Malta food is vibrant and exploding with Mediterranean flavors. Located right in the middle of the Mediterranean sea, Malta island is rich in tradition and culture, and the richness reflects in the food as well!! Apart from the traditional dishes that originate from fresh local ingredients that are available, Malta food has evolved influenced by the invaders, the travelers, and the settlers.
Being in a strategic location, surrounded by the mainland of Italy and North African countries, the food culture of Neighbour areas is also embraced and incorporated into Maltese cuisine. Here we have explored some of the traditional Maltese food along with the evolved ones.
1. Stuffat tal-Fenek
Stuffat tal-Fenek is a traditional Maltese food and a hearty stewed rabbit with vegetables and herbs. It is also a national dish of Malta as it is cooked as a festival dish, community gathering, or family affair.
Rabbits were a staple source of protein in the area, as it was easily bred and cheap. At a time, the wild rabbits have hunted almost to extinction, and a ban was put up. The ban was lifted in the 18th century, and even now, wild Maltese rabbits have become rare. Rabbits are now primarily bred for cooking.
Maltese rabbit stew is easy to make as well, starting with marinating the rabbit meat in red wine and cooking it with onions sauteed in olive oil, along with vegetables like potatoes, peas, and carrots.
The red-colored stew is vibrant and earthy because of the tomato paste. This stew, along with the organs, is usually slow-cooked for two hours and has a rich flavor. It is served with crunchy, airy Maltese bread or simply roasted potatoes. Each family has their own recipe; some are unwilling to share their secret recipe and are always kept in the family.
Another classic stew that’s worth mentioning is Stuffat tal-qarnit, which is an octopus stew; it is made with the same ingredients as a rabbit stew and is considered a hearty one-pot meal.
Pastizz is a popular street food in Malta, the outer crust is usually diamond or shell-shaped, made of puff pastry, and the inside of the pastry is stuffed with assorted yummy fillings. Being a street food, the most common filling is a piece of simple ricotta cheese. However, there are many variations of Pastizz in Malta food like curried beef, cooked peas, spinach-ricotta, and even dessert Pastizz with custard or spiced apple fillings.
If you are visiting Malta, Pastizz is a must-try!! Qassatat is another snack almost like a pastizz, but made with short-crust pastry and filled with mushy peas or ricotta. Pastizz is just one of the snacks that sell fast; like qassatat and pastizz there is a variety available at every nook and corner of malta in Pastizzeria. Pastizzerias usually have add-ons like pies, sausage rolls, pizzas, timpana, and more.
A reflection on Maltese history, Ftira is of Arabic origin, and bread is closely tied to the Maltese culture and tradition. Handmade Ftira is an art and tastes different from machine-made ones. It is a sourdough Maltese bread, flat and ring-shaped, and is usually eaten as a sandwich or simply soaked in olive oil, also called Hobz biz-zejt. Classic fillings are a mix and match of anchovies, tuna, olives, tomato, capers, and beans, and the recipe can be tweaked according to the local produce.
The hard crusty exterior of sour bread and the airy porous interior soaks up the tomato sauce, olive oil and the juice from tuna is just mouth-watering! Ftira filling combinations and techniques are also handed down in a family, making outsiders challenging to access them.
4. Lampuki Pie or Torta tal-lampuki
Lampuka means Mahi Mahi fish in Maltese, this white fish is also called dolphin fish. Lampuki is very popular in Malta as you can find it in abundance from August to December, a time when they migrate to the Mediterranean.
This dish portrays an excellent mix of influences in malta food of British, Italian cuisine, and Arabic. The fish pie filling is richly flavored with garlic and vegetables sautéed with butter, rich tomato sauce, herbs like mint and parsley, and lemon zest, along with it chunk of cooked Mahi Mahi fish is placed in short-crust pastry and baked.
Corned beef pie and spinach tuna pie are the other savory famous pies, a sweet kind of pie is Torta tal-lewz, specially made for events and birthdays with the prominent ingredient almonds, they are dressed as a cake, Torta tal-marmurat is also a sweet variety with marmalade, chocolate, and almond filling.
5. Bragioli or Beef olives
This delicious main dish is mainly slices of beef wrapped and twinned with stuffing inside. The stuffing is usually a classic combination of breadcrumbs, herbs, hard-boiled eggs, ground beef, and bacon.
