Sagras are one of the most authentic and truly Italian experiences you can have while eating in Italy. The people watching is top notch, the food couldn’t be better and the confusion and noise will really knock your socks off. However, as a first-timer, they can be a bit overwhelming.
Don’t worry though! In this article, I will help you understand what exactly sagras are, what you need to know to manage and navigate one and where to find them. I will guide you through the organization and structure of typical sagras and help you understand how ordering food at sagras works.
Our family lives in Italy and where we are (Tuscany), it seems like there’s a food festival every week! I’ve got plenty of experience with Italian sagre, and I’m happy to share!
After reading this article, I guarantee you will feel confident attending sagras even if you don’t speak a lick of Italian!
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What Is A Sagra?
Sagras are temporary outdoor restaurants, sometimes defined as food festivals, celebrating a particular ingredient or dish that is a local specialty to that town or region.
Sagras usually take place on the weekends for one or two consecutive weekends at dinner and sometimes also open for lunch.
Generally, sagras are in celebration of a particular food/dish (like panzanella or gnocchi) or a regional ingredient (snails, wild boar, truffles). If the main food is an ingredient rather than a dish, it’s usually prepared in various styles, oftentimes in each course of a menu.
For example, at a sagra di cinghiale (wild boar), you will see multiple pasta dishes made with wild boar sauce, wild boar sausage, and wild boar spezzatino or stew.
How To Pronounce Sagra
Sagra is pronounced sah-grah in Italian. The word sagra comes from the Latin word sacrum, meaning holy.
Listen to the pronunciation of sagra:
Origins Of Sagras
Sagras are rooted in the religious practice of praying and communicating with God, or the sagred. The first kinds of sagras were celebrated in front of temples or churches, oftentimes with some kind of animal sacrifice or gift of the local harvest which was then enjoyed by the whole community.
The symbolic ritual of gathering as a community and breaking bread together is still today, an ever present aspect of sagras.
Why Do Italians Celebrate Sagras?
It’s all about the food in Italy and Italians love any excuse to eat and celebrate while doing so. Sagras may also be linked to a religious figure as well as in celebration of a regional specialty or ingredient.
Sagras are usually pretty important economic pillars for small towns. They provide enough revenue to maintain small towns and invest in new infrastructure.
What’s The Difference Between A Sagra And A Festa?
A sagra is a celebration around a specific food item while a festa is actually a party or festival. While a festa might be a celebration of a food, it won’t follow the same formula of a sagra (order, sit down, wait for food, entertainment to follow). The festa will have entertainment and food but it may also have a parade, vendors, and a whole schedule of organized events which you may be able to take part in.
How To Identify Sagras
Sagras are advertised the old fashioned way with brightly colored, eye-catching posters hung around the surrounding areas.
Look for these posters hung on sides of walls, billboards, around parks, on side boards, and in shops. The poster will have all the information you need.
If you are dying to attend a sagra but don’t see these signs, it’s best to check online by searching regionally and seasonally for what you want. Use this website and search by region. Note that they also include festivals, not just sagras in the listings. The main sagras of the week will be highlighted but you can also see a comprehensive list of sagras and festivals if you keep reading. Alternatively, you can also find sagras listed here.
How To Read A Sagra Poster
Look for the word sagra or festa followed by the type of food that is being celebrated. For example, sagra del tartufo (truffle sagra) or feta della fragola (strawberry festival).
Then look for a location and numbers which will indicate dates, typically weekends or two consecutive. Be sure to note the time and whether they are serving dinner and/or lunch.
Tip: You may want to pick the day you attend based on what entertainment is being organized afterwards. Orchestra usually means there is some kind of formal dance afterwards where the DJ is just going to cater to a younger crowd.
How To Choose A Sagra
Pick which sagras you want to attendly firstly on what the main food being celebrated is. If you like porcini mushrooms, find una sagra di porcini. If you like fried fish, look for una sagra di pesce fritto.
Each season in Italy boasts bountiful harvests of local produce. In every season you will find the fruits and vegetables that are growing at that moment but take note of the specific seasonal food items below.
Good To Know: Sagras are seasonal. While they can take place in the winter, they are much more common as the weather warms up.
|Winter||Regional pasta, Dessert, Grilled Meats|
|Spring||Truffles, Mushrooms (Porcini)|
|Summer||Regional pasta and breads, Fruit, Grilled Meats, Fish|
|Fall||Chestnuts, Truffles, Mushrooms (Porcini), Potatoes, Wine, Newly pressed olive oil|
Famous Sagras In Italy
There is literally a sagra for every kind of ingredient and specialty in Italy so it’s hard to identify which ones are the best. Below is a list of the most popular and widespread sagas you will come across while in Italy.
