Cagliari is a beautiful seaside city on the Italian island of Sardinia. Just west of the Italian mainland, this city and island are surrounded by the natural beauty of the sea. In this charming city, the sea serves as a place to play, a port for exports, and even a treasure trove of delicious seafood. The cuisine of Cagliari is Italian, with a decidedly unique flair that relies heavily on ancient tradition that will intrigue and delight. Pull a chair up and bring your appetite because Cagliari welcomes you to the table.
If bread and carbs make your heart go pitter patter, then Cagliari is the place for you. The city is home to a number of traditional breads that are usually lighter and flatter in nature than many of their Italian counterparts.
A traditional locally made bread is su civraxu. This is a large and round loaf made from a mixture of flour and semolina flour. To give the bread shape, scissors are used to cut on the top of the loaf to form small decorative points (sometimes called pizzicorrus) that grow extra crispy when oven baked. The bread is typically enjoyed during the appetizer round when it is dipped in extra virgin olive oil or used as a base for bruschetta.
Pane carasau is a flatter and thinner version of a rounded loaf of bread. This extremely thin bread is made from a combination of flour, yeast, water, and salt, and is usually twice baked. This bread can be referred to as carta musica, which means sheet music, and is a nod to its paper-thin consistency. Locals also enjoy an even thinner version of this bread called pani guttiau. This bread is typically seasoned with sea salt and extra virgin olive oil. It may also be paired with local cheeses and salame.
Whether it is a meat such as veal, sausage or wild boar, or if it is seafood such as mussels or clams, any of these hearty starters can be enjoyed as an appetizer when flavored with tomato sauce, parsley, garlic, and white wine.
Two popular seafood appetizers include bottarga and burrida. Bottarga is a local delicacy consisting of cured tuna roe. Bottarga is known for its rich and salty flavor and its color can range from red to orange. The roe can be paired with other ingredients or may be enjoyed on its own with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice.
Burrida is a traditional Sardinian way to prepare shark or skate. The seafood is first sliced, then it is cooked in broth with lemon, onion, celery, and carrots. After cooking, the fish is coated with a sauce made of garlic, parsley, vinegar, and walnuts or pine nuts then served cold.
One common cheese in the area is axridda, which can be made from sheep milk or sheep and goat milk. This aged cheese is notable for its buttery texture.
Pani frattau is a dish that relies on a bread sometimes served as an appetizer, pani carasau. The bread is typically submerged in broth then topped with tomato sauce, pecorino cheese, and a poached egg. This is a favorite Sardinian first course for locals.
As with any Italian city, pasta plays a starring role in the first course of most local menus. Fregula is a rather uniquely shaped pasta that takes on the appearance of tiny balls or pellets. It is usually made with semolina flour and water and then is rubbed together until round. It is then typically toasted in the oven for a nutty flavor. Fregula is cooked similar to a risotto and is often served with seafood such as clams, mussels, or a seafood mixture. There are traditionally two versions of fregula: rosso (or red) with tomatoes and bianco (or white) without tomatoes.
Malloreddus is another popular Sardinian pasta that is akin to gnocchi. These gnocchi lookalikes are long and ridged and are made with durum wheat semolina flour, water, and salt rather than potato. This grooved pasta is often served in Cagliari with tomato sauce and locally made cheese and is flavored with a hint of saffron.
Culingionis are a type of pasta that most closely resemble ravioli. They are made with semolina but will usually have potato and mint as a filling when served in the city. However, the shape and filling of the pasta can vary outside of Cagliari. The unique crisscross seal of this ravioli makes it difficult to prepare, but beautiful to eat.
Panadas are a hearty first course option. These rounded pies are usually packed with meat, eels, or vegetables. Panadas are a favorite for locals and visitors here and are celebrated each July in Assemini with a festival. Any food with its own festival is definitely worth trying.
One common first course soup is trippa alla cagliaritana. The hearty stew consists of tripe, tomatoes, mint, onions, saffron, and it is topped with cheese.
