The national cuisine of Malta is a mixture of the traditions of the local population with the gastronomic customs of the Spanish and Arab conquerors. It is characterized by complex, sophisticated dishes made from several ingredients of plant and animal origin. The use of gentle cooking methods and the balanced composition of the products make the kitchen tasty and healthy.
Features of Maltese cuisine
The Maltese cuisine is characterized by the following features:
- wide use of olives, capers;
- a large number of fish and seafood dishes;
- the use of rabbit meat instead of traditional beef, chicken;
- the use of sauces both for serving and in cooking;
- love for garlic, marjoram and other aromatic spices, a combination of Mediterranean and oriental spices;
- an abundance of vegetable dishes, stewed or baked according to the tradition;
- using local cheeses: jbeins, ricotta;
- a large amount of fresh baked goods;
- high-calorie Arabian sweets.
Maltese cuisine combines the traditions of different nations, while remaining distinctive and preserving the national flavor.
The combination of simple ingredients and exoticism sets it apart from the rest.
Development and influence of other countries on local cuisine
Due to its geographical position, Malta, located in the center of many trade and sea routes, has attracted conquerors since ancient times. Therefore, in the cuisine of this country, you can feel the influence of many peoples who once lived here. In the first place among them are the Italians: from them the Maltese took over the love of pasta, pizza, filled pies, soft cheeses and good wine. The second position is occupied by the Arabs and other Eastern peoples.
Cooking methods in Malta
Most of the dishes in Malta are prepared by stewing with herbs and spices. Baking is used, especially in the preparation of desserts. Frying is also widespread, in ancient times – on stones, later – on a grill or frying pan. Deep fat is used to prepare desserts. There are few soups and other liquid dishes in the kitchen of the Maltese; they are eaten mainly in the cold season.
National dishes of Malta by category
The national cuisine of Malta is rich in snacks, pastries, and vegetable dishes. This is facilitated by the country’s climate, warm and mild.
There are many desserts in the diet of the local population, borrowed mainly from Arab cuisine.
Appetizers and salads
Among the appetizers in Malta, you can find various sandwiches, salads, legumes. The country’s appetisers are strongly influenced by both Arabic and Italian cuisine. Common appetisers:
- Hobz Biz Zeit is a traditional Maltese sandwich. It is based on hobza – homemade bread baked in a wood-burning oven according to an ancient recipe. It is soaked in olive oil and stuffed with ground tomatoes combined with finely chopped olives, capers and tuna. Various herbs and spices are sometimes added to the spread, most often mint, basil or garlic.
- Fitra is a soft, savory bun with a hole inside. The top is cut off from it, after which the cavity is filled with a filling: according to tradition, tomatoes, cheese, eggs, eggplants, ham or vegetable salads are used. The bun is then covered with a lid and eaten hot or cold.
- Fazola baida bit-teun y torsin is a salad based on legumes. Consists of white beans and garlic with a vinegar dressing.
- Full Beat Teun is a dish borrowed from Arabic cuisine. Consists of beans seasoned with olive oil, garlic and lemon juice.
- Antipasto is a local variation of the Italian snack of the same name. is a plate serving a platter of stuffed olives, capers, sun-dried tomatoes. Traditional local appetizers are added to them: jbein cheese, galllets, sandwiches. The set includes sauces and fresh herbs.
- Bigilla is a bean paste with garlic, hot red pepper, olives and artichoke. Traditional Maltese spread on bread, biscuits and crackers. The Bigilla Sandwich is a typical start to a traditional Maltese dinner. Therefore, in cafes and restaurants, it is often brought before a meal as a standard snack.
More traditional simple snacks are also in demand in Malta: pies, pasties, pizza. They can be bought both in supermarkets and on the street ready-made.
The most notable of the Maltese first courses is soppa tal-armla, or widow’s soup. Its name comes from an ancient tradition: earlier, when only men were allowed to work in Malta, neighbors brought vegetables to widows so that they could feed themselves. Traditional soppa tal-armla ingredients: carrots, onions, beans, tomatoes or tomato paste, potatoes, cauliflower, celery stalks. Serve with a spoonful of fresh jbein or ricotta cheese.
Other traditional Maltese soups:
- minesta – an analogue of the Italian minestrone, prepared on the basis of seasonal fresh vegetables with the addition of pasta or rice;
- soppa tal-kirsha – offal-based first course;
- brod tal-lakham – fatty meat broth made from chicken or beef with vegetables, herbs and spices, sometimes with the addition of pasta or rice;
- couscous – a dish that comes from the Arabian cuisine, thick bean soup with dumplings;
- allotta – a soup of Maltese sailors, made from several types of local fish with the addition of tomato sauce, fresh marjoram and garlic, served with rice.
Liquid decoctions in Malta are eaten almost exclusively in winter. In summer, locals prefer to replace them with stewed vegetables or salads.