|Sagra||Location||What Is It||Time Of Year|
|Sagra della Cipolla Dorata di Banari||Sardinia||yellow onion||July|
|Sagra delle pallette||Tuscany||polenta||July|
|Sagra della Piadina a Bellaria||Emilia-Romagna||Piadina flatbread||September|
|Sagra della Castagna di Montella IGP||Campania||Chestnut||October/November|
|Sagra del Pesce di Camogli||Liguria||Fish||May|
|Sagra del carciofo romanesco||Lazio||Artichoke||April|
|Sagra del cinghiale||Tuscany||Wild boar||Summer (various sagras in multiple)|
|Sagra del tartufo||Piedmont / Tuscany||truffle||Fall (various sagras in multiple locations)|
|Sagra del vino||All regions||wine||Fall (various sagras in multiple locations)|
|Sagra degli gnocchi||All regions||gnocchi||Summer (various sagras in multiple locations)|
|Sagra dell’olio nuovo||Tuscany||newly pressed oil||Fall|
|BONUS: Brodetto Fest di Fano||Marche||Fish stew||June|
|BONUS: Festival del peperonicino||Calabria||red pepper||September|
Where To Find Sagras
You will find sagras all over Italy. The location is going to be somehow linked to the geographical importance of that food. For example, the sagra del cinghiale (wild boar sagra) is going to be somewhere in Tuscany where hunting wild boar is the main sport. The sagra dei pici (hand rolled spaghetti sagra) is always in Celle su Rigo where this handmade pasta originated.
Sagras are most always going to be located in a place that makes sense for the organization of the event. There needs to be room for lots of seating, a dance floor or entertainment center, outdoor kitchen and parking. This means outside the main square oftentimes in a campo sportivo or soccer fields.
Fact: Usually you aren’t going to find a sagra downtown but rather, strategically located outside the city or town center to cater to large crowds and parking.
Because of this, sagras are not always the easiest to get to. For most of them, you will need a car. Even if you take public transportation such as a train to the town where the sagra is being held, the actual event is likely to be somewhere hidden and unreachable by foot.
Food At Sagras
The best thing to order at a sagra is the celebrated food but there will also be a full menu with various regional dishes available as well. The menu will be organized like a typical Italian menu, in order of operation (antipasto, primo, secondo, contorno, dolce).
Unlike at a restaurant, there is no expectation for what should be ordered and how much. Order whatever you want: two first courses, just an appetizer, one of each course and four desserts. The choice is your and no one is going to give you the stink eye. I mean, if you can’t overdo it here, where else can you?
Good To Know: Sagras are centered around the food, not the wine, which is why you will find the options pretty limited.
Drinking At Sagras
Sagras are all about the food, not the drink (unless, of course, you are at a wine sagra). Of course, wine is meant to accompany the meal and enhance your experience but the choices will be limited.
Expect one kind of red and one kind of white, sometimes sfuso from a local winery served in (¼ liter, ½ liter, or a full liter) or as inexpensive bottles.
Tip: If you want to just order drinks, you will usually find a separate cassa or register for this. This way, if you want an after-dinner coffee, an extra beer or a digestif while you hang out, you don’t have to go through the whole line again.
Good To Know: If you’ve got teens with you, read about the Drinking Age in Italy.
Organization And Structure Of Sagras
Sagras in Italy are the epitome of disorganization and a true test of patience. This is also what makes them charming. Some sagras are better organized than others but they do tend to be extremely busy and the wait can be long for your food, especially on a Saturday night.
Defining elements of a sagra:
- Large, tented area
- Dance floor/ballroom
- Register/ordering window
- Outdoor kitchen (often hidden to the public)
Fact: Outdoor kitchens of sagras are completely regulated by the Italian FDA so no need to worry about improperly prepared food.
Other elements sometimes present at sagras:
- vendors selling local products
- play area for kids with some kind of entertainment such as a slide, balloons, games also known as lunapark.
- charity table
Parking will usually be a short walk from the actual event. Upon arrival, there may be several different casse or registers. The main one will be for food, another might be set up just for beverages and if they are really well done, there will also be an asporto (take-away) window.
There will then be large, often covered, seated areas with long, communal tables where you will sit down and enjoy your food.
In another section, there might be a dance floor or designated area for hanging out at the sagra. Each sagra is different but these are the main elements that define the organization and structure of them.
Because Italian sagre depend on the volunteers of the local community, the organization is usually as follows:
- women prepare the food
- men grill the meat and take the orders
- kids and young adults serve the tables
Good To Know: Some sagras also have vendors but this isn’t typical. You are more likely to see vendors at fiere or feste (festivals and parties).
How To Order Food At Sagras
The formula for ordering food at sagras is generally the same. There should be a large cassa or ordering window/booth where you will place your order. Sometimes they will provide you with an itemized menu where you can tick off what you want and other times you are expected to tell them what you want just like in a restaurant.
You will need to specify how many people will be dining at the sagra because this is how many cover charges (coperto) and place settings you will be given.
Tip: If you have small children who don’t require their own place setting (napkin, fork, knife, cup, placemat, etc.), don’t include them in the number of coperti.
