Maltese festas are known and loved for their street food stalls, especially their sugary ones. Lyndsey Grima explores some of the top sweet treats that you simply have to try if you’re visiting a festa celebration this summer.
Words by Lyndsey Grima | Extract taken from August's 2023 Il-Bizzilla Magazine
If you’re travelling to Malta during the summer months, there’s nowhere better to get a true sense of the island than by visiting a traditional festa. Held in most towns and villages across Malta and Gozo, these welcoming events are heavily based on traditions that go back to the late 1700s and are well-loved by locals and tourists alike.
This tradition started off as a way of celebrating the patron saint of each village or town. However, even though these festas have religious roots, they involve a celebration that can be enjoyed by anyone, irrespective of their faith. Usually involving a street parade, fireworks, and music, celebrations can last all day and night!
And what’s a Maltese celebration without food?! Street food is often available from temporary market stalls that are set up just for that particular festa. All sorts of fast food is available such as hotdogs, burgers, doughnuts, and fries (to mention a few) but the main attraction is definitely the sweets. What can I say…the Maltese have a very intense sweet tooth, and after you visit a festa and try some (or all!) of these delicious treats, you will not be able to blame us!
Kannolli are a staple at any sweet stall, and they’re proof that we cannot hide our Italian influence. These delicious pastries consist of a crispy, fried pastry shell filled with a creamy ricotta cheese mixture. The ricotta is sometimes flavoured with a hint of vanilla, adding a delightful twist to the traditional kannolli. Topped with powdered sugar, and sometimes drizzled with chocolate chips or candied fruit, each bite brings together the crunch of the shell, the smoothness of the filling, and the sweetness of the toppings. A truly heavenly dessert while you experience a traditional festa.
Qubbajt (Maltese Nougat)
A famous Maltese folklorist once said, "a feast without nougat is not a feast", and we wholeheartedly agree! Made with almonds, sugar, honey, and egg whites and wrapped up in colourful packaging, the qubbajt tal-ħelu has a soft chewy texture, often studded with dried fruits and comes in different flavours. This nutty sweet treat is perfect to munch on while watching the fireworks, ideal to buy an extra packet for the flight home, and a must to take as a souvenir with you for your loved ones!
It’s never a traditional Maltese food list without imqaret! These delectable treats are made by encasing a sweet date filling within a crisp, golden-brown pastry. The filling is normally a mixture of dates, sugar, and warm spices like nutmeg and cinnamon. The imqaret are then fried until they have just the right tempting crunch on the outside while still maintaining their soft filling. While imqaret are thoroughly enjoyed during a Maltese festa, they’re also delightful with a cup of tea or coffee!
Translating to ‘Turkish sweet’ in English, this traditional sweet treat is a dense, sticky, and fragrant nougat (yes, we love our nougat!) made from ground almonds, sugar, honey, and a touch of rosewater. The mixture is carefully cooked until it reaches a chewy and firm consistency. Having a distinct almond flavour and delicate floral notes, ħelwa tat-tork offers an exquisite combination of textures and taste.
What can we say… you’re either going to love karamelli or hate them, but they’re definitely worth a taste! These bite-sized treats, also known as carob sweets, are made by boiling sugar and water until it reaches the desired caramelisation into a rich and golden syrup. This syrup is then poured into small cylinder shapes and left to cool and harden. The result? A hard candy with a sweet and caramelised flavour that lingers for hours on end!
A Maltese festa is a celebration of culture, tradition, and as you can tell… culinary delights that will surely make for a memorable experience. So, if you stumble upon a festa while you’re in Malta, be sure to taste these traditional sweets to get those good vibes going!