The “visiting card” of Maltese cuisine is the constant use of rabbit meat, from which many national dishes are prepared. But pork, beef and other classic products are also consumed here. Giblets are widely used. Interesting dishes:
- Ross fil-forn – rice casserole with minced meat, used as an independent dish or side dish;
- kirsha – stewed by-products with vegetables;
- babybush – snails in shells with garlic sauce, served with freshly baked bread;
- laham taz-zimel – fried horse meat, cooked until soft, has an original pronounced taste;
- fritturi tal-mohh – beef or sheep brains fried with eggs, garlic and parsley, have a pronounced delicate creamy flavor;
- fenech biz-zalza – stewed rabbit meat with vegetables, sometimes pre-pickled;
- fenech il-forn – a whole baked rabbit, often served with potatoes, onions and other vegetables that are covered with a dish during cooking;
- tal-fenech cake – a pie stuffed with rabbit meat.
Various stuffats are popular in the local cuisine – this is how the Maltese call stews. They have a thick consistency and rich flavor, which is often dominated by garlic and tomato notes. They are prepared from pork, chicken, rabbit raised by local farmers.
Pasta and other flour products
The Maltese adopted their love for pasta from Italian cuisine. The dishes are almost identical to their counterparts. Traditional pasta and baked goods in Malta:
- pasta, most often from durum wheat;
- pasta casseroles;
- ravuli – analogs of ravioli;
- spaghetti malti – a long boiled pasta with tomato, garlic and bacon sauce;
- torti – pies, most often open, come with different fillings, but the most traditional option is spinach, boiled eggs and ricotta or cauliflower and cheese, sometimes with the addition of bacon, green peas and beans;
- pastizzi – savory diamond-shaped patties with sharp ends, the most common fillings for them are ricotta cheese or mashed peas.
The Maltese, like the Italians, prefer to undercook the pasta, leaving it slightly firm on the inside. This allows you to preserve its taste, texture and health benefits. Pasta prepared in this way is called al dente.
In Malta, unusual pasta sauces are common. In restaurants you can order them of your choice. A serving of pasta in a cafe costs about $ 8, refueling for it – up to $ 12. We recommend trying the classic tomato-garlic mix, rabbit gravy and local delicacy – cuttlefish ink sauce.
Boiled eggs are common in Maltese cuisine as a filling for pies, stuffed vegetables and baked goods. They are also used as independent dishes, such as:
- froja – an omelette served with local jbeina goat cheese, green beans and meat filling;
- balbuyata – scrambled eggs, which are fried in a well-heated pan with tomatoes and onions, stirring constantly;
- Ftira is a hearty sandwich stuffed with omelet and potato chips.
Eggs in Maltese cuisine are often used not as a dish on their own, but as an ingredient in dough-based products.
Vegetables in Malta are traditionally used to complement main courses: they are stewed or baked with a rabbit or other animal ingredients so that the meat infuses them with juices, creating a rich sauce for a thick stew. Stuffing has become a traditional cooking method among the locals: zucchini, eggplants, peppers are stuffed with minced meat, rice, cheese, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and then baked or stewed.
In Malta they love and know how to cook vegetable dishes.
Another interesting vegetable dish is caponata. It is made from eggplant stewed with onions, tomatoes and celery, after which the stew is sprinkled with chopped olives and capers. The Maltese borrowed this delicacy from the Sicilians. It is served as an appetizer, side dish or a separate dish. Caponata is traditionally consumed cold.
Fish and seafood
Malta is a Mediterranean country, so seafood constitutes a part of the population’s diet. Some of them are caught all year round, some only during fish migration. Seafood dishes, both simple and sophisticated, have become one of the specialties of the local cuisine. Tourists should try:
- sphineg – deep-fried balls of dough stuffed with anchovies or smoked cod;
- bakkalyau – cod, used dried or stewed;
- lampuka – local gilthead fish, served fried in a pan or wire rack, stewed with spices, baked, used as a filling for pies;
- qarnit mimli – whole octopus stuffed with spaghetti;
- clamari mimlija – squid carcasses stuffed with vegetables and garlic dressing;
- tal-karnit stuffat – whole stew and fairly large octopus, served with a side dish of baked potatoes and fennel seeds to get the most authentic taste;
- pisiispad – swordfish, served dried, smoked or fried.
In addition to traditional seafood delicacies, in Malta you can also try international cuisine: crabs, oysters, shrimps.
A better stop for seafood lovers is the village of Mashaslokk – fishing boats deliver fresh catch there every day.
