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Food and Drink

Malta - Food and Drink

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Historically, Malta has been claimed by the Romans, Moors and Brits. They have all left their legacy in the Maltese diet, as have the days of the spice route when Malta was an important trading point. Just 50 miles south of Sicily and 200 miles north of Libya, the island has embraced influences from both Europe and Africa. And as an archipelago in the Mediterranean, the residents of and visitors to Malta, Gozo and Comino have always enjoyed a plentiful supply of fresh fish and seafood. The harbour in Marsaxlokk is still home to brightly painted fishing boats, with many restaurants along the harbour front serving the catch of the day.

Still in living memory are the food rations and difficulties of the war and post-war population, for whom a little food had to go far. Today, however, large plates overflowing with food are the normal signature of hospitality and a good meal.

Fresh baked bread, especially flattened ftira, is widely enjoyed with Maltese tomato paste, which is made from sun-dried tomatoes mixed with a range of herbs. Tuna also makes a good accompaniment, as do vegetables, cheese and pickles. Locally produced olive oil is available in abundance.

The traditional Maltese “tuna ftira” puts together baked bread, tomato paste, tuna, olives, capers and garlic. At home this dish is then served straight away, but most restaurants will toast it first.

Soup (especially fish soup), pasta, risotto and antipasti are widely offered as starters. Dips with bread will also normally be available for social gatherings or dining outside the home.

Many traditional dishes involve pasta. Baked macaroni known as “mqarrun”, lasagna and timpana are frequently enjoyed at home and in restaurants.

Pastizzi is eaten widely across the Maltese population. It is an occasional treat for most of the population, but makes a quick morning meal for workers enjoying a tea or coffee. They are very cheap, just a few Euros for a tub, and very delicious. The little pasties are filled with cheese, often ricotta, and sometimes with peas.

Sweet versions of the pastizzi, containing date paste and fennel seeds, are one of the few traditional Maltese foods which involve deep frying. They are known as “imqaret” and are available at street kiosks.

Little round pieces of the Gozo cheese gbejna, pronounced ‘gbayna’ with a soft ‘g’ (as in giraffe) are usually served together rather than alone. Many restaurants deep fry gbejniet, sometimes with a walnut dressing or something similar, but this is not traditional and would not happen in Maltese homes. Rather, these balls created from sheep’s milk are mixed with pasta dishes or added to widow’s soup “Soppa ta' l-armla”, along with hard boiled eggs, vegetables and seasoning. They can also be grated on the top of pizza.

Rabbit, or “fenek”, is traditionally eaten in stew, and will be offered at many family gatherings. The rabbit is fried in garlic and then stewed in red wine, and may be accompanied by fresh pasta. It is not something younger generations make for their own consumption at home, but is for social eating. It could perhaps be compared to eating turkey in the US or UK, except that it is not associated with only one time of year. Rabbit is offered on restaurant menus as a traditional food to tourists, although many chefs offer a contemporary take on the dish. For example, rabbit slow-cooked in wine and herbs, then served in a bowl with pappardelle pasta ribbons, is a new way to consume a traditional meat.

If you are eating fish in a restaurant, you may be asked to choose a fish from a display and asked how you would like it prepared. Baked in wine or grilled with lemon are popular choices, as is a mixture of tomatoes and locally grown capers.

Lampuka (also known as dolphin fish or “dorado”) migrate past Malta each autumn using a system of palm-frond rafts; once they reach America and grow to their full size they become known as “mahi-mahi”. This is a popular fish for consumption in Malta. As with other fish, they can be simply grilled, or braised with tomatoes, olives and capers. Lampuki pie is another authentic Maltese dish.

Balbuljata is a traditional Maltese dish made from eggs, tomatoes and onion, which is served with crusty bread. It makes a good breakfast dish.

Ftira Tal-Patata is essentially a potato flan. The pastry layer on the bottom is covered in a layer of cheese and breadcrumbs. Then comes a lightly fried mixture of sliced potatoes, bacon, onion, sliced carrots, peas and cheese which is spread across the top. Beaten eggs are poured across the top before the dish is baked in a long low oven for an hour and a half. It can be served out of the oven or later as a cold lunch.

Pudina tal-hobz is a traditional maltese bread pudding. Sugar, mixed peel, cocoa and an orange added to the bread make a sweet pudding. There are many variations to the recipe.

Malta has a long history of honey production and is famed for its specially blended and spicy honey. The abundance of almost 1,000 varieties of wild flowers are visited by the small Maltese honey bee, which will travel up to five miles from its hive to collect pollen.

The climate on Malta allows vineyards to thrive. Indigenous varieties of grape wines include Gellewza and Ghirghentina, whilst international varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah,Grenache, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Carignan, Chenin Blanc and Moscato. Local grapes can also be sold for fresh consumption, and for making grape jam. This goes well with locally made produce such as chicken liver pate.

Lunch is normally served in restaurants from 12pm until just after 2pm, although there are plenty of cafes and hotel bars which will serve lighter dishes throughout the day. Typically restaurants will be busy in the evenings from 7-9pm, though many will be open by 6pm and stay open until about 10.30pm.

Some restaurants will have a higher price for the dishes on their English menus despite them being the same as those served to local residents from the Maltese menu. This reflects the difference in income, but if you learn Maltese as a long term resident it may help your meals out be a little lighter on your wallet.

If you are after a takeaway meal Malta has plenty to offer. The website Time To Eat allows you to order takeaway food online using a debit or credit card.

Since January 2013 it has been illegal to smoke indoors in a public place in Malta. Most bars and restaurants will have an outdoor area or balcony for the use of smokers during their visit to the establishment.

Initially the ban applied to e-cigarettes too but a legal challenge in 2015 overturned this rule. If you wish to vape in an enclosed area, be advised by the people around you so that you do not cause offense.

After a meal you would normally leave a tip for the staff, unless a service charge has been applied. The tip is at your discretion for the service you have received, but is normally 5-10% of the total cost of the meal.

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