Malta’s cuisine has been strongly influenced by its close proximity to Italy, the British colonial period and British mass tourism. The legacy of traditional English food is unfortunately not one of the island’s strong points. However, it does mean that even in basic hotels a hearty English breakfast is served – and that can never be a bad thing!
Italian (and other) influences
The influence of Italian cooking offers a prospect of greater delights. Apart from the pizza and pasta dishes on menus everywhere, excellent, newly established restaurants serve up fine Italian meals with sophisticated meat, fish and vegetable dishes. In general a clear trend has been noticeable in recent years towards more and more gourmet establishments with prices to match, and towards exotic dining. Atmospheric wine bars are a new feature of the fashionable scene.
If you are so inclined, you can take a culinary trip round the world on Malta with destinations ranging from Greece and Mongolia to Malaysia and Indonesia, India, China and Japan. A number of Arab restaurants have also made their appearance. To add to this, after long years of neglect, the availability of Maltese specialities has greatly improved. This involves a great many variations on soups and casseroles, rabbit recipes and vegetable dishes. The national dish on Malta is fenek – rabbit, usually served in a garlic and red wine sauce. Good restaurants also cook more and more often with genuine Maltese olive oil once again, as the cultivation of olives on the island is enjoying an upturn. The islanders were long dependent on cheap imports from Italy.
Malta has no obvious national drink – but if it came down to it, it would have to be a toss up between Cisk beer and Kinnie. On the island itself the only drinks that are produced are milk, fruit juice, several kinds of liqueur and three sorts of a bitter fizzy drink called Kinnie made from unpeeled oranges, water and vermouth – as well as wine and beer. The latter is made in two breweries: Carlsberg and Farsons (Cisk). Wine from the barrel can be had only in simple village taverns nowadays. The restaurants usually stock bottled wines, as the island’s grape production comes nowhere near to meeting its demand. While it is true that Maltese winemakers have begun to import young vines of various types from France and Italy and plant them on the island, it is still necessary to buy grapes, in Italy as a rule, in order to be able to make enough ‘Maltese’ wine in the island’s cellars.
Eating out tips
The restaurant menu is always available in English. In better-class restaurants the waiter will show you to the table, and sometimes it is customary to wait at the bar or in a lounge to sip an aperitif while choosing from the menu.
You should always book in advance at restaurants, especially at weekends and in the busy summer period to avoid disappointment. Meal times on Malta are not really Mediterranean-style extensive and flexible, but rather restricted in the British tradition. Lunch is generally served from noon until 2 pm, dinner from 7 to 10pm. Anyone who wants to make a more thorough study of the gastronomic scene on Malta should look out for the annually updated guide ‘The Definitive(ly) Good Guide to Restaurants in Malta and Gozo’, which is obtainable from the island bookshops. For the latest information see also: www.restaurantsmalta.com.
Aljotta – fish soup with lots of garlic, herbs and rice
Biskuttini tal-lewz – almond slices
Bragioli – roulade of beef, stuffed with egg, mincemeat and peas
Brugiel mimli – aubergines filled with rice, mincemeat and herbs
Bzar ahdar mimli – bell peppers filled with rice, mincemeat, olives and capers
Gbejniet friski – cream cheese from goat’s and sheep’s milk, usually from a dairy on Gozo
Gbejniet moxxi – the air-dried version of Gozitan cream cheese
Hobz bis-zejt – a thick slice of crusty bread with olive oil and tomato puree, plus capers, olives and garlic
Imqarets – pastry rolls filled with dates, very good with coffee
Kabocci mimlija – a kind of roulade, cabbage stuffed with cheese or mincemeat
Kannoli – a pipe-shaped pastry filled with cream cheese, chocolate, candied cherries and roast almonds
Kappunata – stew made from aubergines, capers, garlic, peppers, tomatoes and courgette, a popular accompaniment to fish
Kusksu – broad beans cooked in a tomato and onion sauce
Minestra – Maltese version of the Italian vegetable soup, served with fresh cheese from sheep’s or goat’s milk
Pastizzi – rolls of puff pastry, stuffed e.g. with cheese, meat of fish – and eaten for breakfast
Qara’bagli – creamy vegetable soup made from small pumpkins
Ravjul – ravioli filled with Maltese ricotta cheese
Ross fil-Forn – cheese-topped rice casserole with mincemeat, eggs and tomatoes
Timpana – casserole of macaroni, mincemeat and béchamel sauce
Buy the Malta Marco Polo Guide.