Before I traveled to Malta I didn’t know anything about the country’s cuisine other than it has influences from their neighbor, Italy. I expected to find a lot of Italian restaurants, which I did, but that was just a small part of this amazing culinary journey I took on this small Mediterranean island.
You could say that Pastizzi are Malta’s national snack. You will find them everywhere and they usually cost around 50p each. They are great for a snack on the go or a quick lunch. Pastizzi are traditional savory pastry filled with either ricotta or mushy peas and are usually warm because they are baked all day long due to their popularity. The pastry used in making Pastizzi is similar with the Greek phyllo pastry and depending on their filling, they are fold differently.
One of the best places to have Pastizzi in Malta is the Crystal Palace, in Rabat. Don’t let its appearance put you off, they are told to be the best Pastizzi on the island. The place is very authentic, small and scruffy, with lots of men sitting at the 3 tables squeezed inside, drinking beer and playing cards. Just go to the front and ask for their famous Pastizzi.
Ftira (hobz biz-zejt)
There are two types of ftira in Malta, depending where are you having it: on the main island or in Gozo. I had the Maltese ftira for dinner during my first evening in Malta. It was supposed to be just a snack but it was so large that I regretfully had to leave some on the plate as I couldn’t eat it anymore.
You could say that ftira is a tuna sandwich when you first see it. But it is so much more than this! Inside the crusty fresh baked bread (similar with a ciabatta) you will find an amalgam of tasty Mediterranean flavours. Firstly, the round shaped bread is coated with olive oil on the inside, and then rubbed with ripe tomatoes. Then the bread is seasoned with salt and pepper and the toppings are added: tuna, capers, pickled onions, olives.
I had the tuna ftira at the Fontanella Tea Garden, a beautiful terrace situated on the walls of Mdina, overlooking the entire East of the island. As I mentioned before, the portion was huge and the cakes looked delicious also.
Ftira (Għawdxija tal-ġbejna)
The Gozitan ftira is very different from the one you find on the main island, as I said before. The only thing they have in common is the bread dough. The ftira from Gozo is closer to the Italian pizza by looks but has a unique taste. While the base is made out of bread dough, the filling is local cheese (fresh sheep or goat cheese and peppered mature cheese) and thin slices of potato. If you are a fan of cheese, like me, you will love the Gozitan ftira.
The fresh Maltese cheese, Ġbejna, has a milky flavour and it’s similar to mozzarella as texture, but with a salty taste. The peppered cheese is the same Ġbejna but cured and covered in crushed black pepper, making it crumbly and fairly spicy. Having both of them combined in a ftira is simply a treat for your taste buds.
The Gozitan Platter
You can’t leave Malta without trying a selection of the country’s best Mediterranean selection, found on a Gozitan platter. This is the best thing to order if you want to share an appetiser with your friends. The Maltese platter is similar, but I have only tried it in Gozo, so this is what I am going to talk about this one only.
Firstly, a meal in Malta will start with Ħobż biż-żejt, slices of bread topped with olive oil, tomato paste and salt and pepper. Then the typical platter from Gozo follows: gbejniet tal-bzar (peppered mature cheese), fresh sheep’s cheese, galletti crackers, bigilla dip (broad beans, garlic and parsley), sundries tomatoes, olives, capers and fresh tomatoes. Alongside there will be fresh baked bread with 3 dips: tomato paste, beans with parsley and a vegetable mix. I experienced this wonderful traditional meal in the unique Gozo tour run by Karlito’s Way.
For some strange reason, as I haven’t seen any running wild on the island, rabbit it is considered to be the national dish of Malta. You can have it in a stew or friend in garlic or wine. As it’s a special dish, you will usually find it priced higher than the other items on a restaurant’s menu.
During my stay in Malta I have tried the garlic fried rabbit. I was surprised to receive about half of an entire rabbit on my plate, including its organs and a lot of bones, which made it a bit difficult to eat without making a mess. The taste of the dish was very rich and flavorsome but the size of the portion made it impossible for me to finish it. It was served with fries and a glass of Cisk, the local beer.
I had the rabbit at Luciano’s Restaurant in Valletta, the capital of Malta. The place was nice but the service very chaotic and I don’t know if I would chose it again for dinner.
Besides the traditional food, Malta’s restaurant scene is very diverse and full of character. The chefs are creating new exciting dishes with the best local ingredients found on the island. It isn’t hard to find a good place to eat, with a wonderful view to admire.
I had the pleasure to dine at the Oceana Restaurant, at the Hilton and I was impressed with the high quality of the meal and the chef’s vision over the dishes. The beef was cooked exactly to my liking and the dessert was a delight for both my taste buds and my eyes.
I am not a fan of dates but I really liked the imqaret, a diamond shaped deep fried pastry filled with dates. The imqaret is a very popular sweet in Malta and you can find it everywhere for a price of around 30 cents per piece. However, most of the times the diamond shape is replaced with a rectangular one. Each imqaret is made individually by hand and is filled with a generous quantity of date paste, before being deep fried and infused with bay leaves and aniseed.
I had the imqaret hot, with halva flavored ice cream and the combination was delicious. Halva is a sweet made out of crushed almonds, sugar or honey.
Which Maltese traditional food would you like to try and why?