“I’d like to have half a kilo of cherries, please”
“You know” said the old lady on the other side of the counter “I just had them for lunch, they are really sweet. But don’t buy more, or you’ll get problems with your belly!”
“You are right. And what about the prunes? Which ones should I buy?”
“Try the yellow ones – you see, they don’t look like much. They are small and irregular. But do taste one. You don’t need to wash them, they are unsprayed”
“They are an old variety, ripening right now in the fields. Our producers sell them at quite a high price, but I think they are worth it.”
Sardinia boasts great landscapes, lots of historical sights, fresh mediterranean food with a unique and interesting twist, and the most beautiful and clean sea. But above all, what really won my heart was how nice the people were. The other thing that filled my eyes with tears as soon as I arrived there was the smell, and that is really difficult to describe. I tend to forget it as soon as I leave. It is the distinctive smell the Mediterranean Sea has, and that has become the signature of homesickness to me: warm and salty water, completely different from the way the ocean smells, and all the typical bushes that grow by it, rosemary, sage, helichrysum, myrtus, wild fennel. The thirsty, dry land. Dried grass. Olive trees.
I have a mixed feeling about travel reviews in blogs. I love reading about travel experiences from other bloggers, and I am always curious about their food experiences as well. On the other hand, I can see this being slightly irritating if you can’t go there. The pictures do make it up in part, but now that I am back, I found out I did not take a single picture of the food I had, though I had plenty of occasions. I have realized I am shy and I don’t like imposing photography rhythms to people travelling with me, or worse, sharing my food – I take pictures mostly when I am alone. I am also very shy when it comes to taking pictures of people and most of food pictures in the street involve people to some extent.
I do have plenty of recipes to share on the other hand – though the best ones involve ingredients you can’t find anywhere else. That is one good reason to go back as soon as I have the chance.
Being Italian people often ask me about making holidays or travelling there. On one hand, Italy is holiday paradise: I am not exaggerating by saying we boast some of the best (substitute whatever you want in terms of art, buildings, landscapes, food, wine) in the world. There are so many places in Italy that are really unique. On the other hand though, I know that the line separating paradise to nightmare is very thin in Italy, and often too thin if you don’t speak Italian and just want to relax. There are too many ‘furbi’ looking for an easy prey in the unaware tourist. Too many people who think that foreigners don’t understand anything, so let us keep the best for us, and give them whatever cheap fake we can for as much as possible of their money. Probably all the sewer alligator tales you have heard about Italy are true. Touristic locations all around the world are prone to these problems, but in Italy it is endemic. Also, it is true that many places are a bit off the beaten path, but this means, more often than not, that there are no chances for a touristic welcome, and whatever hidden gems there are, they will be kept well hidden. For instance, I already spoke about the beauty of some parts of Calabria – but I never encouraged anyone, not even Italians, to take a holiday there. Lack of non salted water, ghost streets, dead transportations (not even the ghosts linger), no places where to sleep, and extremely adventurous driving are not for everyone. You don’t expect an exotic adventure when you go on holiday in Italy!
(As a disclaimer: some of the best people I know are Italians. We can be overwhelmingly generous and incredibly fair. I am just talking about averages here. And yes, one of our defects is that we love to complain about Italians and Italy’s defects :) )
But if you ask me whether I’d advise for a holiday in Sardinia, the answer is, yes. The only caveats are that you pay for what you get, so it’s not a cheap holiday, and that I visited just the southern part, which is apparently less spoiled. I am used to our coastline being ruined by illegal once-non-legal-but-now-legalized-by-paying-a-little-money buildings and polluted by illegal industries and sewers. I have seen none there. The sea was beautiful and clean. The landscape was available for tourists but preserved with intelligence and taste. For instance, we visited many places close to Iglesias where the land was intensely used for mining, and you’ll see the signs of it, with the mountains being empty and with the occasional industrial buildings here and there; the sea though is very clean. There are many relics left from this era, some of them as old as 800 bC – yes, these mines have been used for a long time! As an amateur sailor it always amazes me how good sailors were at that time: the Mediterranean was really one network.
There were so many picture perfect places where to swim between fishes, I was so disappointed that we had relatively rainy weather. The weather though forced us not to overlook the historical ruins which we might otherwise have disregarded: Sardinia has a long and fascinating history of populations coming and going. One piece of history that struck me is that of a group of people from Liguria, up in the north of Italy, moving to Tunisia, and then travelling back north some hundred years later; stopping on the way in Sardegna. The dialect they speak is still similar to the one up in the north and also the food does of course bear traces of this complex history, couscous (under the name casca’) being a a legacy from Tunisia.
Food wise, what I can’t wait to reproduce is fregola, which is a kind of thicker couscous made with durum wheat, but original to Sardinia: it is often flavoured with saffron and toasted before cooking in water. We ate a Seadas in every restaurant we tried: fresh soured pecorino, or other milder cheeses, fried in a pastry case and covered with honey. Addictive, so I’ll try to reproduce it, but only when I am very thin. What I won’t even hope to reproduce is the freshness of the fish, and the bread. There are many types of traditional bread there, the best known one being carasau, and most of them require tools that are just not available to the home cook. I ate tons of fresh and ripe fruit and tomatoes: the dried ones I brought home with me were excellent. Other great ingredients were the local flavourful porks and the delicious sheep cheese, pecorino, available in a variety of types and aging. It is a very common sight to meet a large sheep flock, and this, together with the rainy weather, gave me the impression of spending my holiday in Wales ;). I have always wondered why they don’t produce any sheep cheese there! One day I’ll open my own company, hire a shepherd from Sardinia and become rich by selling Welsh pecorino in London.
Recipes to follow as soon as I try them – probably I’ll wait for the current heat wave to pass, as we are eating only salad these days!