Multiple invaders and rulers eyeing Malta for their strategic military support have attracted people of all ethnicities and nations. Through the ages, Malta had to adapt in living with the French, British and Arabs among others. With this mix between people came the influence in language, culture and more importantly for the purpose of this article, food.
The Maltese cuisine is immensely vast, especially when considering the tiny piece of land we live in. And the Maltese, like many other Mediterranean countries, are big eaters. A Maltese would want his plate full to the brim and will not be satisfied until his belly is full and taste buds are done with their craving. In this feature, we will look at what food you can enjoy while on holiday in Malta and where is the best place to eat it.
Fresh off the street
Ok so let’s start with food which you can easily find in every village and without having the need to sit down quietly in a restaurant to enjoy it.
- Pastizzi. Fast food in Malta has a slightly different meaning to anywhere else in the world. When the Maltese want to eat something good and fast, they head to a Pastizzeria. The word is derived from Pastizzi, this is the one item you should definitely try while in Malta. The Pastizzi are made of puffy pastry in an awkward oval shape, usually filled with ricotta or peas. Over the years the fillings changed and now you can find pastizzi with chicken, tuna and even Nutella.
- Qassatat. The Qassatat are like a pie filled with similar fillings to pastizzi although, even here, variations are on the rise. Their pastry is different from the pastizzi, it’s less puffy. They’re a good snack and very cheap too.
- The Maltese Ftira
Malta is a country of bakers and the Maltese bread is something quite spectacularly unique. One of the most common, cheapest things you can get while on the road is the Maltese ftira. The ftira is basically bread filled with tomato, olive oil, tuna chunks, olives, vegetables and more. In fact, you can fill it up with whatever you like. The bread on its own is already a delight. It’s cheap and very filling. Best to have it next to some amazing beach in Malta!
- Rabbit. The Maltese rabbit is perhaps one of the best culinary experiences you’ll experience on the island. Its meat is incredibly tasty. Rabbit is usually either cooked fried in garlic or as stuffat (stew) with potatoes and vegetables.
- Variety of fish. Being an island Malta is no short of fishermen. Head to places like Marsaxlokk or Saint Paul’s Bay to experience some of the freshest, tastiest fish the Mediterranean has to offer. Try the Awrat or octopus, a freshly caught lampuka or swordfish.
- Bragioli. Meat lovers will definitely want to try the Maltese Bragioli, a combination of beef meat, wrapped around a slice of bacon, egg and more meat stuffing usually cooked in some nice red wine.
- Imqarrun il-forn (Oven-baked pasta). A very similar dish to the Italian/American baked macaroni. Here in Malta you’ll find it crusty with cheese on top and tomato sauce. It’s a very good dish for pasta lovers, satisfying and delicious.
- Spagetthi Octapus. Because of Italian influence, the Maltese love their pasta too. So a dish emerged which combines the love for seafood and pasta, spaghetti with octopus and octopus ink. A local favourite, especially in summer when the octopus is freshly caught.
- Stuffed Marrow. As one can easily observe, the Maltese like big portions and like to stuff and mix dishes with no reservations. A stuffed marrow from a traditional Maltese restaurant is a thing you can’t miss. As its’ name suggests, it’s a simple marrow filled with minced meat and red sauce. Sometimes they put melted cheese on top and it’s great.
- Stuffed Aubergines. If you can stuff meat and marrow, why not stuff a nice, juicy aubergine? The same principle as the stuffed marrow, the aubergine provides a unique taste to this dish alteration. Look for it in its local name ‘brungiel mimli’.
- Tuna and spinach pie. The Maltese sure like their oven. Pies are one of the most common things families like to cook to see their relatives happy and with a full belly. The tuna and spinach pie is perhaps one of the most popular and also a slightly healthier option.
- Patata l-forn (oven potatoes). It’s more of a side dish, of course, but baking some thick potatoes in the oven is one thing the Maltese like to include with most of their meals. They usually put onions and garlic on top and let them absorb the taste in the oven.
- Il-Minestra (Minestrone). A thick broth with a beautiful mix of colourful vegetables usually served in winter with a nice slice of Maltese bread on the side.
- Soppa tal-Armla (The Widow’s soap). The name of this particular dish carries some history with it. It literally refers to widows who don’t have much food to put in their soup and so leave it as simple as possible. It’s a simple soup with potatoes, carrots, garlic and cauliflower. Sometimes gbejniet (goat cheese) are added into the mix.
- Aljotta (Fish stew). Accompanied with tomatoes, garlic and rice, the aljotta is a great use of Maltese love for fish in combination with stew.
- Horse meat. Normally taken as a starter and immersed in red sauce, horse meat is one of the most traditional dishes you can find. It’s not healthy for those suffering from high blood pressure, but it’s tasty as.
Fill you platter
The Maltese cuisine provides an excellent source for nibbles and snacks to fill a nice platter.
- Bigilla. The Bigilla is a dip or paste made out of broad beans. Sometimes garlic and parsley are added on top. With bread and olive oil, the bigilla is an addictive item on your platter.
- Maltese sausage. One true, incredibly tasteful element of the Maltese cuisine, is the Maltese sausage. It’s salty attack on your taste buds will make you want more and more. The sausage is normally cooked with coriander and other herbs giving it a unique punch to the taste.
- Gbejniet (Goat cheese). Another essential element you have to include is the Maltese Gbejna. It’s goat cheese served either dried with black peppers (Tal-Bzar) or soft and fresh (friski).
