Like most of the Mediterranean, Malta is obsessed with food. From the humble pastizzis (a cheese and pea filled pastry allegedly based on the Cornish pasty) to the more rustic stews and pasta dishes found inland, the island’s cuisine stems from a rich history that has allowed the food of Europe to meet and cross-pollenate over the years.
As well as the sun, architecture and remarkable island history, the other thing Malta is renowned for is the sheer generosity of their portions. While breakfast can often be quite a simple affair, lunch and dinner can be large, multi-course meals all washed down with wine and topped off with incredible honey-based desserts. One thing is definitely certain, diners never go hungry in Malta.
Gbejna in a salad
A versatile cheese based on either goat’s or sheep’s milk, Gbejna is everywhere in Malta. It can eaten fresh like mozzarella, air-dried with herbs and spices, or just left naked. It is basically Parmesan, Ricotta and Cheddar all in one, and can often be found broken up in salads, sprinkled on pasta or topping locally produced pizzas.
Gbejna is widely available everywhere in Malta, but if it’s the authentic experience you’re after, then you can do wrong if you head over to Ta Rikardu in the old Citadella on Gozo. Owned and run by farmer and restauranteur Rikardu Zammit, he makes his own cheese to a traditional recipe, flavouring with local herbs and sea salt. Well worth a visit for any cheese fans out there.
Unsurprisingly as it’s an island, fish forms a major part of the Maltese diet. In fishing villages like Spinhola Bay a wide variety of produce are caught, including the delicate Lampuki or Dolphin Fish (which is ingeniously caught by luring them into shade and throwing a net over them) and the more familiar anchovy – the staple of Mediterranean seafood.
Malta has many fish restaurants, but one of the best is Bouquet Garni in Mellieha. A modern twist on classic Mediterranean and French cuisine, it is renowned across the island for its seafood, with fresh fish served daily and some incredible mixed platters to enjoy. Non-fish lovers out there worry not, the steaks are fantastic too.
Honey is a big business in Malta. The islands isolation from the mainland has led to evolution of a completely unique variety of honey bee adapted to the harsh conditions of the Mediterranean, and the rich, ever changing variety of flora found on the island makes for some of the most delicious honey in the world.
The Maltese have a notoriously sweet tooth, and this is perfectly illustrated by the islands’ favourite dessert Qagħaq tal-Għasel (or the honey ring). A pastry ring made from marmalade, sugar, lemon, oranges, mixed spices, cinnamon, vanilla, syrup and honey, they are available from small bakeries all over Malta, but Caffe Cordina in Valetta is rumoured to do the best.
Wine: Del Borgo. Image Del Borgo
The production of Maltese wine dates back over 2000 years when the Phoenicians first introduced grapes to the islands. Enjoying growing demand at the moment, you can find almost every variety represented on the island, but broadly speaking the two locally produced stuff can be split either into the Gellewza (red) and the Ghirgentina (white) categories.
If you’re looking to sample Malta’s wine at its finest, then we recommend you head to Del Borgo in the heart of Birgu. With a selection of new and old world wine as well as the best of the local drop, it’s the perfect place to while away a romantic evening.
Rabbit and Quails at United Bar. Image United Bar
It’s still quite rare to come across rabbit in the UK, but in traditional Maltese cuisine it’s pretty much everywhere. From traditional peasant stews to more refined Ragu and pasta dishes, this rich, gamey meat comes in almost every variety.
For the more traditional fenkata (a rabbit pasta and rabbit stew dish dating from the medieval period), then United Bar in Mġarr is a must. However our pick has to be Gululu with their mix of rustic-inspired dishes, included rabbit ravioli and stews, allied with a beautiful view of the marina in Spinola Bay.