Maltese cuisine reflects its history and numerous culinary influences. This little island nation, located between Sicily and North Africa along important trade routes in the Mediterranean Sea, has hosted many traders and invaders. Each of them left a lasting impact on its cuisine.
Traditional Maltese cuisine draws heavily on Italian, Spanish, French, British, Arabic, and other Mediterranean influences. Sicily brought Italian-Arab influences, while the Knights of St. John’s 200-year presence brought products and cooking skills from France, Italy, and Spain.
Interestingly, the Knights also brought different edibles from the New World, the most notable being chocolate. Malta is considered one of Europe’s first countries to eat chocolate (after Spain). However, drinking hot chocolate was also once reserved for the upper society.
Malta has been growing olive trees for over 5,000 years and producing some of the world’s greatest olive oil. Tomatoes, oranges, and honey are among the other essential products. Maltese blood oranges are a significant element in the French “Sauce Maltaise.” Many believe Maltese wild thyme honey to be the best in the Mediterranean.
Best Maltese Food
Pastizzi, a savory flaky pastry generally loaded with ricotta cheese or mushy peas, is the perfect way to kick off this Maltese food guide. It’s a Maltese national cuisine that may be found in pastizzi businesses, cafes, taverns, and restaurants throughout the country.
You can find it in New York, Melbourne, and even Tokyo. The product was previously only available at home but has been produced commercially since the 1960s. Takeaway stores are typically modest and might be located near churches.
This Maltese street meal is usually diamond or round in shape. The flaky crust is achieved by stretching and rolling a phyllo-like pastry with layers of butter.
Pastizzi is so prevalent in Malta that it appears in various idioms and expressions. It can be used to describe the female sexual organ or as a metaphor for a softie. The Maltese expression” jinbiegu ball-pastizzi” is the Maltese counterpart of the English phrase “selling like hot cakes,” which refers to something in high demand.
It is critical not to confuse Maltese pastizzi with the Italian baked turnover of the same name, which is more like a calzone.
Maltese bread is one of the foods that Maltese people living abroad miss when they think of home. Traditionally prepared with a hard and crunchy crust on the exterior and soft and fluffy white bread on the inside, this bread tastes nothing like a regular loaf of sliced white bread from the supermarket.
This large (or smaller – it comes in various sizes) round loaf of bread is usually purchased whole or sliced, and it is sometimes the star carbohydrate of a dish and other times the mop that helps you reach the last bits of that thick, delicious Maltese stew you can’t get enough of. It is provided with most dishes that allow for “mopping” at the dining table and is frequently served to accompany your meal in local restaurants.
Those who eat bread locally most often consume it in the form of Ħobż biż-żejt, which is the most common method of offering it as Maltese food.
A great summer snack is sliced Maltese bread with extra virgin olive oil, tomato paste, and a touch of salt and pepper, typically dressed up with delicacies like tuna and capers.
However, Ħobż tal-Malti is not the only variety of Maltese bread that is commonly served. Like a regular loaf of Maltese bread, the ftira is a flat-baked, portion-sized bread (though larger variants are also available).
There are several local ingredients used in this popular Maltese lunch choice, and it is customized based on your preferences.
Ċisk is the most popular (locally brewed) beer, a simple, light drink well-liked by foreign beer enthusiasts. Although it is not the smoothest of beers, it has a mild flavor and is particularly pleasant on a hot day.
Although numerous foreign brands are available on the island, most visitors prefer to drink the local brew. Aside from the classic, there are low-carb (Cisk Excel), fruity flavored (Chill Lemon and Chill Berry), and a few more options. Different ales are also produced by the same company (Farsons).
Rabbit is one of the most popular dishes in Malta; however, horse meat is very frequent in villages. On Sundays, rabbit is most commonly/traditionally eaten.
There is no standard method of preparing rabbits, although it is often marinated in red wine. It was traditional to prepare rabbit dishes underground by burying them. This is a true representation of Maltese food.
Aljotta is a type of fish soup that is a popular Maltese food. It’s a lemony, garlicky soup that’s particularly popular during Lent when meat is outlawed.
In addition to mint, lemon, and rice, this delicious Maltese fish soup is inspired by French bouillabaisse. The best way to get the most flavor out of small fish (like rockfish) is to cook them whole, including their head, tail, and fins.
Garlic, fried onions, tomatoes, mint, bay leaves, and rice are combined with the fish before being served with parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice. When prepared correctly, aljotta is one of the most delectable soups in Maltese food.
Bigilla is a traditional Maltese food made primarily of mashed tic beans. It’s a sort of bean similar to broad beans but smaller, darker, and with a harder skin. It’s known locally as ful ta’ irba.
The recipe for bigilla varies, but it usually includes tic beans, olive oil, garlic, herbs, and seasonings. Other seasonings, including chile, capers, and lemon juice, can be added at the cook’s discretion.
Before cooking, the beans are normally soaked in water for at least 24 hours. Then, Bigilla is typically served as a dip or spread with bread or Maltese crackers like Galletti.
If you prefer baked pasta dishes, you’ll love imqarrun il-forn. It’s a renowned staple with roots in Italian cuisine, like many Maltese dishes.
Imqarrun il-forn is a Maltese baked pasta dish made with tubular pasta such as penne or rigatoni. The pasta is coated in a thick meat-and-tomato-based sauce seasoned with garlic, cumin, paprika, oregano, bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, and curry. Typically, eggs are added to the mixture to enhance the richness.
Every Maltese household serves Imqarrun il-forn for lunch or dinner. First, the dish is roasted in the oven until it gets a lovely, crunchy crust on top.
