The Top Ten Strangest Foods Sardinia Has Offered Me

By: Mary Ogno

Sardinia is an island in the Mediterranean Sea, yes, it's a part of Italy, but no, the people who live here aren't Italian- they're Sardinian. And don't call them otherwise. Agriculturally, people make their living here running small farms that have been passed down for thousands of years, fishing the sea, or working in the fields herding animals. Adapting to this borderline-barren land over thousands of years has made the Sardinian people to be hard workers and proud- and with reason. It's a picturesque and beautiful place that is shrouded in a lot of mystery thanks to outsiders' large inability to adapt to the land and climate themselves. For thousands of years, these people have 'made-do' with what this land has offered them, and I for one am eternally grateful for it. This island holds the strangest foods I have ever had the pleasure of tasting in my life.

  1. Maggot cheese (or in Sardo: "Casu marzu" literally meaning: rotten cheese)

    My American reaction to the gag-inducing, stomach-turning smell near me:

    "What in god's name is that horrid smell?"

    "It's the cheese- it's made with maggots!"

    Oh, ok, thanks for clearing that up... UUMMM, excuse me?

    You know how when you find worms or maggots living in things, that is a sure sign that the food product is bad? Well, the opposite is true with this cheese, in fact, if when opening the wheel you find the maggots to be dead- that means it's no longer safe to eat. This decomposition process of this cheese is exactly how it ages- the cheese breaks down to it's gooey, liquid center by ways of the maggot's digestive process. As you can imagine, it's a pretty hard thing to market and carries some pretty hefty health-risks- making it actually illegal to buy and sell here. So how do people get a hold of it you ask? Easy! Make it yourself! Here's what you do: get yourself a nice wheel of sheep's milk cheese, put it in a bucket, introduce some fly larvae (or, just leave it outside), cover with cheesecloth (naturally, placed there so the flies are trapped and forced to lay their few thousand larva inside), wait a few months, then spread that stuff all over #6 on this list and you're good to go! Yum! (Full disclosure: NOPE. No. No no no. I have not been able to get past that corpse smell or the writhing of the live maggots to eat it myself.)

  2. Treccia

    Treccia means 'braid' and when you hear this word you usually think of hair or a leather belt- not animal intestines. (I just totally ruined the surprise didn't I? Just threw it out there, huh?) The treccia that I've eaten was made from the organs and intestine of a baby goat- the 'baby' part is really important part here. Since the animal is only a couple months old, it's only drank it's mother's milk therefore leaving the intestines nice and grass-free. We don't waste food here in Sardinia, so after the rest of the animal's meat is all nice and ready for roasting, the organs are then collected and put on an enormous skewer- it's intestines are then braided over the skewer to keep everything together as it's roasting over an open fire. The intestines turn out to be crispy and golden while the inside organ meat is left juicy and soft.

  3. Pigeon/Crow

    I'm from New York, we're not supposed to feed or touch the pigeons or crows there let alone keep them in cages and eat them. I'm a big fan of anatomy, I'm someone who isn't phased by seeing the insides of things (hello, I do medical illustration in my spare time to relax), but pulling apart those little bird-bones and organs in order to consume them is still a totally absurd experience for me. The only thing that get's me through the process and helps me ignore my American ignorance of this culture, is watching the 3 year old Sardinian boy next to me at the table happily sucking on a pigeon wing saying "buona!" How does it taste? Well, it tastes exactly like chicken...but... oh no I'm going to say it: even better than that.

    Pigeon
    Pigeon


  4. Octopus salad

    Please excuse my bias, but of you try octopus salad and don't think it's the greatest thing you've ever eaten in your life, it's because you're wrong. An octopus is something strange in itself, it looks like an alien while it's alive and wriggling it's tentacles around- the fact they even exist is strange. And seeing those tentacles and bits of chopped up octopus head on your plate is even stranger. However, boiled then tossed with a light and buttery olive oil, fresh basil and garlic, a dash of vinegar, (maybe sneak a potato or two in there)- and you will be consuming the salty, chewy, seafood-y, tentacle-y food of the gods.

    Octopus
    Octopus


  5. Horse steak

    Horse? Not a strange thing, gentle animal, kind of has the same personality as your family dog. Steak? Delicious What a great way to enjoy eating meat! Put these words together: horse steak= oh no. I love horses, I think they're beautiful and regal creatures and feel they have no business on my plate, but lord help, their meat is delicious And yes, they have horse races here, and people have horses as pets but they're also farmed here like every other animal. The meat can be a little tough, as horses tend to be on the muscular side, but when grilled correctly, it can be tender and juicy- better than any beef steak you've ever had.

    Horse steak
    Horse steak


  6. Pane carasau

    This bread itself is not strange, in fact, it resembles a large and round piece of grainy matzoh. The actual process of making this bread is an ancient tradition that isn't replicated anywhere else on this earth. Before it's cooked, the bread is rolled out thinly then placed into a wood-burning oven where it inflates like a balloon. It's then immediately separated and cut and baked again to crispy and smoky perfection. The history of this bread dates back thousands of years, made for shepherds to carry around with them for months without going bad (it actually lasts up to a year!) Not only is whole process and it's existence really special, but the taste can't be beat either; the perfect pairing with some local cheese, wine and dried sausage. (Maggot cheese anyone?)

  7. Bottagra
    Bottagra is made from the egg pouch of a fish here in the Mediterranean, the Grey Mullet fish. The pouch is dehydrated and salted (like sausage) then grated over tossed pasta in olive oil. You guys it is gooooood, I'm salivating just typing this out. I'm talking forget-which-planet-you-live-on-while-you're-eating-it good. Pair this bad boy with a cold Ichnusa (Sardinian beer!) and you might be the happiest person in the universe in those short moments before you inevitably devour every salty morsel.

