If you’re looking to sample Malta’s traditional meals, Malta’s customary approach to food has seen travellers come back for more.
There’s no shortage of eateries in Malta, but the discerning visitors will want to seek out those places serving more traditional fare. It’s part of the immersive experience that most die-hard travellers seek.
This is the food that most will easily associate with Malta. In fact, much of it is still eaten in Maltese households quite regularly. Most dishes are rather frugal, a reflection of harder times gone by. But the Maltese cook’s ability to coax flavour out of the most ordinary of meat cuts is legendary. This, combined with the use of the freshest ingredients imaginable makes for a much-coveted cuisine. Here are some dishes to look out for:
- Stuffat: Literally, stew. Maltese stews are rich and almost always tomato-based. For meat stews, the most popular is pork, using the much relished local variety. But for a change, try the Octopus Stew (Stuffat tal Qarnit) – it’s a rich and hearty concoction where the octopus flavours stewed vegetables, like potatoes and fennel.
- Torti: Maltese pies are available at most restaurants and snack bars. Modern varieties include all kinds of fillings, but the most traditional pie is filled with a mixture of ricotta, eggs, and parsley. It’s sometimes enriched with pieces of Maltese bacon, peas, or our celebrated broad beans (only available in spring).
- Timpana: Unlike any dish you’ve ever tasted, timpana is macaroni and meat sauce wrapped in a pastry shell. It sounds heavy, but few who have tasted this dish are not immediately addicted. Every household has its own secret additions to the standard recipe, including liver, calf-brains, fried eggplant, béchamel, or hard-boiled eggs.
- Fenek: Rabbit has been eaten on the Maltese islands for centuries. If you’re ordering this dish at a restaurant, make sure that local rabbit is being used – its taste is far richer and more succulent than imported varieties. The locals serve rabbit both fried and stewed, but either way, garlic is used in colossal proportions – this is not the stuff to order on a first date. The rabbit is traditionally served with roasted or fried potatoes (chips) and a light salad.
- Ravjul: Maltese ravioli are similar to their Italian counterparts. The difference lies in the use of the typical Gozitan ġbejna (sheep or goat’s cheeselets). The accompanying tomato sauce is made with a local variety of plum tomatoes known as zenguli, again, with plenty of fresh, pungent, local garlic.
- Other local dishes abound, including Hobz biz-zejt – bread with oil and rubbed beefsteak tomatoes. Ross fil-forn is a baked rice dish with a meat sauce. Pastizzi are devilishly good filled pastries. Soups such as minestra and soppa tal-armla (widow’s soup) are mainly vegetable-based with the latter including cheeselets and ricotta.
- For sweets, ricotta is often used. Try the Kannoli – like their Sicilian counterpart, these are deep-fried pastry shells stuffed with ricotta and candied peel. Qagħaq tal-għasel is a pastry ring stuffed with a treacle mixture. Prinjolata is a carnival cake made of iced sponge and candied fruit. And Figolli is an Easter treat in the form of almond pastry filled with marzipan and decorated with icing.
The Lesser Known
The more adventurous the traveller, the harder it is to quell his or her craving for truly unique dining experiences. It’s the odd dishes, the lesser known ones that appeal to this type of traveller most of all. If this is what gets your taste buds going, try some of these dishes:
- Sfineg – these deep-fried dough balls are stuffed with a small amount of anchovies or dried cod. They’re delicious and cheap, which is good, because you can’t just have one (or two).
- Kirxa – tripe in Malta is normally served as a stew with vegetables, not unlike the famous trippa fiorentina.
- Bebbux – like their French counterpart, snails in the Maltese style are served in a garlic-rich sauce. Make sure you have plenty of Maltese bread to soak up the sauce.
- Laħam taz-ziemel – horse meat is recently gaining popularity once again. It has a rich flavour and, in the right hands, is as tender as any other cut of meat.
- Bakkaljaw – dried salt-cod is popular all over the Mediterranean, although dwindling cod stocks are making it harder to find. The Maltese have a number of preparations for salt-cod, including a stew, fricassee, and in sfineg (see above).
- Fritturi tal-moħħ – calf or lamb brain fritters. For those with the stomach for it, brain fritters are a culinary revelation – rich, creamy with an almost dairy-like taste. The Maltese preparation includes eggs, garlic, and parsley. Only for true gastronomes (and zombies).