Once you have paid (always bring cash because many don’t have credit card options), you will be given an itemized receipt with what you have ordered. Most of the time you will go find a spot at a large, shared table and wait for someone to come and take your ticket. At this point, they will assign your order to your table number and the waiting game begins.
Tip: Sagras are all about enjoying the atmosphere and taking it easy. If you are in any sort of rush, sagras are not a good choice because waiting for your food to arrive can be slow. Remember, they are catering to hundreds of people!
Other times, you will be seated by someone or get a receipt marked with your table number which you then need to locate and sit down at. This is usually not the case but a good indication of better organization.
Typically, your beverages will come out first along with the paper place settings, napkins, knives, forks, etc. (this is your coperto charge). Your food is next but it might not come all at once – this is normal. Other times, you will need to go to the beverage window and pick them up yourself.
Tip: If at any point you are confused about what order you should be doing things in, just follow the person in front of you. Did they take their recipe to the drink window to pick up their drinks? Did they go straight to a table? Did someone accompany them?
Cleaning Up After Eating A Sagra
Each sagra will be organized slightly differently. Some will have you bus your own tables but others will come by with a service that will clear the table for you. In my experience, they usually come by and you are free to leave when you are done eating.
Entertainment At Sagras
Of course, the main event is eating your heart out but when your belt buckle can no longer accommodate any more food, you are free to move onto the entertainment.
Sagras usually have some form of music or dancing after dinner. They will have music playing while food is being served and then around 9:30 or 10:00 the main event will commence. Sometimes this is a singer, other times a dj. Every night will have a different form of entertainment so if this is important for you, check the poster.
The after-dinner entertainment is your real opportunity to get some good people watching in. Usually kids will take over the dance floor until the entertainer arrives and then more formal dancing usually starts and small children are shunned from the dance floor.
Tip: If you are attending sagras with children, there is usually a space for them to run around and play besides the dance floor. They are free to run free on the dance floor unless a more formal dance is happening such as il liscio.
Sagras With Children
Sagras are a great place for kids to run around freely (usually in a pretty safe area free of cars and other dangers). And because sagras are crazy, very loud and completely wild, kids fit in perfectly. You don’t have to worry about them sitting quietly, using indoor voices and not making messes.
Kids can play while you wait for the food and once they are done eating, they can be off again. My kids always find someone else to play with, including English-speaking children as there are usually some tourists at sagras.
If your child requires their own place setting (utensils, cup, napkin, etc), then count them when you are initially ordering so you are sure to get the correct place settings. If you child is small and will eat off your plate, share around or won’t eat at all, don’t count them for a coperto.
Sagras tend to be a bit slow so I always like to come prepared. I usually don’t pack a dinner for my kids but I am sure to have appropriate aperitivo or other snacks to tie them over in case we hit a night in which there is a particularly long wait.
If you are attending with very small children, I suggest feeding them prior to arriving or bringing a meal for them.
Tips for Eating at a Sagra
- Get there on the earlier side (usually around 7:30 when they open) to ensure you aren’t waiting first in a long line to order and then at your table for your food to arrive.
- Expect to pay osteria restaurant prices. Sagras involve a lot of organization, people to run it and usually uses local ingredients, all of which make dining at sagras just as expensive as eating out at a casual restaurant.
- Expect to share a table.
- If you forgot to order something, look for another register within the seating area meant exactly for this specific purpose. If you need more wine, just head there to order with your table number instead of waiting in the main line for people who haven’t ordered yet.
- Order the specialty of that specific sagra because that is what they will do best. The other items will always be very good as well but it’s always a good idea to order at least one of the main dishes that are being celebrated that evening.
- Bring cash, many don’t have credit card options.
- Most of the waiters and staff working at sagras are locals from the town working for free. Don’t expect exceptional service or well-trained servers. These folks are doing their best without any experience in the restaurant industry.
- Food is usually served on plastic or paper plates.
- Sagras can get extremely busy, be aware that lots of people are waiting to be seated so eat your food, enjoy your company and be off. If you want to stay, grab a beer and hang out in the designated areas such as the dance floor or kids area, allowing others to be seated.
Sagras in Italy FAQ
A sagra is a festival that celebrates one type of food, drink, or ingredient from a specific town or region in Italy. It’s usually in the form of a temporary outdoor covered seating area, dance floor and stage with outdoor kitchen.
Sagras vary depending on the time of year but popular sagras that you will find throughout Italy include the sagra of the chestnut, porcini mushroom, wild boar, polenta, various breads and pastas, wine, truffle and polenta.
Sagras are celebrated to give importance to a local specialty or food, possibly also in celebration of a religious figure. Throughout time, the tradition of sagre has also been perpetuated by their economic importance to small towns.
A festa is a party or festival, usually involving some kind of parade or show and may include a street market, musical entertainment and demonstrations. A sagra is also a kind of festival, but it is centered around food and doesn’t necessarily include vendors, demonstrations and parades.