centuries. The pig is typically roasted whole over an open fire, which gives the meat a smoky flavor and a crispy skin. The dish is often served at large gatherings and celebrations, and is a symbol of Sardinian hospitality and tradition.
From a local: the porceddu is so deeply rooted in Sardinian culture that practically every family owns a spit to cook it. The spits are often sold at the market and, due to the slow cooking process that takes several hours, are all motorized with batteries or electricity. The most DIY enthusiasts use old car windshield wiper motors to create homemade spits.
Traditionally, it is cooked on the ground, at a low temperature and for several hours. Every so often, the pig is sprinkled with salt while it rotates, and when served, it is placed on a bed of myrtle leaves.
My wife favourites! Culurgiones are a type of stuffed pasta that are unique to Sardinia. The filling is made from potatoes, cheese, and fresh mint, giving the dish a hearty and flavorful taste. The pasta is typically shaped by hand and is a labor-intensive dish, but is well worth the effort.
Culurgiones are often served with a fresh tomato sauce and usually there are only a few on the plate, since they are quite “heavy” (meaning that they give a sense of satiety).
From a local: one really cool thing about culurgiones is that you don’t have to go to a Michelin-starred restaurant to eat them. You can go to any grocery store and find vacuum-sealed trays containing culurgiones. If you’re in an apartment, then go buy some tomato puree (such as Mutti) and fresh basil. Put a little oil in a pot with a clove of garlic, let it brown and add the tomato and basil. Let it cook for 30 minutes on low heat and if you see that the sauce is getting too dry, add tap water. When the sauce is ready, take the culurgiones you bought at the supermarket and cook them in a pot of boiling salted water (a handful of coarse salt). The cooking time is only a few minutes. Once the pasta is cooked, add the culurgiones to the sauce.
Imagine being in a garden or on a terrace, with the sea breeze and clean air. The birds are chirping and you are eating a plate of culurgiones accompanied by a great Vermentino di Gallura from the Sella e Mosca winery. Among all (culurgiones, tomato, wine) you will have spent no more than 20 euros for 4 people.. and then there are people who waste time in Michelin restaurants.
That’s something we really do, for example in my garden I have a nice shaded patio where we have family or friends lunches.
I take this opportunity to remind you that we have a house for rent (the house I described, actually). For more information, please click here.
Bottarga is a delicacy that is popular throughout the Mediterranean region. The roe is typically shaved over pasta dishes, adding a salty and savory flavor to the dish. In Sardinia, bottarga is often served with a simple tomato sauce or on top of bread, drizzled with olive oil.
Bottarga is not exactly a dish to eat, but something that is used as a topping on other dishes. You can find it ground into powder and usually sold in small glass jars. It is often called the “Parmesan of the sea” because it is used just like cheese.
From a local: in Italy you cannot put cheese on a fish-based dish, I believe there is a death penalty for that or maybe it’s written somewhere in the Bible! So Italians came up with the idea of using bottarga.. and what can I say, it’s spectacular! Try cooking or eating in a restaurant a plate of spaghetti with clams and bottarga. Wow. It may not appeal to everyone because it has an intense flavor, but once in your life, I recommend trying it. I often use it myself.
4- Pane Carasau
Pane Carasau is a versatile bread that is a staple of Sardinian cuisine. The bread is thin and crispy, and is often served with a variety of toppings, such as cheese, cured meats, or vegetables. It can also be used as a base for other dishes, such as zuppa gallurese.
Pane carasau is a traditional Sardinian bread that comes in the form of thin and crispy sheets (about 1 mm thick).
From a local: there are dozens of variations of pane carasau, but my favorite is pane carasau guttiau, which has oil drizzled on top (you can find it at the supermarket). I’m not sure if it’s fried, but it’s probably baked in the oven with the addition of oil. It’s quite oily and moist and is practically addictive.
The problem is that when you find a good one, you have to finish it. That’s the only solution to stop eating it. You can use it as a snack, to accompany your meal at the table as if it were bread, or eat it while driving (if your goal is to find crispy crumbs in your car for the rest of your life).
In the picture a platter of cured meats, Pecorino cheese, and crispy Pane Carasau – a taste of traditional Sardinian cuisine. I took this picture while I was having an aperitivo in Villasimius. I was drinking a local craft beer from Birrificio Barley and my wife was having an Aperol Spritz.
