If you are ever lucky enough to travel in beautiful Malta, these are some of the most popular Maltese foods you have to try!
Malta may be a tiny island nation, but what it lacks in demographics, it compensates for by its unique heritage, rich culture, history, and ruggedly beautiful landscape. Maltese people approach their meals (and most food in general) with great passion and enthusiasm, so it hardly surprising to note that food contributes greatly to the island’s identity.
Whatever the occasion, happy or sad, huge portions of calorie-laden dishes, usually accompanied by equally huge amounts of wine or beer, are the highlight of any event.
Traditional Maltese food ranges from Mediterranean-style fare featuring fish, vegetables and olive oil to heavy pastries and hearty pasta dishes.
Here are 7 Maltese foods you’ve got to try when you visit
1. Pastizzi (Pea or Cheese Pastries)
Diamond-shaped pockets of heartburn-inducing flaky pastry, stuffed with either ricotta cheese or mashed peas, pastizzi are everyone’s favorite snack usually eaten straight out of a greasy paper bag whilst still warm.
The savory pastries are available from little shops found in every Maltese village and are the island’s best-known hangover cure. A nightmare for local nutritionists, pastizzi are irresistible even to staunch health freaks and, surprisingly, have also featured in a recent political row while the country is holding the EU presidency!
Pastizzi, flaky pastries filled with either cheese or peas
2. Ftira biz-zejt u t-tadam (Maltese bread with olive oil and tomatoes)
Move over Subway! This Maltese ‘sandwich’ is particularly popular during the hot summer months. Round, unleavened Maltese bread known as “ftira” is rubbed with fresh tomatoes (or tomato paste), olive oil and stuffed with a mixture of olives, onions, sun-dried tomatoes and capers.
Sometimes canned tuna or gbejniet (goats-milk cheeselets), and bigilla (a traditional paste made from mashed beans) are added too.
We’ve also even eaten variants of the traditional ftira which included hard boiled eggs or raw ‘zalzett Malti’ (Maltese sausage). Totally worth any potential health risk!
Ftira biz-zejt u t-tadam, the local sandwich
3. Hut tal-istagun (Fresh Seasonal Fish)
Although we will probably get our fair share of fish throughout our travels in Asia, nothing really beats a lampuki pie, a shortcrust pastry pie stuffed with Lampuki (dorado fish), olives and vegetables.
Lampuki are a local favourite and they join a list of other seasonal fish which, apart from being cooked in a pie, may also be served grilled with olive oil and lemon. The safest bet to check the best catch for any particular season, is by visiting the Marsaxlokk fish market.
Even if you don’t plan on buying any fish, it is still worth going to Marsaxlokk early in the morning to watch the fishermen in their ‘Luzzu’, a brightly coloured fishing boat, return to land with their catch, which is promptly sold from stalls right at the water’s edge.
Marsaxlokk village is full of fish restaurants usually owned by the the fishermen’s families, ensuring that your lunch is the freshest and best quality available.
The Luzzu, a traditional Maltese fishing boat
4. Bebbux Bl-Arjoli (Stewed Snails)
Yes we eat snails, and no they are nothing like French escargots. The Maltese variety are somewhat smaller in size and are cooked in a spicy tomato stew, traditionally served with a garlicky mixture called “arjoli”.
This dish is usually presented as an appetiser in the more traditional type of restaurants, and in the local village clubs alongside cheap whiskey and beer. One of Michelle’s favourite food items!
Bebbux, Maltese snails served as an appetiser
5. Timpana (Baked Macaroni Pie)
Every Maltese family claims to hold the perfect recipe for the best timpana, passed on from past generations, and we’ve never tasted one we didn’t quite like! Cooked macaroni are tossed in a rich tomato sauce containing minced meat, bacon and very often, chopped liver.
Eggs and sometimes cheese are then added, and the heart-stopping mixture is enclosed in pastry and baked in an oven. The result is literally a delicious, flaky macaroni pie often served as a starter prior to a meat dish. Not great for the hips but a firm favourite in every household!
6. Stuffat tal-Fenek (Stewed Rabbit)
The king of Maltese Sunday lunches, rabbit is possibly the island’s most revered dish.
Whilst the better tasting rabbit dishes are always served by somebody’s great-aunt, they can also be found at some “local-style” restaurants (commonly associated with the rural villages of Bahrija and Mgarr) which usually have a menu limited to rabbit, horse and quail dishes.
Rabbit is traditionally cooked in a stew, or in garlic and wine and served with roast or fried potatoes. Our favourite part of a fenkata (rabbit meal), though, is the hearty spaghetti with rabbit sauce served right before the main dish.
A dish of homemade stewed rabbit
7. Imqaret (Fried Date Pastries)
Introduced to Malta by the Arabs who conquered the island almost a thousand years ago, these diamond or rectangular-shaped sweet pastries are stuffed with a mixture of dates, spices and citrus and then deep fried.
They’re great to eat whilst on the go, or alternatively can be served drizzled with honey, accompanied by a scoop of ice-cream. Whatever your preference, the pastries are highly addictive and just one is never enough!
If you’re ever in Malta, and you wish to immerse yourself in the local food scene, be sure to put these Maltese foods on your foodie bucket list. There’s nothing like traditional food to guarantee a true taste of the island!