Think you know Italian food? Think again.
Go to Sardinia and you’ll see a whole new side to Italy and taste things you’ve never tried before. Sardinian food is just like the island itself. It’s a delicious mix of mare e montagna—of mountain and sea. You’ll be struck by the contrasts of the island’s volcanic mountains, green pastures, and jet blue sea.
But somehow the food makes sense of it all. On the plate, there is harmony between the land and the sea, and the flavours are just… Sardinian.
Your starting point in Sardinia should be Cagliari. This coastal capital sits perfectly between mare e montagna, and it’s a great place to kick off your foodie tour of the island. There are plenty of places to choose from, and even more dishes!
So, what should you eat when you’re there, and where do you eat when you’re in Cagliari?
What to Eat in Cagliari
If you walk the streets of Cagliari, one thing becomes clear. These people love to eat!
There are more restaurants than you could eat at in a lifetime, let alone a vacation! If you can understand Sardo, the local language, you’ll hear locals talking about food all day. It’s the small talk, the big talk, and the table talk of everyday life.
Sardus love arguing about their favourite places to eat at, so listen closely and you’ll get some great recommendations. Whether you’re looking for the best seafood in Sardinia, unique pasta shapes, or weird cheeses, Cagliari has it all.
The food here is unlike that of mainland Italy. The island has been ruled by Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, Catalans and Italians, and the food reflects this amazing diversity! And with one of the highest concentrations of people over 100 years old, they must be doing something right with their diet.
Let’s break it down, meal by meal.
Breakfast in Cagliari
Like many places in Italy, breakfast ain’t a big deal in Cagliari.
Lunch is the most important meal of the day here, so breakfast is pretty light. Traditionally, a Sardinian breakfast reflected the lifestyle of the islands’ shepherds. They’d arm themselves with cheese, milk, and pane carasau (a crazy popular Sardinian flatbread; more on this later) and that would be it!
Nowadays in Cagliari, most Sardus are fine with just an espresso at the bar. They might serve this alongside a small pastry or a cornetto—the softer, Italian take on a croissant. There are plenty of local, Sardinian pastries to choose from, but I’m partial to the pardule.
This little ball of goodness is made from fresh ricotta and orange zest, baked inside a pastry shell. There’s no way I’d rather start the day!
And most importantly, this is all done standing up! Sitting down for breakfast is a surefire way to mark yourself as a non-local. So, get shoulder-to-shoulder with locals and slurp down your caffè espresso with glee!
Where to eat breakfast in Cagliari:
- Dulcis Pasticceria Cagliari (Via Lodovico Baylle, 25). Think grandma’s pastry shop, filled with delicious Sardinian cakes and cookies.
- La Piccola Caffetteria (Via Gaetano Cima, 5).
- Caffè Tramer (Piazza Martiri D’Italia, 11).
- Caffè Svizzero (Largo Carlo Felice, 6).
The Best Coffee in Cagliari:
- Caffè dell’Arte Specialty Coffee (Via Caprera, 3). Craft coffee can be hard to come by in a city that loves its dark-roasted espresso. So, head here to get a little taste of specialty coffee in Cagliari!
Eating Pasta in Cagliari
I get it. You’re in Italy, and you want to stuff your face with pasta.
But before you go and order your spag bol (which, to be clear, you shouldn’t order anywhere), let’s talk. Don’t bother ordering just the things you know, because here in Sardinia you can find pasta shapes you won’t see anywhere else!
Here are the local specialities you’ll want to get your fork stuck into.
Meet ravioli’s curvy cousin: culurgiones.
These pasta dumplings are the best thing I ate in Sardinia, and I made sure to get the recipe before I left Cagliari. The dough is made from a mix of semolina and normal flour, giving the pasta a bit more bite and structure.
The plaiting used to seal the filling inside the dumpling is beautiful, and not easy to replicate! Trust me, I had an Italian nonna berate me in a cooking class for making ugly plaits.
The culurgiones are filled with a mix of potato, sheep’s cheese, mint, garlic and sometimes even pork lard. They’re tasty whether they’re served simply in oil, or in a tomato sauce! Order them every day and don’t look back.
I cannot get enough of these little stripy nuggets of joy. Malloreddus are a traditional Sardinian pasta that look a little bit like gnocchi crossed with a zebra.
The similarity is so striking that they’re nicknamed gnocchetti sardi—little Sardinian gnocchi! The iconic grooves come from the reed baskets that the pasta was once rolled out on, while the vivid yellow colour is owed to a pinch of saffron in the dough.
