Last updated on November 6th, 2023
Being an island, Sardinia doesn’t get as much foot traffic or air space as it deserves. It’s even often forgotten about when we speak of Italy but let’s be clear here – its food should never be overlooked!
I’ve traveled around Sardinia by boat and with a car, and I was surprised how untouched and knitted together communities seem to be. English was a rarity (don’t let that scare you away, it’s actually a good thing, especially when it comes to food!), yet making myself understood wasn’t too hard. When people are keen on sharing their passion for food, they want to be understood and understand you.
Let’s look at what makes Sardinia’s cuisine unique, go over its best dishes (that you won’t find off-island), learn how to pronounce them, and look at what to drink while you’re there.
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Food from Sardinia vs Italian Food
Sardinia is deeply rooted in ancient pastoral and fishing traditions which served as a survival mechanism for centuries. Not being connected to the mainland, Sardinians had to survive on what they could grow, catch and raise. To this day you will see lush fields of sheep and miles and miles of coastal waters dotted with fishing boats.
Like all of Italy’s regions, the cooking is regional, meaning that the food and recipes you will enjoy on the island are unlike others in Italy and it’s unlikely you will be able to hunt them down outside of Sardinia’s borders. Inland, much more meat such as lamb and pork and cheese is eaten whereas along the coast seafood is common.
Over time Sardinia has been influenced by various cultures. Greeks, Arabs, and Catalans have greatly impacted the flavors and traditions of this beautiful island.
Today, these culinary traditions are still very much alive, so much so that they are celebrated annually during “Autunno in Barbagia” a fair showcasing the best of Sardinia’s cuisine and how local food products are made and sustained throughout the year. The schedule changes every year but the festival runs every weekend in a different town of the Barbagia region, spanning from September to December.
The Sardinian Aperitivo
When in Sardinia, don’t miss the tradition of the aperitivo. Every region in Italy does it slightly differently but Sardinia does it the best.
The local aperitivo is more of a culture, a right of passage and a daily way of living depending on who you are and from where you are coming. It is customary to wind down, relax and socialize with a drink and an elaborate plate of cured meats and local cheeses with a side of the local bread, pane carasau, before heading to the dinner table.
Sometimes the boards are so elaborate and filling you will find you have yourself a whole meal right in front of you (and sometimes this is the case for Sardinians as well).
(Pronounced peh-coh-ree-noh sahr-doh in Italian)
This is Sardinia’s most famous cheese both on and off the island. It is made with local sheep’s milk cheese that is aged for various amounts of time. The flavor is rich and sharp, only heightened with further aging that is perfect for finishing pastas and for melting. You will also find them on cheese plates.
(Pronounced fee-oh-reh sahr-doh in Italian)
Originating in Gavoi in the center of the island where cheesemaking traditions are as old as time (dating back to 1000 BCE), this is a hard sheep’s milk cheese that is aged for varying lengths of time. The younger cheese is enjoyed in big wedges while the more aged versions are perfect for grating on pastas.
(Pronounced pree-mo sahl-eh in Italian)
Meaning “first salt,” referring to the initial state of maturation. This cheese is slightly tangy and grassy in flavor, with an almost crunchy texture.
(pronounced cah-zoo mahr-zoo in Italian)
We DO NOT recommend or suggest you try this (it might make you sick) but we can’t not include it on our list of top Sardinian foods. This is literally a rotten sheep’s milk cheese that is laden with larvae who eat away at the cheese, breaking down the fat, giving it a silky texture. Not surprisingly, not many people make it so it’s hard to find.
(Pronounced cah-zoo ah-jeh-doo in Italian)
This cheese is made from sheep’s or goat’s milk that is preserved in a brine. The cheese can be sweet if eaten young (best enjoyed with vegetables and salads) but as it sits in the bring it takes on an acidic and strong flavor best grated over pastas.
(Pronounced cah-pree-dohr in Italian)
This is a semi-hard goat’s milk cheese that is aged for about three months before it is ready to be eaten. The rind is edible (although moldy),while the inside is soft and pale yellow in color.