There are many sweet foods in Malta, the bulk of which are pastries and cakes. Some of them:
- cannoli – crunchy flaky cakes filled with soft ricotta cheese with various additives, from chocolate syrup and crumbs to nuts, citrus fruits, rose water, powdered sugar, candied fruits and wine;
- kaak tal-asle – dough rings of different sizes with honey and molasses as filling;
- titmouse – sweet crunchy pies with ricotta and raisins;
- pudina tal-hobz – a traditional Christmas treat in the form of bread pudding soaked in carob syrup;
- spineg ta san drusepp – sweet crunchy balls of dough stuffed with soft creamy ricotta cheese, poured with honey glaze on top;
- helva tat-tork – an analogue of Arab halva, a classic oriental sweetness, which is prepared from crushed sunflower seeds with honey, nuts and other additives;
- Maltese ice cream – made from natural cream or milk, therefore it has a delicate creamy taste and pleasant texture;
- a-a tal asel – a sweet wreath of dough stuffed with jam or other sweet products;
- prinyolatta – a festive cake, prepared specially for the Maltese carnival, consists of biscuit dough cakes, decorated with glaze and candied fruits;
- figgoli – almond flour pie stuffed with marzipan (almond paste with sugar syrup), topped with icing.
In addition to pastries, Malta has other traditional sweets that came mainly from the Arab conquerors. Among them you can find candied fruits, nuts, honey-based desserts. Lovers of healthy food should pay attention to candied fruits and fresh fruits.
Malta street food
Street food culture in Malta is not very developed. Among the popular products are pizza and pies. Local original pastries, both savory and sweet, are also sold in stalls.
The cost of street food is low – on average, one dish costs from 30 cents to 3 euros, so for those who are interested in rest in Malta, it can be a good alternative to going to a cafe or restaurant.
What to try in Malta
Maltese cuisine is quite original and rich, so a tourist often does not try all the dishes. Therefore, in cafes and restaurants, it is recommended to opt for the most distinctive and interesting dishes made from local ingredients.
Brungiel mimli is a popular appetizer, main or festive dish. The top layer is cut off from the eggplant, the pulp is removed and stuffed with various fillings, most often based on vegetables and rice. Then the dish is brought to readiness in the oven or in a skillet under the lid, constantly pouring with sauce: tomato, sour cream or milk. Shortly before being cooked, eggplants are sometimes sprinkled with cheese to form an appetizing golden brown crust.
An analogue of the Italian bruschetta. A thick toast with a crispy crust, most often made from black bread. Sprinkle it with olive oil and rub it with garlic. Sometimes herbs and greens are added. On top of the bruschetta, spread a mixture of finely chopped soft tomato and chopped garlic, onions, and various spices.
Hobz biz-zeyt is the national food of the Maltese.
The dish is served as an appetizer-appetizer. The combination of crispy bread, aromatic butter and spicy dressing awakens the appetite and sets you up for a pleasant meal.
A dish borrowed from Italian cuisine. Thin pasta made from dough, most often rectangular in shape. In Malta they are often called “raviyuli” or “raviyuli”. Traditional filling for them in local cuisine: ricotta cheese mixed with parsley. Ravioli is served with tomato, celery and basil sauce. Sprinkle with grated cheese before serving.
A traditional peasant dish that has long served as a hearty lunch or dinner for local residents. It is prepared from potatoes stewed with onions and several large pieces of meat, most often the rabbit meat familiar to the country. Served with vegetable salad and bread.
Crispy pastry-based dessert filled with grated dates. The cake is rolled up and cut into rectangular or diamond-shaped products, after which they are fried in oil with the addition of bay leaves and anise seeds. The dessert is Arabic in origin and was known in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia before its appearance in Malta. It is often sold at street markets, fairs, festivals. Serve imkaret with scoops of vanilla ice cream.
Beef rolls borrowed from Italian cuisine. For cooking, flank or skirt steak is most often used. It is beaten into a thin layer, stuffed with a filling of fresh herbs, garlic and cheese, sometimes with the addition of bacon and various spices. The resulting rolls are fried until crisp, then stewed over low heat so that the ingredients are soaked in meat juice. Bragioli is served with pasta, rice or potatoes, sometimes sauce is added and sprinkled with cheese.
Stuffat tal-fenech is a traditional rabbit dish.
Rabbit stew is a dish that only Malta can really cook.
Almost every restaurant has its own original recipe for this dish. The rabbit is stewed for a long time in a wine sauce with herbs and garlic. Before that, it is pickled, preferably for a whole day. When ordering this dish in a cafe or restaurant, it is worth considering that it takes a long time to cook – from 1-2 hours. The rabbit is served with baked potatoes sprinkled with fennel seeds and pea-based sauce. Twice a year, a special picnic is held in Malta – fenkata, an obligatory element of which is the preparation of this dish over a fire.
Pasta casserole, analogous to Mediterranean pastitsio. Prepared from tubular pasta. The traditional filling for tympana is minced meat, tomatoes and cheese, but in Maltese cuisine there are modifications with offal, eggplant, chopped boiled eggs. The classic tomato sauce is sometimes replaced with a creamy béchamel.