Seadas are a traditional Sardinian dessert made from fried pastry filled with fresh cheese and drizzled with honey. The pastry is made from semolina flour and is fried until crisp, then filled with a mixture of fresh pecorino cheese and lemon zest. The dish is typically served warm, with a generous drizzle of honey on top.
You might think, “if they don’t tell us anything else about seadas, it means they’re not good“. In reality, I don’t like desserts, not at all. They could disappear from the face of the earth and I wouldn’t even notice. However, I must admit that I like seadas and I indulge in one every now and then. So I suppose if even I like them, they are probably really good.
Malloreddus is a type of Sardinian gnocchi that is made with semolina flour and flavored with saffron. The small, chewy pasta is often served with a hearty meat sauce or a tomato-based sauce with vegetables, and is a staple of Sardinian cuisine.
Malloreddus can be made from durum wheat (the ones you usually find in supermarkets) or handmade. Handmade ones require a quicker cooking time and are usually more chewy (and delicious). The downside is that they last fewer days in the fridge, while those made from durum wheat can be stored for months.
From a local: Do you want to experience something divine? Okay, listen to this: book a table at “Sa Marighedda“, an agriturismo (farmhouse) located in the southeast of Sardinia (near the house I am renting). I take this opportunity to remind you that we have a house for rent
For more information, please click here.
This is not a tourist trap, but a genuine and honest farmhouse where all the products are homemade and produced by them. They make their own pasta by hand and grow their own tomatoes in the garden. You pay around 35 euros per person and everyone sits at the same table at 8:15 pm (or 8:30 pm, I don’t remember). There are no different reservations, no separate tables. The menu is fixed and served to everyone, whether you are Italian, German, Chinese, or Martian.
Red wine is included and served endlessly, along with appetizers, two pasta dishes, and porceddu (roast pig). I challenge you to make it to the end of the meal. Then, I challenge you not to want to go back again and again. I do not benefit from this establishment in any way, I simply admire them for the dedication and care they put into their cuisine and customers. They cook the malloreddus themselves and they are more than exceptional. Really, treat yourself and go there at least once.
Oh, by the way, there are only a few tables and, as I mentioned earlier, there is only one turn during the evening. Book in advance, even two months in advance (I’m not kidding).
Here is the link for Sa Marighedda
In this photo a dish of malloreddus with tomato and pieces of pork belly. They are not from Sa Marigheda, I think I took this picture at a restaurant on the beach if I remember correctly. Anyway, this is how they are made.
7- Zuppa Gallurese
Zuppa Gallurese is a hearty bread and cheese soup that is typically made with pane carasau and grated pecorino cheese. The soup is baked until the cheese is melted and bubbly, creating a unique texture and a rich, savory flavor.
8- Fregula (or fregola)
Fregula is a type of pasta that is similar to couscous, and is often served with seafood or vegetables. The pasta is typically cooked in a rich broth with tomatoes, garlic, and herbs, giving it a bold and flavorful taste.
From a local: fregula is a type of pasta that I discovered relatively recently. Or rather, I knew about it but I didn’t realise its potential until a short while ago. It has the texture and goodness of pasta but the elegance of a risotto.
It’s a versatile first course that goes well with both fish and meat. Let me give you a couple of examples:
- Fregula with clams and bottarga (it’s eaten strictly white, without tomato);
- Fregula with seafood (mussels, clams, squid, prawns, and scampi);
- Fregula with wild boar stew (this can also be made with a hint of tomato rosé sauce).
And the incredible thing is that it goes perfectly well with these types of ingredients. I have never honestly tried to prepare it with vegetables, and – to be honest – I have never seen anyone prepare it with vegetables. It would be worth experimenting to see how it turns out. If I had to invent a recipe on the spot, I would probably prepare it with zucchini flowers and saffron.
If you want to try making fregula at home, it’s easier than you might think. First of all, know that you can buy it in any supermarket in the pasta section. Once you’re home, you don’t have to cook it like pasta but like a risotto.
So, put it in a large pan (with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil) and then add broth to cover the fregula. At medium-low heat, let it cook and add broth as needed when you see it drying out. The cooking time will be at least 20 minutes; it’s not a quick dish to prepare.
Towards the last few minutes of cooking, add the seafood (if you want to prepare it that way) and continue to stir.
I should have some photos of those I prepared, if you write to me on WhatsApp, I’ll send them to you (you can find my number in the contacts).