Beef olives peculiarly do not have olives in the recipe. The wrapped and stuffed beef slices are finally braised in wine, giving it a glossy olive-like texture, and so came the name Beef olives. Bragioli is usually served with mashed potatoes, mushy peas, or slices of crusty Maltese bread, or go healthy with just greens like beans, asparagus, or broccoli.
6. Widow’s soup
Widows soup is yet another traditional Maltese food that is hearty and homely, made of readily available local produce and ingredients. There was a history of gifting poor widows easily available products so that they could be nourished with hot soup, also named soppa tal armla.
Widow’s soup is an easy-to-cook recipe made by sauteeing the onions, herbs, and vegetables and simmering them in chicken or vegetable stock. Later Maltese cheeselets chunks of ricotta are added to the soup for richness, and sometimes a poached egg is mixed in. There was a perception that even a poor widow could afford it.
Kawlata and kusksu soups are other nourishing Malta food for winter. Kawlata is made of pork, cabbages, pumpkins, and herbs, whereas kusksu has broad beans, peas, pastina, dried mint, and cheese.
7. Stewed Horse Meat or Laħam Taz-Ziemel
Horse Meat is a delicacy in malta, though its popularity is much lower than rabbit stew or chicken, it is high in protein and has leaner meat. Horse meat is said to increase blood pressure and is eaten with quantity at check. The meat is first marinated and slow-cooked with wine, citrus peels, onion, garlic, herbs, and tomato paste.
8. Gozitan Ftira
Gozitan Ftira is a type of pizza, extremely popular on the neighboring island of malta Gozo. This pizza has a ftira dough as a base; sometimes, the dough covers the pizza on top as well.
The toppings are mainly slices of potatoes; bell peppers, sausages, goat cheese, anchovies, or tomatoes are added depending on taste. Gozitan Ftira is a much sort after Malta food, as the combination of sour bread, potatoes, and cheese are irresistibly tasty.
A Maltese equivalent version of ratatouille and that of Caponata in Sicily, Kapunata can be served as a main dish or a side dish. It is a sweet, sour dish that can be made with seasonal vegetables, and usually, the star ingredient is aubergine, bell peppers, and olives. It goes well on top of sliced Maltese bread and can be served as a fresh accompaniment to rich protein dishes.
Gbejniet is Maltese cheese made of sheep or goat’s milk. Fresh Gbejniet is creamy in texture, with a milky flavor, and easy to spread. This cheese is made of fresh unpasteurized milk, rennet, and salt. It is sun-dried to store for a more extended period. Salting or curing is another method to preserve these cheeslets, and sometimes there are stored in oil or vinegar; curing with pepper is another popular choice to ensure long-lasting.
Once dried, Gbejniet will be hard and crumbly with a nutty taste. Gbejniets have a place in most Maltese dishes and Malta food, including widow’s soup, pies, salads, ravjul, or as a part of malti platters.
Traditionally Gbejniet was made as soon as the milking was done; the natural warmth of the fresh milk was good enough for the curdling process. Currently, milk is transferred to a hygienic environment before adding the rennet, so they are mildly heated on top of a gas stove.
11. Kannoli tal-Irkotta
Kannoli is another culinary adaptation from Sicily. These are crispy deep-fried pastries shaped into tubes filled with ricotta cheese. These tasty, super addictive, sweet, and sour treats are sometimes sprinkled with pistachios, chocolates, or cherries.
New flavor adaptations like other Malta food, have evolved and been accepted, like the coconut and Nutella, peppermint, caramel, and the list goes on.
Sfineġ means fritters in maltese. These are deep-fried, spongy dough balls made of flour, oil, yeast, and water. Traditionally, there is a sweet version and a savory version. In the spicy version, Sfineġ tal-Inċova, the dough is mixed in with anchovies, and particularly this is made during lent as it’s a meatless option.
Sfineġ ta’ San Ġużepp is the sweet version where the fried fritters are split and filled with sweet ricotta; the sweet treat is then covered in honey or powdered sugar and sprinkled with nuts.
Timpana is a combination of a pie and a lasagna. The inside is filled with penne or tubular pasta which is cooked in minced meat, onions, garlic, and tomato paste. The pasta is encased in pastry and baked. Imqarrun il-Forn is a crustless version of timpana; both are traditional Maltese food and are equally enjoyed.
