If you’ve never tried the food of Malta before then you don’t know what you’re missing! This tiny island in the Mediterranean is a treasure-trove of culinary treats, both sweet and savoury.
Where Does Malta’s Cuisine Come From?
Maltese cuisine is influenced by the Arabs, Italians, French and Spanish, giving rise to a variety of flavours and taking advantage of fresh home grown produce. The soil in Malta is suited to vegetables like pumpkins (which can be seen lined up on the rooftops of houses in the summer.)
Other vegetables that grow abundantly are artichokes, cauliflower, marrow, leeks, white onions and spinach. Tomatoes are sweet, ripe and plentiful.
Malta also has an abundance of home grown fresh fruit; peaches, all kinds of melon, plums, figs, pears, apricots, cherries, grapes, and prickly pears (known as bajtar tax-xewk.) These can be found growing all over the Maltese islands, the fruit of a type of broad-leafed cactus. If you try to pick some, be careful – they are covered in needles. But when you manage to get the skin off, the fruit inside is juicy and has the sweet aroma of a melon.
Fruit and vegetables are often sold on street corners, usually in a van but sometimes from a horse-drawn cart with the horse dozing under a shady tree!
Malta is surrounded by the Mediterranean. Fishing is a huge industry on the island. One of the most popular fish is Lampuki, which has a dense and almost meaty texture. This is similar to Swordfish, which is served fried as a thick steak. Lampuki is often made into a pie, Torta tal-Lampuki, with vegetables cooked in wine. This is worth trying; the flavour is amazing. It can also be pan-fried and served with a simple tomato sauce. Other fish you might want to try are Cerna (Grouper) Haznir (Stone Bass) Rabbit Fish (Fenek) and many others. Fish that you eat in a restaurant in Malta will probably be the freshest fish you’ve ever tasted.
The National Dish of Malta
But perhaps the most popular dish in Malta is rabbit stew or Stuffat tal-Fenek. This has been named the national dish of Malta. My nan used to cook it for my dad when we were over there on our annual holidays. The rabbit was slow-cooked for tenderness, then simmered in wine, vegetables and a sweet tomato paste called Kunserva, made from sundried tomatoes, herbs, and sugar. I must admit, I don’t like to eat rabbit, but this stew was very good. My nan used to save some of the stew and then serve it the next day on spaghetti for lunch. That was even better.
A Picnic on the Beach
When we went to the beach for the day, we would take my nan and a few cousins with us and spend the time swimming in the clear, warm sea. Lunch would be Hobz biz-Zejt (Maltese crusty bread with olive oil and tomatoes) cold meats, Maltese cheeses called Gbejniet, ripe tomatoes, slices of watermelon and honeydew melon and fresh peaches. So simple, and yet so good. I have never tasted fruit like it; the melon was so juicy it was almost like a drink.
Our Family’s Favourites
Whilst driving around Malta, we would often come across Pastizerria – little shops that sold another Maltese speciality, Pastizzi. These were diamond-shaped pasties, made from a type of filo pastry and filled with either ricotta cheese or spiced peas. I liked both. They were surprisingly filling, so if I ate 2 of them I wouldn’t need to eat anything else for hours. But they were so good, none of us could resist them.
My dad and my brother both enjoyed octopus. My nan would make it into a hearty stew called Stuffat tal-quarnit, served with fresh crusty bread to dip into the broth. I tried octopus but didn’t like it. The texture was very odd. But my dad and brother used to ask for seconds. My mum just point-blank refused to try it.
Sometimes, my aunt Nina would make us Bragioli, or stuffed beef olives, for a special treat. Despite the English translation, there weren’t any olives in them. They were made from a large piece of beef, usually skirt steak, beaten until very thin, then stuffed with a mixture of corned beef, herbs, garlic and egg, before being rolled up and secured with cocktail sticks or twine. The Bragioli were then cooked in a rich, red wine based gravy and served with pasta or potatoes.
They would cook for hours, but the smell would make our mouths water long before they were done. We would be more than ready for them by the time Nina called out “Il-pranzu lest!” (dinner is ready.)
Maltese Sweet Treats
My mum had a very sweet tooth, she loved Maltese cakes and pastries. When we were travelling back to our apartment, she would often see a street vendor frying squares of pastry filled with dates and spices. Telling my dad to stop the car, she would jump out, rush over and buy a bag full of them. And eat them all to herself. I can still close my eyes and remember the smell of them cooking. In Maltese, they are known as Imqaret or date cakes.
Mum’s other obsession was a sugary sweet called Halva, made from tahini paste, nuts and sugar. This wasn’t originally from Malta; it’s a Persian sweet. But this was where my mum first tried it and became hooked on its crumbly, melt-in-the-mouth texture. She would buy blocks of it to take home, as it wasn’t available in England at the time.
The Maltese enjoy eating pasta, often as a starter rather than the main meal. Sauces are mostly tomato and vegetable based, but there are fish and meat sauces too. Octopus features in one dish, the sauce is served ladled over bucatini pasta and topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Timpana is a dish of baked macaroni with a meat sauce, covered with puff pastry. I still make this at home, my dad used to cook this dish all the time and it reminds me of him.
My other favourite Maltese pasta dish is ravioli, or ravjul. Pasta parcels filled with ricotta cheese and served topped with fresh tomato sauce. I could eat it every day.
So if you’ve never tried Maltese cuisine before, give it a go. The dishes are a treat for the taste buds, and taste like the Maltese sunshine!
If you love the food of the Mediterranean see this post on easy Italian food recipes.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed finding out about Maltese food. If you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.
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7 thoughts on “The Food of Malta”
Thank you very much for this valuable and detailed post about malta food. Honestly, I have never eaten these malta foods. But seeing your post made me want to eat them. Especially for malta pasta and maltese sweet treats. I will definitely try it. Keep posting like this. I will definitely share this.
Thanks Pasindu, I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Maltese food isn’t widely available, you have to either go to Malta or make it at home. I will add some recipes to the post at a later date
Wow! I loved reading your article about the food of Malta. What a fabulous mix of flavors with the influences of Arabian, French, Italian and French cooking. I must admit to being a bit of a sweet tooth myself, so can well understand your mother’s jumping out of the car to purchase sweet treats. My mouth was watering with your descriptions of the food of Malta. Thank you for sharing this deliciously enticing article. Jenni.
Hi Jenni, thank you so much for your positive comments. I’m glad you enjoyed the article! Malta is one of my favourite places, and even though I haven’t been there for a while, the happy memories of our family holidays will stay with me always. My mum could never resist those date squares. She would buy a bag of 6, wait impatiently for them to cool down a bit, then eat them all! I wish Maltese food was available here in England. I am going to add some recipes to the post at a later date, so pop back soon. I’ve also recently published a post on yummy desserts, the pictures on there will give you an intense sugar craving! Have a look and let me know what you think
What an amazing virtual culinary journey to Malta! The Pastizzi sounds especially intriguing. Thanks for sharing this delicious part of Malta culture.
Hi Beth, I’m glad that you enjoyed the post! Maltese cuisine is not widely known, I wanted to raise awareness of just how amazing Maltese food is. Pastizzi were one of my favourite snacks. Best hot but they were pretty good cold too! I will be posting some recipes at a later date so pop back and see what’s new
This Maltese cuisine looks great and seems generally healthier than traditional Italian cuisine!