As a Sardinian, I always say that the sea is only a beautiful backdrop for a picture full of history, archaeology, nature and an extensive food and wine tradition. If you go to Sardinia, tantalise your tastebuds with the rich and diverse culinary aspect. Here are some of the most important and typical dishes of southern Sardinia on a tour that will have you drooling.
Typical seafood dishes to try in South Sardinia
South Sardinia offers a vast selection of fish dishes, with a great deal of diversity. We begin on the island of San Pietro, which is one of the two principal islands of the Archipelago of Sulcis, the other main island being Sant’Antioco. In June, San Pietro plays host to the Girotonno, a culinary event that continues the age-old red tuna fishing tradition in this area. If you cannot make it to this event, which brings together Sardinian art, cuisine and culture, at least taste Tonno Rosso di Carloforte (Carloforte Red Tuna) in one of the restaurants of the families most closely linked to the tradition: da Nicolo in Carloforte or in Cagliari, da Luigi Pomata. Whether its tartare, a bottarga starter or one of the delicious tins of ventresca tuna, this tasty variety of tuna will leave you craving more!
Let’s stay in the same area. Carignano del Sulcis DOC is one of the island’s most important red wines. Its richness is shaped by the sandy soil near the sea where it is grown.
What to try in Cagliari: fish dishes
Let’s start with a real delicacy, ideal as a starter so you can plunge straight into the bold flavours of Cagliari’s seafood: oziadas are fried sea anemones, perfect to get your mouth watering. Remember though, starters are never usually made up of just one item, which leads me to bocconi, a shellfish with a bold and unmistakable flavour. If you were to ask my grandmother, Cagliari born and bred, what is the most essential dish to include in a fish lunch, she would say burrida, a nursehound shark dish, washed down with a nice glass of vermentino. One of the all-time best places to find burrida in Cagliari is the Balena.
Another must when in South Sardinia is Fregula, a time-honoured pasta that is traditional on the island. This pasta made of irregular circles of semolina works well served in broth or dry, but in the Sardinian capital we love to eat it with arselle (cockles) and seafood.
On the other hand, if you really cannot do without long-cut pasta, I would recommendspaghetti arselle e bottarga. Bottarga or “the gold of the sea” as we call it, made by processing mullet or tuna eggs, is always present on Sardinian tables. Mullet is another star of Sardinian cuisine, excellent on the grill or “scabecciu”, meaning breaded, fried, marinated and dressed with cherry tomatoes and spices. And the fish menu goes on with the unmissable anguille arrosto(roast eel), usually served with fish grills.
Traditional Sardinian dishes
I can’t round off the traditional fish dishes of southern Sardinia without mentioning Panada di Anguille. Sa Panada is one of the island’s longest-standing traditional dishes, a basket-shaped pastry containing delicious fillings. In the south, the eel filling is very popular. You also often find them with a meat filling (lamb and artichokes), though there are vegetarian fillings too.
The next dish I’m going to recommend has a different name depending on the area: Mustazzeddu, Prazzida or Pratzira. Come to think of it, anything in Sardinia has a different name from one village to the next, but we’ll save the topic of the linguistic breadth of the Sardinian language for another time. The origins of this dish are attributed to the Sulcis Iglesiente region. Every year, in the town of San Vito, there’s a festival dedicated to this semolina focaccia stuffed with cherry tomatoes dressed with oil and basil, which also comes in many other versions.
Traditional Sardinian bread: carasau and civraxu
Bet you didn’t know there are hundreds of types of bread in Sardinia? Well, it’s true. Here bread-making is an ancient and fervent art. Everyone knows pane carasau, a very thin and crispy bread, ideal for accompanying any dish. One of the island’s traditional dishes is pani frattau: layer upon layer of carasau bread, dressed with tomato sauce, cheese and an egg. A traditional bread of southern Sardinia is Civraxu, from Sanluri in the Medio Campidano region. This bread has always been part of the local peasants’ diet. If you want to learn more about the island’s festivals and celebrations, check out our article on traditional festivals in Sardinia.
Remaining in the Campidano region, we find one of the most famous Sardinian pasta dishes: malloreddus alla campidanese. This short-cut pasta made of durum wheat and served in a tomato and sausage sauce is often referred to in Italy as “gnocchetti sardi”. Or if you prefer a stuffed pasta, I’d recommend culurgionis with potato, pecorino cheese and mint.
Cagliari street food
As I’m from Cagliari myself, here are my top tips for tasty morsels to try during your visit.
Pizzetta sfoglia is a must for us, two disks of fragrant puff pastry, filled with tomato sauce, a perfect snack at any time of day. Available at any bar or café in Cagliari, I’d suggest trying one while enjoying one of the best vantage points in Cagliari.
Everyone goes crazy for Caffè Tramer’s meringue, a soft cloud that wins over the palate of even those without a sweet tooth. What’s more, this café is one of the oldest in the city and preserves its beautiful period furnishings.
You will find the quintessential Cagliari street food along the waterfront at Poetto beach, at the fourth bus stop, where food trucks prepare delicious horse meat sandwiches day and night.
I hope this food tour makes your trip to South Sardinia even more special and if you need any help organising your holiday, these articles should set you on your way.