Imqarrun il-Forn is essentially baked macaroni in a casserole topped with grated cheese; once baked, the slightly burnt crunchy pasta on the top is what makes it soul food. Ross fil-forn is a version of Timpana and Imqarrun il-Forn, but the pasta is replaced with rice. Timpana is another one of the cultural reflections of Italian cuisine in Malta, very similar to the dish timpano in Sicily.
14. Maltese Sausage or Zalzett Tal-Malti
Maltese Sausages are a hearty encasing of ground pork meat with fat, garlic, crushed coriander and peppercorns, rosemary, and fennel. They have a rustic shape and were traditionally eaten raw. It is usually a part of Platt Malti or simply smear on crusty Maltese bread, add it to stews or on top of pizzas, barbecue, or smother in a burger.
Aljotta is a flavourful, light, and zesty Mediterranean fish soup. Maltese islands, being surrounded by the sea, has an abundance of fish. This soup is very similar to French bouillabaisse.
Fish is cooked with tomato, onions, lemon, mint, and fresh parsley; usually, bones head and tails are also used in this recipe. The broth can be strained to remove small bones and garnished with chunks of fish, prawns, or squid. This fish soup is one of the traditional Maltese dishes that come in handy for the meatless lent. This is one of the easy-to-cook soups in Malta’s food and filling as well.
Bigilla is a bean spread, kind of like Maltese hummus. It is made of Djerba beans, a local sort of beans found in Malta, or dried broad beans, olive oil, lemon, red peppers, mint parsley, and garlic.
It is used as a dip for Maltese water crackers named Galletti, as a spread on ftira, or even with biscuits and toasts, it’s a condiment that goes with anything and everything. Seasoning a bigilla right is fundamental as the bean paste tends to taste bland with less amount of seasoning.
The traditional recipe calls for tic beans, and these need to be soaked for quite some time, up to 24 hours, before cooking them. Leaving the skin while blending gives a good texture to the bigilla, plus it is an excellent source of protein and fibre.
Bigilla was once a funeral or mourning food, as the dried beans were associated with regeneration and the afterlife. Later it was sold as street food from hand-driven carts. Now it is a very popular dip and appetizer.
17. Honey rings or Qaghaq Tal-Ghasel
Qaghaq Tal-Ghasel is a traditional Maltese sweet made initially only for celebrations and events like Christmas. These are crudely shaped rings that have treacle filling and crisp pastry on the outside.
The filling was initially made with an unrefined by-product of honey, hence the name honey rings. But now, it’s usually made with treacle or golden syrup as the main base, and the filling also has spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, marmalade, cocoa powder, caster sugar, and semolina for thickening.
Once the dough with filling is shaped into rings, slits are made on the top for better cooking, and the treacle filling tends to ooze out, making it extraordinarily delicious and heavenly. This sweet treat is now made all year round and is available at local supermarkets and bakeries.
18. Platt Malti
Platt Malti is a Maltese version of the tapas in Spain, or the Turkish mezze or an Italian antipasto. Platt Malti translates to mean Maltese platter and is served for events, communal gatherings, and local restaurants. Platt Malti comes in various combinations in different Maltese restaurants, each having a diverse selection of Maltese dishes.
A Malta food platter usually consists of bigilla and Galletti, Maltese goat cheese, zalzett tal-Malti, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, or even kapunata. Platt Malti sometimes features the main course also other than appetizers.
Imqaret is an Arabic-origin traditional Maltese sweet, traditionally shaped like a diamond. It has a sweet date filling and can be found in both fried and baked forms. The date filling is usually infused with aniseed liquor, orange flower water, or even rose water, making them irresistible treats. The fried version is crispy and has a new-generation trend of having it with ice cream. The baked version is usually had with tea or coffee.
Prinjolata is a traditional Maltese sweet usually made during the carnival season. It has a very dense inside, a sponge cake base usually, sometimes a mix of cake and biscuits, cream, and candied cherries. Traditionally they have pinenuts inside and scattered on top; Prinjol in Maltese means pinenuts, and so the name Prinjolata.
The base of Prinjolata entirely depends on the preference of a person, and it can be gooey, crumbly, or fudgy. The outside is covered with Italian meringue and decorated with candied cherries, pinenuts, almonds, and chocolates; the look fits the carnival occasion.