Learn More: Study up on formaggio with our Complete Guide to Italian Cheese!
(sahl-seech-chah sahr-dah in Italian)
This cured salami-like sausage is made with equal parts pork fat and muscle that is seasoned with garlic, salt, pepper and other spices before being stuffed into a natural casing, washed in wine and vinegar, and aged for a minimum of 20 days.
Learn More: Read all about the Different Types of Italian Sausage.
(Pronounced boht-tahr-gah in Italian)
You will find this specialty in other parts of Italy and all over the Mediterranean but this version is made from dried mullet fish roe that is salted and cured in small “bricks” that can be used to grate over any type of food including pasta, raw artichokes, cooked beans or even sliced into salads.
Bring it Home: Bottarga is a great souvenir to bring home. Make sure you get it vacuum-packed if you are bringing it overseas!
(Pronounced freh-goh-lah in Italian)
Fregola is a small, round pasta made from semolina flour and water that’s similar to couscous and traditionally made by hand using a scivedda, a kind of sieve that pushes the dough into small balls. It is toasted in the oven, giving it a nutty, earthy flavor. It is cooked similarly to risotto, slowly and carefully so as to not overcook it and is often served with shellfish and other seafood.
Fregola ai Frutti di Mare
(Pronounced freh-goh-lah ahy froot-tee dee mahr-eh in Italian)
Fregola pasta is slowly simmered in olive oil, garlic, broth and the freshest seafood, allowing the pasta to soak up all the juices. Shellfish are a favorite because the little bits of pasta get stuck inside the shells so be prepared to get your hands dirty. It’s worth it though!
Fregola con le Arselle
(Pronounced freh-goh-lah cohn leh ahr-sehl-leh in Italian)
In this pasta dish, the fregola pasta is cooked in a fish broth with clams, tomatoes, parsley, garlic and sometimes chili peppers. This is one of my favorites!
(Pronounced soo fih-lihn-dey in Italian)
This is considered Italy’s rarest pasta, as only a handful of women know how to make it in Sardinia. A very flexible and elastic dough is made from water, flour and salt, which is then used to create 256 tiny strands of thin pasta which is then dried. The pasta is cooked in a broth made from mutton, sprinkled with pecorino cheese.
Spaghetti ai Ricci
(Pronounced spah-gheht-tee ahy reech-chee in Italian)
Although this is more of a recent invention it has quickly gained popularity among locals as it’s so tasty. Spaghetti is sauteed with garlic, oil, parsley, chili peppers and sea urchins. It’s cooked just a minute until the urchins are tender.
Spaghetti con la bottarga
(Pronounced spah-gheht-tee cohn lah boht-tahr-gah in Italian)
This popular pasta dish from Sardinia is flavored with bottarga, a renowned, locally-produced cured mullet roe.
(Pronounced lohr-i-ghit-tahs in Italian)
This is a handmade pasta that is made strictly in the town of Morgongiori in the western part of the island. The pasta is braided and formed into a ring where it is left in baskets to dry until it is ready to be cooked.
Malloreddus alla Campidanese
(Pronounced mahl-loo-rehd-doos ahl-lah champ-ee-dahn-eh-seh in Italian)
Sometimes called “Sardinian gnocchi” because of their shape, this small pasta is made from semolina flour, water and just a touch of saffron. It is typically served with a ragù made from pork sausage and finished with grated pecorino sardo.
Tip: If you want to find the most authentic food we suggest you rent a room at an agriturismo, a farm property that has rooms or houses for rent, because the cooking is done onsite with products that they grow on the farm, oftentimes using family recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation.
(Pronounced coo-loor-zohn-ehz in Italian)
These are big ravioli that are filled with potatoes, pecorino, and mint (although sometimes other herbs depending on the area you are in) and are either served in a butter sauce or in a simple tomato sauce. Each raviolo is handmade, almost too beautiful to eat. I said, almost…I ate them all with no qualms.
