My wife and I recently visited Sardinia, where we explored the northern towns of Alghero, Castelsardo, Santa Teresa Gallura, Palau and Porto Cervo, and the central towns (and Blue Zones) of Oliena and Dorgali.
Sardinia is a hard place. From its coastline to its interior, the landscape is rocky and ragged. Its people are the same – tough, passionate, hardworking people. Given the island’s turbulent past, its cuisine draws on influences from a variety of cultures, from Arabic and Catalan to Greek and Egyptian. A typical dining experience is either food from the land OR food from the sea – a reflection of the island’s divisive geography. Here, we share a few experiences that typify the local dishes, ingredients and flavors.
Lunch with a Palau native
In the coastal village of Palau, we chartered a boat to visit the pristine, less traveled coves and beaches of Sardinia’s Maddalena Archipelago islands. Our captain and host, Carlo of Boating Sardinia, was born and raised Palau. Around midday, Carlo prepared a lunch for us showcasing the local cuisine: homemade Vermentino wine, local pecorino and burrata cheese, cured meats, pane carasau (a famous handmade flat bread) and freshly baked tomato pizza (or as some say, tomato pie). We didn’t miss the cheese with this pizza, because the tomatoes offer sweet richness and steal the show against the backdrop of a yeasty pizza dough. We were happy to work off a few calories swimming and paddle boarding through the beautiful waters.
Clams and cured meats in Castelsardo
A traditional Sardinian meal reflects the diversity of this island and its unique blend of sea and land. Like many delicious cultural dishes, the products and how they are prepared start with local ingredients.
At Antica Pensione Pinna Ristorante in Castelsardo, we enjoyed mussels and tiny clams cooked slowly in a light tomato broth, along with a salad of arugula and shaved pecorino topped with bottarga, a mullet roe that is dried and pressed. The flavor is a creamy and briny explosion of taste. Lastly, the shepherd’s board: cured local meats, vegetables like eggplant and artichoke, and of course, raw pecorino. The land is so rugged here that sheep thrive more than cows…hence the abundance of pecorino.
A local dish in Costa Esmeralda
Zuppa di Pesce is a dish we experience in the US in various interpretations such as cioppino, fish stew or bouillabaisse, to name a few. The version we ate a local restaurant called Ricky’s Porto Cervo was sublimely flavorful and light. The difference is that the garlic, tomato and aromatics used are only to compliment the supreme freshness of the seafood. The blend of sweet clams, mussels, squid, tuna and langostines create a light briny tomato broth that you can’t stop dipping your bread into or attacking with a spoon. A chef’s finesse and restraint create the magic in this dish.
Porcetto in Oliena
Sardinian cuisine expresses a simple approach to life, which we found to be true at the Hotel Su Gologone in the central town of Oliena, a “Blue Zone area.” Here we watched juicy meats roast over an open fire pit while dining on culurgiones (ravioli filled with local ricotta) and porceddu allo spiedo (spit-roasted suckling piglet, or porcetto), among other local flavors of the Barbagia region. We enjoyed the scenery of the mountains in this central Sardinian experience.
After lunch, we took a short trek out to the rugged Golfo de Orosei (a nearby national park on the east coast), where we were transfixed by the majestic Cala Fuili. A local we encountered nearby had an interesting perspective on the longevity of the people in the Blue Zones. He credited the “air” of the region, followed by good genes and the fact that they never stop moving. Whether they are working, tending to family or walking up the steep hills of their town, they are rarely sedentary. They live simpler lives with less stress and worrying. They have strong, meaningful relationships and are fiercely dedicated to their families.
Our pick for pane carasau
We tried many types of this sacred bread while in Sardinia but fell in love with Pane D’Arci’s “pane carasau al mirto.” Produced in the Southern town of Villa Verde, this version is flavored with mirto obtained from berries of the myrtle plant found in abundance in Sardinia.
While we didn’t have time for an authentic pane carasau-making experience, we were reminded of the Anthony Bourdain “No Reservations” episode in Sardinia where he joins a local baker and learns the true art of this Sardinian delicacy. Watch the brief clip below or check out the full episode for free.
Trust us when we say that the flatbread alone is worth a trip to Sardinia!