    Bottagra
    Bottagra


  8. Pig, Goat, Sheep, Lamb, Duck, Rabbit, and Buffalo: every part of them, the baby versions of these animals and the dairy products made from them.
    Ok, bundling might be cheating, but the thing is, these animals, the baby versions of these animals and the dairy products made from them are a rarity for an American. In fact, Sardinia is renowned for it's buffalo mozzarella- have you even heard of that before? Me either before I came here, but it's buonisimo on pizza. The baby versions of these meats are more tender and have a completely different taste than that of their parents. Different cheeses made from different animal milk have such diverse tastes that you swear it was an entirely different food product all together. That's what thousands of years farming and herding on a rough land teaches you: you can find a way to consume every part of everything.

  9. Snails

    For some reason, snails are all over the place on this island. Really though, did it just rain the night before? Well then, watch where you step in the morning because those suckers will be everywhere. They're prepared by being cooked in a large pot of homemade tomato sauce with big chunks of tomato, basil, garlic, some spicy pepper- stop it. If you put anything and cook it all day in homemade sauce I'm pretty much going to eat it. The snails are plucked out of their shells with a toothpick, swirled again in the same sauce, then popped right into your salivating mouth. Incredible. Be sure to slurp up the remnants with a nice piece of fresh baked bread for the full experience.

  10. Fico d'india

    Sardinia is very dessert-like, so there are cactus here, which are actually farmed here as well for their fruits- also known as prickly pears. You can buy them in the local supermarkets, or pick one yourself off a plant on the side of the road. The fruit itself is juicy and sweet- kind of tastes like a pear and a strawberry mixed together, but, the thing that makes this fruit strange is just how difficult it is to eat. As you hold it, you need to be sure not to be stuck by any needles. Once you get past that initial part without physically injuring yourself, the fruit inside is full of these little hard and BB-pellet-like seeds that you shouldn't eat. So what do you do? Well you spit them out, obviously. It's gross, and truly the hard work offers little reward if you ask me. Ain't nobody got time for that.


Experiencing this different culture has taught me: eyeballs aren't as chewy as you would expect, brain is delicious spread on bread, and the cheek is the best part of the fish. Granted, I live with farmers, and this has only been my personal experience with the food here, some delicacies aren't as culturally enjoyed as some other things on this list in other regions of this island. But please also keep in mind it gets even stranger than this,-I'm talking 'blood as an ingredient' strange. But please, don't let that deter you from experiencing this beautiful and ancient land with it's rolling hills and turquoise waters. Sardinia is an absolute paradise, with the substance of an exquisite and unique culture to back it up.

Sardinia
Sardinia

About the author

Expat Blog ListingMary Ogno is an American expat living in Italy. Blog description: An American expat living in Sardegna working as an au pair where I spend my time; drawing, meeting strangers from the internet, reading, and playing guitar- all while learning the very difficult Italian culture and language.
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Contest Comments » There are 13 comments

Amanda R. wrote 6 years ago:

And I thought Chinese food was weird!

Gillian McGuire wrote 6 years ago:

I will be visiting Sardegna next month for the first time. I am looking forward to trying some of these exotic treats!

Rebecca wrote 6 years ago:

"I'm from New York, we're not supposed to feed or touch the pigeons or crows there, let alone keep them in cages and eat them." SO TRUE! Maybe there wouldn't be so many annoying pigeons in NYC if people were packing them for lunch. Great blog post!

Amanda wrote 6 years ago:

I have never had the pleasure of trying any of the foods in this article, but after reading I have now put the octopus salad and even the horse steak on my "eat before you die" list. Wonderful and witty article, Miss Ogno.

Nancy Dooley wrote 6 years ago:

What a great blog!!! And sounds like great food!!

Natalie wrote 6 years ago:

What an incredible gastronomic experience. Love the blog!

Sarah wrote 6 years ago:

Love reading about your Italian adventures!

Brenna wrote 6 years ago:

So Italy isn't just a land of pasta and pizza. Exciting stuff here! Love all this and all your stories of life and love on the lovely island where you live!

Brenna wrote 6 years ago:

So Italy isn't just a land of pasta and pizza. Exciting stuff here! Love all this and all your stories of life and love on the lovely island where you live!

Stefanie NYC wrote 6 years ago:

Thanks for the great stories! I was there once but not near the farms. Looks like I missed out! I can't believe how adventurous you are with your plate! You forgot to mention their version of Grana.. I LIVED for that- especially since it didn't have worms! The surprising crunch to it is amazing. The seafood cannot be beat. On the other hand.... One day at the beach, my friend pulled an octopus out of the sea, came to the shoreline and beat it sensless. Then he turned it inside out and off we went back to the apartment we all rented for lunch. Fresh! :)

Lauren Marie wrote 6 years ago:

As disgusting as this all sounds, it just makes me want to visit Sardinia even more!

Lisa wrote 6 years ago:

Would love to try the Pane carasau!

Stefanie NYC wrote 6 years ago:

Thanks for the great stories! I was there once but not near the farms. Looks like I missed out! I can't believe how adventurous you are with your plate! You forgot to mention their version of Grana.. I LIVED for that- especially since it didn't have worms! The surprising crunch to it is amazing. The seafood cannot be beat. On the other hand.... One day at the beach, my friend pulled an octopus out of the sea, came to the shoreline and beat it sensless. Then he turned it inside out and off we went back to the apartment we all rented for lunch. Fresh! :)

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