Maltese cuisine is quite unknown, at least if you compare it to its Mediterranean neighbours. When I moved to Malta, I could not name any single local traditional dish. Maltese cuisine has been greatly influenced by several conquers that have ruled Malta over the centuries. However, nowadays what is affecting the most, is the tourism. Unfortunately several restaurants focus on serving the same, unimaginative pizza, pasta and hamburger selection to hungry tourists, and finding good picks is not always easy.
The ordinary Maltese food is very rustic, home-cooked and based on vegetable and fishing seasons. In traditional Maltese restaurants there are not usually many items on the menu, but all is delicious. The Maltese food is not very spicy, instead it gives credit to the flavours of the main ingredients used.
What should you try while in Malta?
Maltese platter. You will probably get at least olives, sun-dried tomatoes, Maltese bread and/or crackers, bean paste (called bigilla), Gozotan pepper cheese, white beans and Maltese sausage. You should definitely try at least Maltese bread. It has a hard crust, but it is lovely and soft inside. Just a bit of olive oil and a hint of salt, and voilà!
Rabbit. Rabbit, fenek, is Malta’s national dish, and people usually eat it either in tomato and red wine stew or with spagetti and peas. There are also several places serving rabbit liver. Try out for example Ta Kris or Il-Merill restaurants in Sliema, if you wish to try out local Maltese specialities. Reservation is a must!
Fish and seafood. If your belly is graving for fish, head to Marsaxlokk fish market (every Sunday, prepare for crowds), where local fishermen are selling their catch of the day. Skip salmon, which is definitely frozen Norwegian salmon, and try for example lampuka, a popular fish caught fresh between August and December. Test also aljotta, fish soup.
Of of my favourites is octopus that in Malta is often served fried in red-wine sauce. Yum, it is so good! As a starter, I would recommend having mussels – you can get a huge portion for around 10 euros! I had excellent octopus at a restaurant called Scuples in Sliema. In Xlendi, Gozo, I also had an amazing octopus dinner at one of the restaurants by the seafront.
Bragioli. Bragioli is a popular Maltese beef dish. It is actually a roll that has bacon, herbs and sometimes boiled eggs inside and is wrapped with slices of beef and cooked in a sauce of wine.
Pastizzi. It is greasy but most definitely tasty. The pie is filled with ricotta or mashed peas, and you can find this treat everywhere on the island.
If you feel like something steady for breakfast, have the traditional English breakfast that you can find everywhere in tourist areas. Personally I don’t like heavy breakfasts like this, but I had to try it out once. I would recommend U-Bistrot if you want some international breakfast. They have pretty good selection of healthy options too!
Pasta Maltese food scene has a lot of influence from Italy, and you are able to find heaps of good Italian restaurants around Valletta and Sliema. One of my favourites is Papannis in Valletta. Their pasta is a-m-a-z-i-n-g!
Crepés. Try savoury and sweet crepés at Krepree and lovely waffles at Zwiit (Sliema).
Are you hungry already? I am at least! The best part is that eating out in Malta doesn’t bring you into bankruptcy! You can get main dishes for around €15, starters for €10 and desserts for €6 – 7. A good amount to tip is 10 – 15 %. And yes! Be brave and try Maltese wines – some of them might give you a positive surprise. If you want to go for something no alcoholic, taste Kinnies, Malta’s alternative for coke.