Like the culurgiones, this pasta also uses semolina to give it a little more texture. You’ll see it served with a sausage ragù, or a creamy seafood sauce.
Suspiciously similar to the Middle Eastern Mograbieh, this simple pasta has its roots in Sardinia’s Arab history. To make fregula, cooks roll a semolina dough into small balls before toasting them in an oven.
They have a light nutty flavour, and pair deliciously with a clam and tomato sauce!
The Best Sardinian Cheeses in Cagliari
Even if you don’t know the name, you’ve probably heard of at least one Sardinian cheese. It’s called casu marzu, and it’s made of maggots.
Waiter, There’s a Maggot in My Cheese!
Now, the idea of eating cheese stuffed with maggots might sound gross. No, it definitely sounds gross.
But to locals, casu marzu is something to be proud of. This very-not-normal cheese is made like normal pecorino, to a certain point. The milk is heated, curdled, and fermented, before having its crust removed. To flies, this is a super-inviting situation! They land on top and lay their eggs. Yum.
You leave the weird-fly-egg-cheese in a dark hut for a couple of months, and the larvae start to hatch and become maggots. They slowly feast on the cheese, pooping out a bunch of enzymes and excretions that make the cheese soft, gooey, and incredibly pungent.
It allegedly tastes like a very intense gorgonzola, but to me it will always taste like maggot poop. Not that I’ve ever tried it, as it’s illegal! Under EU law, this traditional cheese was banned for hygiene reasons, and only found in the most rural villages.
And while I’m not going to put maggot poop in my mouth, this still makes me sad. A place’s food is a part of its heritage and culture, and it’s always sad to see it outlawed by bureaucrats in the name of progress.
Fiore sardo (a.k.a. pecorino sardo) has the double benefit of being not illegal and not filled with maggots! So, it’s way more likely that you’ll find it on a Cagliari menu than casu marzu.
This straw-coloured cheese comes with various levels of maturation, but the more mature, the more intense it gets! Like most Sardinian cheeses, it’s entirely unpasteurised sheep’s milk, with a rich tangy saltiness.
On an island where there are two sheep for every human, sheep’s cheese is king. And as we all know, it’s hard to beat ricotta!
In Cagliari you’ll see three types of this fresh, soft cheese:
- Ricotta fresca – the simplest, freshest deliciousness;
- Ricotta stagionata – cured for 20 days, and amazing with pasta;
- and Ricotta mustia – cured and lightly smoked. So good it hurts.
Get ready to see this every day you’re in Cagliari. Sardus love this hard flatbread more than you love anything, and they serve it with every dish of the day!
To make it, make a normal flat bread and bake it in the oven. Once the bread has puffed up, slice it horizontally into two halves (not easy!). Bake it again, and you have pane carasau! It’s super thin, incredibly crispy, and keeps for up to a year.
This mega-long life was crucial for Sardinian shepherds, who needed pane carasau to sustain them even on long treks away from home. It goes great with pecorino sardo, but is amazing when made into pane frattau. The Sardinian lasagna, this dish is made with layers of pecorino, tomato, and pane carasau. If you see it on a menu, don’t hesitate! Order it and enjoy.
Seafood in Cagliari
In a place with so much coastline, Sardinians do seafood better than most.
The island is full of the fruits of the sea, served solo or with pasta. If budget isn’t a worry, try lobster from Alghero. But for the rest of us, we’ll stick to the more everyday seafood on offer!
Clams, squid, and cockles are delicious in Cagliari. You’ll also find different types of fresh fish served with lemon, white wine, and bay leaves. But there’s one seafood specialty you can’t look past: bottarga.
Like anchovies? Good, because you’ll love bottarga. Take roe from mullet or tuna, sun-dry it, press it, and you have this fishy delicacy. The mullet stuff is a bit lighter and more aromatic, while tuna bottarga is intense and dark.
It tastes amazing as a simple starter with pane carasau, lemon, and garlic, but really shines when served with spaghetti.
These spiky beasts are famous throughout Sardinia, and there are even a couple of local festivals dedicated to them! You’ll only get them in season, between November and April.
Be prepared for the full taste of the sea!
Meat Dishes in Cagliari
It might be surrounded by ocean, but there are enough meat dishes in Sardinia to make a carnivore faint. They range from the normal and delicious (roast pork, stewed lamb) to the weird and I’m-not-gonna-try-that (braised donkey).
But which meat dishes should you eat in Cagliari?
This roast suckling pig is Sardinian food royalty. It can be either spit-roasted whole or wrapped in bay leaves and cooked slowly for days over a fire. Because of it’s super-long prep time, be prepared for a high spend. Some restaurants even make you put your order in the day before!