9- Pecorino Sardo
Pecorino Sardo is a unique and flavorful sheep’s milk cheese that is a staple of Sardinian cuisine. The cheese has a nutty flavor and a rich, creamy texture, and is often paired with other traditional Sardinian foods, such as pane carasau and cured meats. It is also used in a variety of dishes, from pasta dishes to salads and soups.
From a local: sometimes you may come across people walking along the beach trying to sell Pecorino Sardo or other cheeses. It’s not a scam, but be careful of the prices. The products are usually good (average, nothing exceptional), but the costs are sky-high.
I know it may seem crazy to some, but my advice is to make friends with someone who lives in Sardinia and ask them where to buy it. Or, simply ring the bell of a house in the countryside and ask if they have any for sale. 99% of the time they will sell it to you or recommend where to buy it.
This happened to me with Porceddu. I wanted a real one, not from the supermarket. I chose a farmhouse and rang the bell. The owner, an old farmer, invited me in, showed me his piglets and said, “Choose one.” The same afternoon he called me to go and pick it up, and well, he had “prepared” it for me. Yes, I know it’s not the best, but that’s how it works, and actually seeing the animal alive and then dead makes you understand how important the food we eat is, not wasting it, and especially not eating more than necessary.
But the good thing about Pecorino is that no one suffers! It’s a delicious cheese that can be served with a platter of cold cuts, grated on pasta, or inside a sandwich. In breweries, it’s often used instead of cheddar on top of meat.
Sardinian cuisine is closely tied to pastoral tradition and sheep are one of the most important animals in Sardinian economy and culture. Sheep meat is used in many typical Sardinian dishes, including lamb with vernaccia, porceddu and sheep meat broth.
To cook sheep meat, Sardinians mainly use slow cooking and roasting techniques. The sheep is often marinated with spices and herbs for a few hours before cooking to make it more tender and flavorful. Porceddu, for example, is cooked slowly for several hours on a rotating spit, then served with a pinch of salt and pepper.
Sheep meat is highly valued in Sardinia not only for its intense and distinctive flavor, but also because it represents an important source of protein for the local population. In the past, a Sardinian shepherd who was able to feed his flock and obtain a good yield of meat was considered a very respectable and successful man. Additionally, the consumption of sheep meat is very present in traditional Sardinian festivals, such as the Ottana Carnival, during which the famous “zuppa cuata”, a dish made of sheep meat and aged cheese, is prepared.
From a local: I have been going to Sardinia for many years now and have a group of trusted friends and places.
For example, near my house (which by the way is the one I rent when I’m not there) there is a small butcher shop.
There is little meat on display, probably so as not to waste it at the end of the day, and usually there is no sheep meat for sale. However, you just need to order it and the next day you can pick it up.
What I love to do is to buy it early in the morning, then come back home and marinate it for many hours. Go to the beach, come back home and light up the barbecue at sunset while drinking a cold beer.
When the embers are ready, I cook the sheep and eat it for dinner under my patio with my family and a bottle of Cannonau (local red wine).
Believe it or not, there are exceptional Cannonau wines that you can buy for less than €20 a bottle.
For example, the “Cannonau di Sardegna DOC “Ghirada Fittiloghe” 2019 – VikeVike” which costs €21.50 at the time of writing this article, or the Cannonau Sella e Mosca which costs €14.50. Fortunately, Italy does not have exorbitant costs for wine and it is really possible to drink an excellent bottle with a meal without spending crazy amounts.
In conclusion, Sardinian cuisine is a true delight for food lovers. It offers a wide variety of dishes, each with its own unique history, flavor, and ingredients. From pasta dishes like malloreddus and fregula to meat dishes like porceddu and culurgiones, Sardinian cuisine is a perfect blend of simplicity and sophistication.
What makes Sardinian cuisine truly special is the use of locally sourced, fresh ingredients. The island’s rugged terrain, isolated location, and rich pastoral tradition have all contributed to the development of a unique food culture. Sardinian cuisine is not just about satisfying one’s hunger, but also about connecting with the land, culture, and people.
If you have the opportunity to visit Sardinia, make sure to try some of its delicious traditional dishes. And if you cannot travel there, don’t worry – many of the ingredients used in Sardinian cuisine are available worldwide, so you can still enjoy the taste of Sardinia in your own kitchen. Contact me if you need help and I can arrange something.
In the end, Sardinian cuisine is a true reflection of the island’s rich history, culture, and people. It is a testament to the island’s resilience and ability to adapt and thrive in a changing world.