Don’t Miss: If you are around during the summer months and love the culurgiones as much as we do, check out the sagra dei culurgiones, a food festival in celebration of these big ravioli.
(Pronounced zoop-pah gahl-loor-eh-seh in Italian)
Seemingly more of a lasagna than a soup, this dish is made with slices of stale bread that are layered with lamb broth and fresh cow’s milk cheese and finished with grated pecorino. This is a prime example of how Italians don’t like to waste anything, including one scrap of bread.
(Pronounced pah-neh fraht-tohw in Italian)
This is one of Sardinia’s most iconic dishes made from their famous pane carasau which is soaked in sheep broth and layered with onions, tomatoes, basil and topped with a poached egg and grated pecorino cheese. Don’t miss this one!
(Pronounced cahs-soh-lah in Italian)
This soup is made from fish including mussels, clams and octopus which are slowly simmered in the locally produced vermentino wine, olive oil, garlic, onion, parsley and chili peppers.
Pecora in Cappotto
(Pronounced peh-cohr-ah in cahp-poht-toh in Italian)
Translating to “sheep in a coat”, its name references the ancient tradition of leaving the oldest sheep of the lot unshorn during the annual sheep-shearing. This stew is made from mutton that is cooked in broth, seasoned with lots of local herbs and hearty potatoes.
(Pronounced pohr-keht-toh ahr-roh-stoh in Italian)
This is an extremely popular dish among the locals made from a pig that is slow roasted for seven hours over an open fire. Once cooked, it is covered in myrtle leaves and served just warm or at room temperature. You can’t go to Sardinia and not try this one!
Spezzatino di Vitello con Piselli
(Pronounced spehz-zah-tee-noh dee vee-tehl-loh cohn pee-sehl-lee in Italian)
This is a veal stew served with peas that you will find inland at many restaurants. It’s simple yet rich and satisfying.
Agnello con carciofi
(Pronounced ahn-yel-loh cohn cahr-choh-fee in Italian)
This is a wonderful stew made from lamb that is slow cooked with artichokes until incredibly tender and flavorful. Make sure you have plenty of bread handy to mop up all the delicious sauce!
(Pronounced sah cohr-doo-lah in Italian)
Spit-roasted lamb or goat intestines, including the stomach, are slow cooked for hours resulting in a soft interior and crisp shell. You will also find the intestines sauteed with fresh peas instead of being cooked on a spit.
(Pronounced sah traht-tah-lee-ah in Italian)
Goat or lamb intestines are cooked with heart, lungs, and liver on a spit over an open fire and served with sliced bread.
Lumache al Sugo
(Pronounced loo-mah-kay ahl soo-goh in Italian)
Also known as sizzigorrus cun bagna, this dish is made by boiling locally sourced snails and then sauteing them in olive oil, garlic, parsley, tomatoes and breadcrumbs. This is not the only way you will find them but it is certainly the most popular.
Aragosta alla Catalana
(Pronounced ahr-ah-goh-stah ahl-lah cah-tah-lah-nah in Italian)
With Catalan influences, this lobster dish is made by simply boiling lobster which is cut up and tossed with tomatoes, onions, oil, and lemon.
(Pronounced ohr-zee-ah-dahs in Italian)
This is a very uncommon dish so you may have to search high and low if you are set on trying it. Anemones are dredged in flour and semolina and deep fried.
Pesce a Scabecciu
(Pronounced peh-cheh ah scah-behch-choo in Italian)
Try this dish in Cagliari. It’s made of fried fish marinated in olive oil, vinegar, salt, garlic, and parsley. Depending on the recipe, capers and/or chopped tomatoes are added.
Spigola alla Vernaccia
(Pronounced spi-goh-lah ahl-lah vehr-nach-chah in Italian)
Seabass is dredged in flour, doused in locally made Vernaccia wine with black olives and cooked in the oven until the sauce is thickened and the fish is tender.
