Sardinia has long attracted beach-obsessed Italians, who stick mainly to the emerald waters of the highly developed northern coast. But given the magnified tourist scene on the mainland and Sicily, Sardinia (aka Sardegna) is also appealing to more adventurous travelers looking for some breathing room. Those in the know traverse the island’s rural interior for a feast of earthy flavors, hit Cagliari on the south side for Italy’s most spectacular public fish market, and check out the young chefs coaxing traditional ingredients into evolved dishes with Sardinian flavors at their core.
Sardinia is proudly carnivorous, with a strong culture of roasted suckling pig, goat, and lamb, as well as wild game, especially wild boar, which you’ll see strapped to SUV hoods after successful hunts in the fall. In a place in which sheep outnumber people more than two-to-one, the cheese scene is vast and the sheer range of pecorino varieties, some unique to particular villages, boggles the mind. Perhaps the most dominant ingredient across the island, however, is durum wheat, which is used in intricate pasta shapes and museum-worthy, sculptural breads. While there’s not quite as much fresh fish as you might imagine — islanders historically preferred the safe interior away from invaders and pirates — bottarga remains a major export, and the cured roe is sliced or grated to impart tangy umami to many local dishes.
Note: Much of Sardinia’s dining culture is seasonal, so be sure to confirm that places are open before you turn up. The island is also home to many dialects, which means you will often encounter different words for the same food as you move from village to village; the names of the dishes below reflect how they appear on each venue’s menu.
Katie Parla is a Rome-based food and beverage journalist, culinary guide, and New York Times best-selling cookbook author. Her forthcoming cookbook, Food of the Italian Islands, will be released in March 2023.Read More