Stuffat tal-Fenek (Maltese Rabbit Stew)
Fenkata is a traditional Maltese communal dinner made up of variously prepared rabbits. Popular Maltese rabbit meals include fenek moqli (fried rabbit with garlic) and spaghetti tal-fenek (spaghetti with rabbit sauce). Still, Stuffat tal-fenek, or rabbit stew, has to be the most exquisite.
Rabbit has a lengthy history in Malta, dating back to the mid-16th century Knights of St. John. Because of its low cost and ease of access, the rabbit was the protein of choice for lower-income families.
Fenkata isn’t as common as it once was, but it still has a particular position in Maltese cuisine and culture. Rabbit stew and other fenkata foods are typically kept for special occasions and family gatherings to commemorate significant life events.
Bragioli is the name given to a sort of Maltese beef roll. It’s comprised of flattened beef steak wrapped around a filling of bacon, ground beef, hard-boiled egg, breadcrumbs, herbs, and seasonings.
The toothpick-held beef buns are cooked in red wine before being served with mashed potatoes and peas.
Interestingly, bragioli is also known as “beef olives,” even though it contains no olives. Instead, it gets its name from the fact that it is believed to resemble stuffed olives when cooked.
Who doesn’t enjoy a tasty sausage? Zalzett tal-Malti is a Maltese sausage that is created with fatty minced pork, garlic, herbs, pepper, and sea salt. Because it is garlicky and salty, it is frequently boiled before being fried.
It’s one of three foods locals miss the most when they go away, the others being ftira and gbejniet (Maltese goat cheese).
Platt malti is a collection of little Maltese dishes or appetizers, not a single dish. Consider it Malta’s equivalent of Spanish tapas, Italian antipasto, or Turkish meze.
Platt malti, which translates as “Maltese plate,” is available at Maltese restaurants at any time of day. It is normally served as an appetizer, but larger dishes can serve as the main course.
Platt malti is commonly composed of zalzett tal-malti, gbejniet, sun-dried tomatoes, and bigilla coupled with Galletti.
Platt malti, like tapas or pintxos, is more than just a plate of food. It’s a social gathering and an essential aspect of Maltese culture and food.
Sicilian cuisine, as previously said, has had a considerable influence on Maltese cuisine. Kannoli tal-irkotta is one of the better examples of this.
It’s a Maltese take on the cannolo, a classic Italian delicacy created of fried pastry shells filled with a sweet and creamy ricotta filling.
Kannoli is a highly consumed and popular dessert in Malta. Unfortunately, it’s one of those disputed recipes where everyone claims to know who makes the best.
Malta is mostly a Catholic country. Therefore, some of its traditional recipes are related to the Catholic liturgical calendar and are only prepared during specific year periods. One of these dishes is kwareżimal.
Kwareżimal is a typical Lenten Maltese biscuit. It gets its name from the Italian word Quaresima, which means “lent.” It is normally made using flour, almonds, orange zest, cocoa powder, spices, and sugar, with no eggs or dairy products.
Catholics who abstain from sugar for Lent may question why it is used in a classic Lenten dish like kwareżimal.
This is because the kwareżimal recipe was created during a time when sugar was still seen as a spice. So it wasn’t something people had to give up for Lent back then.
Qagħaq ta’ l-Għasel
Christmas is a joyous occasion in and of itself, but when you have delectable Christmas biscuits like qagħaq ta’ l-għasel to look forward to in Malta, it becomes much more so.
Qagħaq ta’ l-għasel is a classic Maltese pastry made with treacle as the primary component. Before being rolled into rings and cooked, the pastries are filled with black treacle, orange zest, semolina, spices, chocolate, and sugar.
Qagħaq ta’ l-għasel literally translates to “honey ring,” though modern pastry versions are rarely made with honey.
Though initially a Christmas pastry in Malta, qagħaq ta’ l-għasel can now be enjoyed throughout the year, frequently with coffee, tea, or even a glass of wine after dinner.
Panettone, like kannoli, is an excellent illustration of the Italian culinary impact on Maltese food. Panettone, a sort of Milanese Christmas sweet bread, has become a Christmas tradition in many areas of the world, including Malta.
Panettone is distinguished by its substantial bulk and towering dome-like shape. It’s made with a sourdough-like acidic cured dough and stuffed with dried fruits, raisins, and candied citrus peels.
Panettone is sometimes served with hot beverages or sweet wines in vertically sliced wedges. However, as popular as panettone has grown as a Christmas tradition in Malta, it appears to have its opponents.
Final Thoughts About Maltese Food
Even though Malta is an island country, the ingredients used in Maltese cuisine are not limited. There are several dishes produced from milk, meats, and shellfish. As a result, you will have various food options if you visit this country.
Because of the country’s geographical location, Maltese people have access to various foodstuffs. When you taste Maltese food, you will be amazed to discover that each one has its own distinct flavor, which is both wonderfully tasty and strangely intriguing.
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Travel writer and owner of the blog. My work has been featured on Fodors, Eater.com, International Living, and Great Escape Publishing, among many others. My story? Nearly six years ago, I left my job at an Oklahoma City law firm and embarked on a journey around the world. At the time, I thought I would only be gone for 6 months, but the more I traveled, the longer my bucket list became. Flashpacker describes how I travel. Rather than traveling as the normal world wise backpacker and staying in hostel dorms, I prefer a more comfortable experience, and typically stay in private rooms, take Ubers instead of taxis, and now use a suitcase instead of a backpack. Foodie, on the other hand, describes one of the key reasons why I travel. I love to pick a central “base camp” and then explore the surrounding area, really immersing myself in the culture and interacting with the people, and enjoying and exploring the food of an area is an essential part of this experience.