(Pronounced reech-chee in Italian)
This is more of an ingredient than a dish but we had to include it as they are so popular with the locals. Sea urchins are certainly not something that every tourist will be fond of but they are worth a try if you like to explore new things. You will see them most commonly in primi but also other dishes. An annual food festival is held in Alghero to celebrate this seafood.
(Pronounced boor-ree-dah in Italian)
This fish dish from Cagliari is made from gattuccio, a variety of catfish that is considered a scrap fish, or a bottom feeder. This simple dish is made by marinating the fish in a vinegar-based sauce and then slowly cooking it with walnuts and the fish liver.
Insalata di Carciofi e Bottarga
(Pronounced in-sah-lah-tah dee cahr-choh-fee eh boht-tahr-gah in Italian)
Artichokes are thinly sliced and dressed in olive oil, lemon juice and salt. They are then mixed with chopped radicchio and plated with thin slices of bottarga.
(Pronounced pah-neh cahr-ah-sohw in Italian)
This is a paper-thin, crisp bread made from wheat bran, water, salt, and yeast that is then double-baked at very high temperatures (840 or 900 degrees Fahrenheit). During the first bake, the bread puffs up and is cut into multiple disks before being baked again.
Read More: about pane carasau and about all of Italy’s bread in Bread in Italy – Types of Italian Breads & Where to Eat Them
(Pronounced pah-neh goot-tee-oh in Italian)
A pane carasau seasoned with local olive oil and salt.
(Pronounced pah-neh cheev-rah-joo in Italian)
This is a very common dome-shaped bread baked in a brick oven with a crunchy crust and soft interior. The best place to get this is in Sanluri, a small town in the southern part of the island.
(Pronounced cohk-koh-ee in Italian)
This is another regional bread but not quite as common as the others you will find. It is, however, great for spreads and crostini. The interior is a bit drier, encased in a thick, crispy crust. This bread lasts much longer than other varieties.
(Pronounced mohd-deez-zohs-oo in Italian)
This handmade bread is from the Barbagia di Seulo area and is made from semolina and su frammentu, a mother yeast (sourdough) and baked in a brick oven with local firewood that adds lots of earthiness and depth of flavor. The crust is very thick, so it can last up to 10 days without drying up. Some versions are made with potatoes or pork fat.
(Pronounced pah-nah-dah in Italian)
This street food is similar to a stuffed pizza dough or empanada. The dough is made with flour, lard, water and salt and is then stuffed with a mixture of potatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, parsley, garlic, olive oil and either lamb or eel. It’s then baked until golden brown.
(Pronounced moo-stahz-zehd-doo in Italian)
Legend has it that this cross between a pizza and focaccia was invented by nuns when they needed foods that were filling when ingredients were hard to come by. The dough, made with flour, olive oil, yeast, salt, and water is rolled out into a circle and topped with tomatoes, onion, basil, garlic, olive oil, and salt. Before being baked, the edges of the dough are folded up over the topping.
(Pronounced peez-zeht-tah sfohl-yee-ah in Italian)
Actually, this is nothing like pizza but rather, phyllo pastry is stuffed with tomato sauce, capers and anchovy.
(Pronounced pahr-doo-lahs in Italian)
These are small pies filled with a mixture of ricotta, saffron, and lemon held together in a thin layer of puff pastry. Although you can buy them anywhere, the best ones will be sold in pasticcerie or bakeries.
Tip: do as the Sards do and order pardulas for breakfast with your coffee
(Pronounced cah-sah-dee-nahs in Italian)
The same as pardulas but made with fresh pecorino sardo instead of ricotta.
(Pronounced tee-leek-cahs in Italian)
These Christmas cookies have a curved, spiral, or horseshoe-like shape stuffed with a filling made from grape must, semolina, almonds and orange zest. They are finished with small colored sprinkles.
(Pronounced ahr-ahn-zah-dah in Italian)
Originally made for weddings and baptisms, this dessert is now readily available at pastry shops any day of the week. This could be considered more of a candy than a dessert as it is made from thin slices of orange peel that are cooked in honey and coated in almonds. I love to bring these home with me because I can’t find anything else like it in Italy.
