The other day I met a chatty Swedish guy in a pub called Hannes, who told me he was flying to Sardinia for a family holiday and landing in Cagliari. What an odd coincidence! I’m not referring to the fact I met a Swedish guy in Sweden or to the unexpected coincidence that random chat with strangers occured in an alcohol serving premises but to the fact that his family chose to go on one of the few flights a year between Stockholm and Sardinia. As soon as he told me this I got him to give me his email address and promised I would give him a list of things to eat and drink which he must try when on the island.
Start at the beginning with the ‘Aperitivo culture’ also known as Aperitif. It is comparable to the better known tapas culture in Spain, as it is the principle of going to a Bar/Cafe and having something to drink which is served with many little nibbles. The most popular of all is Aperol Spritz but also Campari Soda, Negroni, Negroni sbagliato, Garibaldi, Americano are all worth a try. Alternatively you can also have straight Prosecco or beer.
Surprisingly enough Sardinia has many local breweries which have popped up like mushrooms in recent years. I cannot say I’m an expert in handcrafted beers but Barley’s Friska is really good. For more info on the different craft produced beers in Sardinia there is Micro Birrifici – Sardinia which is a good link to check out. There is the most common Sardinian beer produced in the industrial area just outside Cagliari called ‘Ichnusa’. It is readily available all over Italy and in many countries across the world including Germany, UK and Sweden. In the last few months System Bolaget, the only chain of alcohol selling shops in Sweden, started selling it across the country in the ‘new beers’ section.
Red wine all the way, although there are also some really good white wines to try. House wine is cheap but most of the times really good, often better than more expensive bottled wine that can be bought in UK or Sweden. Cannonau is a typical variety of Sardinian red wine which is produced throughout the island and is quite strong in flavour. I’m no wine expert so will not go into further detail, but if you are looking for wine that you can also buy outside of the island the biggest producers are Argiolas (in the south) and Sella e Mosca (near Alghero, in the north).
Pane Carasau, Guttiau and Pistoccu are three different variaties of hard, crunchy bread one can only find in Sardinia. Similar breads can be found across the world such as Sweden’s rye crispbread ‘Knäckebröd’ but nothing beats Carasau served with local extra virgin olive oil and salt. There are also different varieties of normal bread in Sardinia that are worth looking out for, some of which are made in really artistic shapes and are characterised by a crunchy brown crust and a really soft doughy part.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil:
Plenty of brands, plenty of varieties as Sardinia is abundant with olive trees, some even several hundred years old. ‘Spremitura a freddo’ is the highest quality one can find as they only press the olives without any heat (a freddo) so as not to ruin the flavour and also to preserve the natural qualities and ‘goodness’ of the olives.
Pasta: A variety of sauces
Arselle e Bottarga or Bottariga. Normally long pasta such as linguini or spaghetti are served with clams and ‘Bottarga’ which some call ‘parmesan of the sea’ for the fact it is grated and adds salt and flavour to the pasta. Others call it ‘the caviar of the south’ as it is made by salting and drying fish eggs. Bottarga can also be eaten in slices as an appetizer, served with fennel or artichokes and a drizzle of olive oil .
Carlofortina pasta: from the island of San Pietro (south west of Sardinia) the village of Carloforte is a Genovese colony whose population brought over a series of traditions from their region and above all pesto. So Carlofortina pasta or pizza is made with green pesto, tuna (as they fish high quality tuna off the costs of that island) and fresh tomatoes.
Culurgiones: Sardinian ravioli filled with potatoes and cream cheese. These are served with a freshly-made tomato sauce (not ketchup) and a sprinkle of pecorino or parmesan cheese.
Fregola alla Pescatora: fregola is a typical Sardinian pasta which in many ways recalls couscous. Pescatora is a sauce made with a mixture of seafood and is very flavoursome. Different restaurants make it in different ways, some make it more dense,others a bit runny. Out of the two I personally prefer the dense one but it is a matter of taste.
Al Nero di Seppia: pasta cooked with squid ink. To some people this may look disgusting as you find yourself with a plate of spaghetti covered in a black sauce,but it is the most flavoursome spaghetti you will ever try! Obviously it tastes of fish to a certain extent, so if you hate seafood you might want to avoid this one.
Fish and Meat:
Polpo – octopus. Might sound disgusting but it is really nice, It is normally boiled and served in different ways either ‘alla diavola’ with a spicy tomato sauce or served cold with potatoes and balsamic vinegar as a sort of salad.
Bistecca di Cavallo – horse meat steak: now I can imagine the horrified faces of those who would believe that only barbarians would be cruel enough to eat a poor little horsy, but that is a very hypocritical thing to believe if the person thinking this eats veal or lamb which are the cutest of ‘baby animals’ that have not even had the chance of discovering the joys of life before being slaughtered or those who eat battery farmed chicken; how morally correct is that? Either way it is a very tasty steak which is comparable to beef in many aspects ,but more flavoursome. In some places they make fast food sandwiches for €5 with cavallo e patate (shredded horse meat and potatoes). Normally a classic ‘Fiorentina’ horse steak is served with fresh ruccola and shredded parmesan cheese.
Cheese: lots of cheese production takes place in Sardinia. Many of which are made from goat or sheep milk. Pecorino(sheep cheese) is a classic which you have in all different shapes and sizes, more or less matured, smoked, cream pecorino spread with chilli and so on. There are also other types of cheeses that are really nice made from sheep milk of which my absolute favourite is ‘casaxedu’ (read casascggedu as the x in the Sardinian language is read something like scgg) but it is not readily available in bigger supermarkets, being easier to find in inland villages. Out of the cow milk cheeses ‘Dolce Sardo’ made by Arborea (the Sardinian equivalent to Arla) is really nice as it is of a soft consistency similar to Brie and also quite sweet in flavour.
Sebadas is a classic ,but its very filling as it is a deep-fried, sweet, large, ravioli filled with soft cheese, served with honey. If your meal was relatively small have this to fill you up at the end.
Dolcetti Sardi: small typically Sardinian cakes that one would have to accompany a coffee at the end of a meal.
Sardinia has three major coffee brands: La Tazza d’Oro, Karalis (both produced near Cagliari) and Moka Domus (produced in Ogliastra,in the centre of the island). It is just as nice, if not nicer, than the big Italian brands with the added bonus that it’s locally produced.
Digestivi also known as Ammazza Caffe’ (coffee killers) or Amari
These are commonly drunk to finish a meal, after the espresso coffee (that locals have even after dinner) , a strong liquor that will make you tipsy enough to start dancing as one would do at a wedding, first communion or traditional village festivities. Locally produced Limoncello is nice but the must try which is unique to Sardinia is Mirto. This can be bought in bottles but is often home-made and is fairly strong (30 – 40 – 50 per cent), has an intense flavour and dense texture. Some people compare it to Jagermeister ,but I disagree as the taste is quite different. It is made from the myrtle berry that grows wild and abundantly in the countryside all over the island. If you want something really strong Fil’e Ferru might be for you: it is also known as Sardinian aquavit as it is really strong and most of the times homemade. The name translated from Sardinian means metal wire as when it was illegal to produce your own alcohol people in the countryside used to bottle it and bury the bottles in the ground and only a metal wire stuck out to indicate where the drink was hidden.
The good and the bad thing about Sardinian food and drinks is that they are quite unique and hard to find outside of the island. The bad part is you cannot find these products in other countries, the good part is that, like with every drug, you will have to come back to have some more. And as it is a good drug, Sardinian people will be glad to see you back on their island!