- Stuffed olives. Another stuffed item on the menu, folks. This time, it’s Maltese tasty olives filled with tuna paste. Olive oil and garlic is sometimes added on top. Why not!
- Galletti. The Maltese like to have bread on the side with most of their dishes and platters. Alternatively, they use some Galletti (crackers) to dip in the bigilla. Local companies produce some Galletti with various tastes including gbejna or tomatoes.
- Tadam Imqadded (Sundried tomatoes). The Sundried tomatoes are a colourful addition to your platter and unique. Sundried tomatoes offer a unique texture and taste that does not resemble anything else you’ve tried.
Sweets and desert
- Imqaret. By far our favourite dessert on the Maltese islands. An oily pastry filled with a thick layer of dates paste. They are a true delight and, like the pastizzi, are also cheap and found in most local pastizzerias.
- Kannolli. A slight imitation of the Sicilian cannolli, Malta has adopted it’s freshly filled ricotta or sweet cannolli and transformed it into one of the most popular delights of the Maltese cuisine.
- Qaghaq tal-Ghasel (honey rings). Malta produces some of the best honey in the world. It’s thick, tasty and very healthy. The honey rings, or as they are known locally, Qaghaq tal-Ghasel, are best accompanied with a nice coffee or tea.
- Figolli. Easter in Malta comes with a lot of tradition which includes food and sweets. The figolla (singular) is a flat cake usually in the form of a lamb or rabbit filled with almond filling. It’s covered in different colours and they sometimes put a tiny Easter egg on top. Nowadays they make them in all colours, shapes and sizes.
- Kwarezimal. Ironic to hear about a sweet during lent season. Well, we do have a sweet tooth, even when we’re supposed to be fasting. Kwarezimal is a biscuit with sugar on top, to be put simply. It was introduced by the Knights of Malta when sugar was not considered as something sweet, but rather as a spice.
- Prinjolata. The prinjolata is a traditional item on the Maltese cuisine which basically celebrates sweets during carnival. It comes in the shape of a tiny mountain full of sugar coating, pine nuts, cherries and more.
- Ghadam tal-Mejtin. Literally translated into The Bones of the Dead, Ghadam tal-Mejtin are usually found on sale in the first week of November, when the Christian calendar celebrates the all saints and all spirits day. They have similar fillings as the figolli only this time they have the shape of a bone. Eating a lot of these and you’ll find yourself struggling to locate any of your bones!
- Qaghaq tal-Hmira. Not really related to their lon lost cousin of Qaghaq tal-Ghasel described above, but equally delicious. The Maltese have adopted some of the best pastries to accompany your coffee break and Qaghaq tal-Hmira, are an amazing alternative. They are soft sweet bread with yeast. Pass next to a bakery as they’re just coming out of the oven and you’ll end up buying dozens.
- Biskuttini (Biscuits). Biscuits in Malta are made with a delicious and interesting twist especially when you try the once with almonds sticking out. You’ll have a delightful surprise when you dip it in your coffee.
- Qubbajt. If you head to one of the local village feasts in any village in Malta or Gozo, you’ll find a kiosk selling qubbajt. They are a sugary, sticky sweet sometimes having almonds and cherries into it.
The culinary influence of foreign nationals has also managed to filter through to the drinks which are popularly consumed in Malta.
- Cisk Lager. The tiny island nation of Malta has its own lager and it’s incredibly popular with locals and tourists alike. It is exported to other countries too and the company is still one of the most successful.
- Kinnie. Kinnie is Malta’s national soft drink. It’s a brownish, bittersweet and fuzzy soft drink which has also gained international recognition.
- Tea with honey. A lot of senior citizens in Malta still take a glass of tea with honey before they go to bed. It apparently helps digestions, similar to camomile. The honey in Malta is exceptionally genuine and good. Make sure you taste some.
- Prickly pear liquor. The prickly pear (Bajtar tax-xewk) in Malta is a really popular fruit which grows in abundance on the Maltese islands. Lately, local producers have started to sell liquor made of these prickly pears and it has become really popular.
Where to eat some of the best local dishes
Traditional Maltese restaurants are popping up everywhere and many restaurants would still serve most of the dishes we mentioned above. However, there are restaurants which are specifically set up for traditional Maltese food.
Here’s a few of notice:
- Il-Gazin Vilhena: A traditional Maltese band club with a twist. It offers one of the best ftiras on the island.
- Ta’ Nenu bakery: Some good old traditional food and also Maltese pizza.
- Djar il-Bniet: Set in the beautiful town of Dingli, Djar il-Bniet offers some amazing home-cooked dishes like the bragioli and imqarrun il-forn.
- Crystal Palace: This is the most popular spot in Malta to taste your pastizzi. It’s famous not only for the taste but also because it opens literally 24 hours a day, seven days a week, non-stop.
- United Bar and Restaurant: This restaurant serves some of the best rabbit on the island. It’s in Mgarr, the place synonymous with rabbit eating!
- Maxokk bakery: Maxokk in Nadur serves traditional ftira with a difference. It’s more like an immensely stuffed pizza with potatoes and local gbejna on top. It’s oily but delicious.
The list of restaurants where you can have some good old traditional Maltese food is really endless. Restaurant owners now realise the importance of serving genuine food and because the competition is high, food is getting better and more authentic.