While you will see it on some Cagliari menus, you might have more luck going to a small town on the weekend.
Spezzatino di Vitello con Piselli
Another countryside specialty, this is a stew of veal served with peas. If you can find it to eat in Cagliari, don’t hold back! The meat falls apart, and the sweetness of the peas is dynamite.
Buyer beware: this is pure intestine. To make this Sardinian speciality, intestines of lamb or goat kid are braided and then stewed with white wine, bay leaves, and peas.
The flavour is great, but the texture… You’ll have to love offal to love this one! And if my experience with veal nerves in Verona has taught me anything, it’s to be careful when ordering the weirdest thing on the menu.
The Best Desserts in Cagliari
Looking to satisfy your sweet tooth in Cagliari? I can help with that. Aside from the dazzling array of breakfast pastries, there is one delicious dessert you just have to try when you’re in Sardinia.
If you love, dessert, cheese, and honey then you’ll love seadas.
Stuff a pastry shell with pecorino cheese, deep-fry it until golden and crispy, and then drizzle with honey. You’ve got a seada, and if you’re not careful, an extra pound or two of weight.
Although they’re not too sweet, these rich desserts pack a punch. But still, they’re one of my favourite things to eat in Cagliari!
Where to Eat in Cagliari
Now you know what to eat in Cagliari, where do you need to go to get it? From rustic local taverns to white table cloths and Michelin stars, there are plenty of places to get your pasta fix!
The Best Restaurants in Cagliari:
- Sa Domu (Via Sassari, 51). A classic Cagliari tavern serving the local specialities.
- Ristorante Sa Piola (Vico I Santa Margherita, 3). A bit more expensive, but worth the spend for delicious local dishes.
- Principi di Dan (Via Napoli, 77). Authentic Sardinian charcuterie and cheeses served simply along with local wines.
- Corso Dodici (Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 12). It might be a little too close to the tourist centre of the city, but head here for fun takes on Sardinian classics.
- PerBacco (Via Santa Restituta, 72). Get shoulder-to-shoulder with locals in this tavern located in the Stampace neighbourhood.
Fine Dining Restaurants in Cagliari:
- Ristorante Dal Corsaro (Viale Regina Margherita, 28). Efficient service and modern takes on traditional Sardinian cuisine mark this Michelin-starred restaurant as extra special.
- Da Marino al St. Remy (Via S. Salvatore da Horta, 7). A small setting where you can taste a variety of Mediterranean flavours with local produce.
Pizzerias in Cagliari:
- Madriga (Via Università, 31). Pizza isn’t something local to Sardinia. It didn’t even make my list of what to eat in Cagliari! But sometimes, you just need pizza, and for those time, there is Madriga. Here, artisan sourdough is put to good use creating tasty and unique pizzas, sold by weight!
What to Drink in Cagliari
You’re in Italy, of course you’re going to drink wine!
Like any part of this delicious country, Sardinia is full of unique wines and local drinks. Make sure to try as many local specialties as you can while you’re in Cagliari!
Sardinia is home to some grapes you might not find in mainland Italy. In fact, a lot of them are Spanish!
Owing to the island’s long history of Spanish and Catalonian rule, there are vineyards here full of grenache (here called cannonau), carignan (carignano), and Graciano (cagnulari).
But the grape to rule all grapes is the island’s favourite: Vermentino. This Sardinian wine is refreshing and bright, full of snappy citrus and green apple notes. Vermentino di Gallura, the island’s only DOCG (Italy’s highest ranking for wine regions), must be made entirely with this grape!
Wine Bars in Cagliari
- Inu Sardinian Wine Bar (Via Sassari, 50).
- L’Enoteca Biondi 1959 (Viale Regina Margherita, 83).
- BuffHouse (Via G.M, Via Giovanni Maria Dettori, 28).
Mirto: Make sure you’re sitting down
When you get given your first mirto, make sure you’re sitting down.
I say “when”, because you won’t leave Cagliari without trying it at least once. Whether it’s at the end of the meal or just handed to you as you walk down the street, people just love giving you mirto!
This liqueur is serious business. It’s mega high in alcohol, and made 100% from the berries growing on the island’s many myrtle trees. The flavour is full of dark berries and spice, and it’s the perfect way to warm you up on a cold winter’s night!
It’s also apparently George Clooney’s favourite digestif.
Eating your way through Italy? Don’t miss my other foodie guides!
Have you already been to Sardinia? Let me know if you have any other picks for where to eat in Cagliari and leave a comment below!