It is usually mound-shaped and can be made in all sizes, and larger versions display in the cafe and sweet shops decorated during the carnival times. It is the sweetest dessert in Malta food.
Balbuljata is very easy to make, but a traditional Maltese food usually had for breakfast. It is basically eggs and tomatoes, but some recipes spruce it up with goat cheese and corned beef. Breakfast in Malta food is considered a simple affair, with no frills.
22. Imbuljuta tal-Qastan
Imbuljuta tal-Qastan is a traditional spicy Maltese chocolate drink, usually had at Christmas or new years eve, but now they are served during the cold winters as well. The recipe calls for a soaked chestnut with cocoa powder, cinnamon, and orange zest. The drink is chewy as the chestnuts are usually left whole or in chunks.
23. Ghadam tal-Mejtin
Ghadam tal-Mejtin is an almond biscuit baked especially for all souls day in November. Ghadam tal-Mejtin means bones of the dead, are shaped in the form of bones, and sometimes served with icing on top or even crushed almonds.
The history of these Maltese bone biscuits is to honor the dead. The biscuits are generally short-crust outer pastries with a generous amount of almond paste filling. Due to the religious ties that it has with it, Ghadam tal-Mejtin is only baked in November; however, a very similar dish that tastes like it is Figolli, an easter treat.
There is an assortment of Tea time biscuits available in Maltese cuisine or Malta food, like Ottijiet, a spiced shortbread biscuit in the shape of 8, Biskuttini tal-Lewż or almond macaroons, Kwareżimal, an almond cookie specially made for lent.
24. Pudina Tal-Hobz
Pudina Tal-Hobz is a traditional Maltese dessert, essentially made from stale bread. The bread was a sacred food centuries ago and wasting it was unthinkable. And so, the stale bread was soaked in water, mixed with spices, eggs, cocoa powder, citrus peels, or nuts, and rolled out in a baking tray.
The mixture is baked to form a dense cake-like pudding. The recipe of Pudina Tal-Hobz varies from one family to another; the difference in spices like cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, or the addition of vanilla, sometimes custard powder, syrup, adding rum, vermouth or brandy is certainly optional, but it does add a kick to the age-old dessert. Pudina Tal-Hobz is one of the dishes that portrays the British influence in Malta, as the classic British bread pudding is very similar.
Bebbux is an edible Maltese snail found in abundance during rainy days. There are various ways in which snails are cooked and served, most commonly as a stew, Stuffat tal-Bebbux or as an appetizer, Bebbux bl-Aljoli, and snails cooked in garlic. It is extremely enjoyable with cold local beer. Snails are an exotic delicacy in Malta food.
26. Helwa tat-Tork
Helwa tat-Tork is a fudge-like traditional sweet of Turkish Arabic origin, and it is made of tahini with sugar, vanilla, and crushed almonds or pistachios. It is a dense sweet and is of two types one that can be made with flour as a base and nuts as a base.
Maltese nougat or Qubbajt is another sweet of Arabic origin, somehow caught in the customary Malta food. It is found both in hard and soft forms; these are made of sugar and almond. The hard type is compactly packed with nuts and caramelized. The soft type comes in white and pink and is the same as the Persian ones.
27. Stuffed vegetables
A variety of stuffed vegetables were influenced mainly by Sicily but adapted to the taste punch of the Mediterranean. Qaqocc Mimli is stuffed artichokes, a very healthy steamed recipe, where the florets are filled with tuna, bread crumbs, capers, olive oil, and parsley.
Bżar mimli is stuffed peppers, Brunġiel mimli or stuffed aubergines, Qarabagħli mimli or stuffed marrows are all different versions with a difference in minced meat or tuna filling.
Malta food is basic and tied close to countryside slow cooking. The local cuisine in Malta is heavily influenced by the invaders of each time. Malta is located in the center of all trade routes, making it vulnerable to invasion.
Traditional Maltese recipes are easy to make and depend on fresh seasonal produce; local food shows traits of Sicilian, European, and Arabic flavors. Malta food tour is one of the significant activities to do while visiting malta; the vibrancy of Mediterranean flavors infused with other cultures is worth a taste.
Also read: What’s the National Dish of England