(Pronounced pah-pahs-see-nee in Italian)
This nutty cookie is enjoyed across Sardinia, although recipes may vary. The base is always the same dough made from flour, eggs, sugar, lard or butter, raisins, lemon zest, baking powder and ground nuts. Some variations include cinnamon, vanilla, candied citrus zest, and fennel seeds. They are cut into diamond shapes, baked and iced with a simple white glaze, and decorated with sprinkles.
(Pronounced gwehf-foos in Italian)
It is said that gueffus comes from the Spanish word huevos (eggs) because of these cookies’ round shape. Made from just ground almonds and sugar, often with lemon zest or orange blossom essence, this thick and dense dough is shaped into small balls, rolled in powdered sugar and wrapped in colorful papers. They are always around at events and celebrations, sometimes even given as party favors. A favorite of small children!
(Pronounced tohr-roh-neh in Italian)
Torrone is some of the best nougat you can buy in Italy made from honey and various nuts such as hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds. Try and get your hands on the real stuff found at markets instead of buying commercially produced brands. It’s so much better and makes a fantastic gift for your foodie friends!
Sospiri di Ozieri
(Pronounced soh-spee-ree dee ohz-ee-ehr-ee in Italian)
As their name implies, these cookies originate in the city of Ozieri and are made with almonds, powdered sugar, honey, lemon zest, and water. After being baked, they are lightly glazed with a sugar frosting.
(Pronounced pah-stees-soos in Italian)
These festive cookies are made by filling a pastry shell with an almond filling and cooking them in metal cookie molds. They are then decorated with a thin layer of royal icing or in different decorative patterns.
(Pronounced pah-bahs-see-nee in Italian)
Meaning “raisins” in the Sardinian dialect, this is an important ingredient used in these cookies flavored with lemon, walnuts, almonds and cinnamon.
(Pronounced sey-ah-dahs in Italian)
Also called sebadas, this is a magnificently deep-fried semolina dumpling filled with sour pecorino cheese and lemon zest served with a bitter miele (honey) amaro called corbezzolo.
Notable Flavors of Sardinia
(Pronounced pohm-pee-ah in Italian)
This is a large yellow, wrinkled-looking citrus fruit that grows on the northeast coast and is used in many desserts by locals. It is also used to make a delicious digestif, liquore di pompia.
Among the finest in the world, Sardinian saffron is grown in the area of San Gavino Monreale, Turri, and Villanovafranca and used throughout the island in both savory dishes and desserts.
What to Drink in Sardinia
- Zedda Piras: made from small myrtle berries that grow wild on Sardinia that are macerated in alcohol, sweetened and finally filtered before being bottled.
- Birra Ichnusa: lager-style beer. We suggest the non-filtrata or not filtered version.
- Filu e Ferru: meaning iron thread,” this is a strong grappa made on the island typically enjoyed after a large meal.
- Liquore di pompia: a digestif made from locally grown pompia.
- Cagnulari: a red grape grown around Sassari and Usini. This wine is fruity with floral and herbal aromas.
- Cannonau di Sardegna: this red wine is made from the thick-skinned Cannonau grape variety, also known as the Garnacha or Grenache. This wine is ideal with roasted meat, charcuterie, or aged cheese.
- Vernaccia di Oristano: is a type of oxidized wine that is full-bodied and gets better as it ages so get your hands on an older vintage.
- Nuragus di Cagliari: made with at least 85% of Nuragus grape, these white wines tend to be light and fruity, best paired with seafood.
- Vermentino di Sardegna: this is a dry, crisp white wine that is best enjoyed with white fish, calamari and squid but it is also great with spicy foods.
Traditional Food of Sardinia FAQ
From a culinary point of view we suggest that you try and visit Sardinia in the spring (until early July) or the fall because it’s a lot less crowded yet the produce is still in abundance so you won’t miss out. July and August are so busy on the seaside in Italy that unless you enjoy overly crowded beaches, it’s better to avoid these months.