Though it is small in size, Sardinia is large in culture, tradition, history, and native cuisine. In fact, it is the source of two impressively distinct food cultures: the foods of the sea that surrounds the island and the foods of the land. The latter is remarkable and reflects the rugged terrain and the unusual culture and history of this fascinating Italian destination.
Travelers are often encouraged to dine in the many restaurants and cafes as they make their way around the island or stay local near their Sardinia villa, but it is more enjoyable when you understand the relation of the physical Sardinian landscape to the culinary traditions. Then you can track down the finest foods and dishes to their points of origin and really “taste” Sardinia for yourself.
The Diversity of Sardinian Cuisine
Apart from the fact that Sardinia is host to scores of edible native species that include aromatic herbs and plants as well as animals, the landscape is also ideal for a wide array of cultivation. Grains, citrus, olives, rice, and vegetables of all kinds have been grown here for centuries, and are still produced today. Some varieties are actually “heirlooms” and descendants of native or long grown crops. Historically, as an example, Sardinia is the exclusive home of Grenache wine, made from ancient vines that still grow in the hills of the island.
Of course, native plants or heirloom varieties are regional, and it is important to keep in mind that Sardinia may be Italian, but its actual closest geographic neighbor is the French island of Corsica. The eastern shore is just a short distance from the Tyrrhenian Sea, and in the southern area the coast lines of Tunisia and Algeria are actually nearer to Sardinia than the island’s Italian “sister”, Sicily.
This geography has allowed a lot of influences to create a truly unique cuisine, one that is far more Mediterranean than almost any other.
The passing of time has brought many foreign rulers into Sardinia as well, and you can actually taste them when you experience many of today’s most common dishes. You will notice influences of Spanish and Arabic cuisines, Roman dishes, and more. And because the “poplo” of Sardinia are one of the two groups given distinct people status in Italy, it is important to also give regional consideration to the different foods and cuisines you find in each.
For example, there are eight provinces:
• Medio Campidano
• Olbia Tempio
Each of the provinces has its own set of traditions that have risen from the heritage of the area, the influences of foreign invaders, and the geography. One author has this to say about the foods of the island and its regional individuality, “Factor in the exceptionally fertile farmlands, mountainous forests and the fine necklace of rich coastline, and Sardinia emerges as an island that might well be described as a rustic cook’s paradise.” (Delallo.com, 2015)
What this says is that a traveler to Sardinia will want to discover the “specialty” of the different region, and ensure they sample it when visiting. The most basic food vocabulary for the traveler will have to include bottarga, as well as the daily fish harvests in port areas. There is also the “carta di musica” which is Sardinia’s take on everyday bread. Culingiones and coucous dishes are the “pasta” staples, and gnocchi with saffron is a typical and popular dish to sample, too.
Salty and smoked foods are most certainly the norm, but creamy and sharp cheeses are also a favorite. Herb-infused foods and beverages appear often thanks to the island’s abundant supplies, and some of the most common vegetables are artichokes, eggplant and tomato. Wild boar, suckling pig, and lean cuts of lamb tend to round out the menus, too.
As you can see, whether you are self-catering or dining out every day, you have a tremendous range of flavors to savor and enjoy at all times and in all parts of glorious Sardinia.
Are you hungry? Review Isle Blue’s list of recommended restaurants on Sardinia for the best places to eat on the island.
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