One popularly enjoyed second course in Cagliari is meat such as pig, lamb, or goat that is slow roasted on a skewer. This is an easy dish to make and eat and is traditional throughout much of Sardinia.
One of Sardinia’s most beloved meat dishes is suinetto da latte, also known as maialino sardo or purceddu. This flavorful dish consists of suckling pig that is wrapped in myrtle leaves and slowly cooked over a fire pit. Porceddu can also be cooked more quickly on a spit.
Although various meats are widely enjoyed in Cagliari, seafood options tend to edge them out for first place. With such close proximity to the rich Mediterranean waters, seafood is plentiful and even preferred in some areas of the city. Different kinds of fish likely to be seen on a Cagliari menu include sea bass, mullet, eels, lobsters, squid and clams. Some of these fish are served as the second course and sometimes they are paired with pasta and risotto during the first course.
Common side dishes in Sardinia include broccoli with potatoes and onions, stuffed artichokes, artichoke frittata, artichokes and potatoes, and roasted artichokes.
Because of Cagliari’s beautiful surroundings, one of the best ways to enjoy the city is by wandering through the city center, the gardens and parks, and even the shore. For those that can get ravenous from all that walking, the city’s mouthwatering street food can satisfy any hunger pains.
Fritto misto is a widely popular street food of Cagliari. With an abundance of fresh seafood nearby, this mixture of tasty fried seafood served up in a paper cone makes it easy to walk and eat all at the same time. This snack is served in generous portions and can usually tide you over until the next meal.
Another frequently served street food is a flatbread called pane modde. Similar to Emilia-Romagna’s piadine, these are usually made with a version of the city’s thin breads and are stuffed with various fillings for the diner to choose from. Pane modde is also quite easy to walk and eat with so that you do not have to stop for a sit-down meal.
Cagliari is an exceptional place to end your meal with dessert. From cakes to fritters and more, this city knows how to feed a sweet tooth.
When it comes to appearances, pardulas are almost too pretty to eat. These star shaped tartlets made primarily of ricotta cheese and typically flavored with saffron and citrus peel, look like an icing-free cupcake when they come out of the oven. These traditional treats are served year-round but become a staple during the Easter season.
Popular local pastries served in the city are called sabadas. These sweet treats are actually a light pastry usually filled with pecorino cheese and then doused in honey. Sebadas are still enjoyed in Cagliari today, but these pastries have ancient roots and were once eaten by area shepherds.
Pane e saba is traditionally a holiday treat but can sometimes be found throughout the year. This sweet is made from a combination of flour, water, wine, raisins, and a variety of chopped nuts. The finishing touch of this ring cake includes a generous helping of colorful sugar sprinkles. It is sliced before serving and can be enjoyed warm or at room temperature.
A Sardinian cookie of sorts is the bianchittu. These cookies resemble what Americans know as meringue cookies. These cookies look like dollops of whipped cream but taste crunchy, a texture only enhanced by the addition of almonds.
Another traditional Sardinian cookie is the pabassina. These usually diamond shaped cookies are crunchy and made from almonds, star anise, eggs, raisins, and a dash of wine. Locals also enjoy cozzuleddus, which are made from almonds, ground walnuts, cinnamon, ginger, and honey.
No meal in Cagliari is complete unless it is enjoyed in the company of good friends and family and with a fine glass of locally made wine.
A wine produced for centuries in Cagliari is Nasco di Cagliari. The wine is made from grapes of the same name. The wine’s title comes from a Latin word that means musky, which some wine aficionados believe to be a nod to the familiar scent of the underbrush. Although this wine is considered to be the oldest in Cagliari, it is a local favorite that makes its way to many dinner tables here.
Myrtle-based liqueur is common throughout Sardinia and one variety enjoyed in Cagliari is Zedda Piras. The main ingredient is myrtle berries that are macerated in alcohol. Myrtle-based liqueurs are the after-dinner drink most favored by the locals.
Meals in Cagliari tend to be feasts filled with local specialties, such as seafood, handmade breads, and flavorful desserts. When in Sardinia, plan for multi-hour affairs where each dish is more delicious than the one that preceded it.