Food in Malta

Traditional Maltese Foods.

If you are travelling to Malta, understanding a bit more of the local delicacies will make your experience much better.
Here is a detailed and entertaining guide about local Maltese food.

In Malta lunch is usually eaten between 12:00 pm and 2:00 pm, local legend has it that some upper class folk ate (or still do) at 13:00 just to be different. Dinner starts around 7:00 pm and can stretch late into the evening. (Depends on how hungry the kids are).

However in Malta there is food everywhere, it is easy to come by, as long as your bank card is thick and full you will not go hungry 🙂

Pastizzi and a soft drink on-the-go:

Pastizzi  are good., You will not find them anywhere else in the world. They are cheap, crunchy and tasty. They redefine what a savory delicacy is. Personally I like to eat them from a paper bag. There is something thrilling about eating them while moving, while others enjoy sitting down. They go along well with such activities as people watching or taking in some of the rich sights around the Maltese islands.

Pastizzi can be out on a date with both a frothy cappuccino or a Kinnie (local Soft drink).

Pastizzi are elongated pastry spheres with a filling of ricotta or peas. The pastry is both fried and baked. (Yes.) The trick is to layer in loads of “healthy” fats in between the pastry layers. Then the oven will half bake and half fry the pastry and cook the filling. Magic.

Traditionally there are two types of pastizzi > Ricotta and the Peas.

The Qassatat

The hidden secret most locals will not share with the tourist is that the Qassatta is even better than the Pastizzi!

Maybe they just want to make sure, there is always some available, and let the tourist hordes feast on the Pastizzi . leaving some of the Qassatat alone.

The Pastizzi lobby has flooded the wires with propaganda about how good these magic Pastizzi are the greatest. ManicMalta.com  stands for the truth!

The Qassatat is better! Softer, Fuller, Rounder and even more, dare I say fulfilling. The Spinach version has some of the essential nutrients their brethren only dream about. One Qassatat is enough, but if you are on a binge, two will fill you up for a day. Jokes aside, both the Qassatat and Pastizzi are great, however I do have a soft spot for the gentile Qassata.

A sweet Qassatat known as Juda’s purse or “Borza ta Juda’s” also exists. I spotted them being sold next to Serkin, in Rabat.

Sidekicks : Pizza, Sausage rolls and Pies

Up there on the throne of maltese fast food The Queen is the Pastizzi and the King is the Qassata. Case Closed.

The royal court organigramme has many layers and it keeps expanding. Just like those limited edition RedBulls.

The pizza is not that thin sliced, dry at the bottom, warm and moist at the top Italian kind of pizza.

The Maltese version of take-you-away pizza will give a heart attack to any Italian Pizza Maximalist. This is like thick bread with tomato sauce and salami or fungi on top. It’s oily, messy and makes the paper bag it is served in translucent. (If you do not see this effect, it is a cheap knock off)

The sausage rolls are tall, straight and proud. There are standard ones and cheesy ones. Take your pick and stick with it. Be careful as once you made your choice and you have your paper bag, you cannot change it.

They are an ideal companion to the pastizzi, because together they offer a nutritionally balanced meal with the right* combination of protein and carbs. (Sure, go ahead trust the internet)

The pies seem to go in and out of fashion, and I seem to have a short term memory issue around them. You never know when they show up and you have to ask each time what their filing is. While in the UK the Cornish Pasty are revered, we have failed to turn our pies into a standard national product. We’ll work on it, I promise.

*Wink Wink


Ross il- Forn (Rice in the oven)

Rice was discovered about 10,000 years ago, give or take a few millennia. It took the Maltese nation less than a 100 years to turn this docile looking ingredient into a culinary marvel.

Imagine this, baked rice, minced meat, tomato sauce and cheese. Even the most staunch international critics are speechless about this dish. There is grand ma’s version served from a big casserole and the fast food version served in a one person tin foil dish portion.

If I had to take a wild guess it is probably the healthiest of all the Maltese fast-food dishes.

Timpana (Pasta in the oven)

Timpana is a copy of the ross il-forn. There are prominent historian academics who argue that the ross il forn came first, others that the Timpana came first. In reality, who cares. The Timpana is a squarish looking solid past chunk. That does a lot more than one suspects from the first eye-drop. Like that nerdy looking kid sitting in Cafe Cordina with his parents, who no one notices but he can do a Rubic’s cube in less than 10 seconds whilst you never managed to complete one.

Timpana’s comes in handy, especially after a long day at sandy Mellieha beach. Where you avoided buying the inflated-over-priced food from the stalls with systematic smart excuses to your kids and husband. Coffee is an exception of course.  Now all of you are heading back to your comfy air bnb but three hungry kids are screaming “hungry”.  Waiting till dinner to get them fed will make you part ways with a piece of your sanity. So what to do?

The Hero Timpana will be on stand-by. All you need to do is spot one of the many pastizzi shops, there are many:  Maxims, Jeff’s, etc. Park safely, cross the road safely (remember we drive on the left). Yes, most of the time for some reason (I guess the universe likes to have her fun) the Pastizzi shop is always on the other side of the road.

Grab a Timpana for each of your hungry offspring and let them eat it in the car. Deal with the furious car rental guy later. I hope you did not forget a little something for your better half as well!

Wines

If you are a wine lover, you will find solace on the islands. You can find a number of WInery tours, that help you explore and understand the local variety grapes and wine making up close. Of course, the whole point for most is the wine tasting session, but the prelude is just enough brain exercise allowed on holiday. Wine Bars abound are the island as well, Gzira and Sliema is dotted with them, and most do carry the local versions. There are some out-there bars in the local villages which are also worth exploring. 

There is an international wine festival every year in Malta.

Maltese Bread 👏

In terms of bread Malta stands out. Unlike many others who try to impress through variety, we put all our efforts in our one and only Maltese traditional bread.  

It does not look as elegant as a French baguette, in fact it looks rather brute. A brown ball. Do not judge a book by its cover. While the French baguette is long and stocky looking like a model striding down the Champs Elysee.

Our Maltese bread may look hard on the outside, but it is golden on the inside, and this is where it really matters my dear reader. You see bread is a medium to carry, expand and even-out stronger tastes. The Maltese bread structure is bubbly on the inside, leading for far better absorption than any other bread known to me. Be it peanut butter, olive oil or cottage cheese. Maltese bread is a jack of all trades, and master of all.

Don’t be shy with this local delicacy, it makes excellent sandwiches which you can take anywhere from the Tigne beach to the Barrakka gardens or to a walk in the three cities. You can make it crisp for some  crunchy breakfast or soft dipped in some humus. The limit is only, the contents of your fridge really.

To avoid the hassle and messiness of cutting up the bread (as most likely your AirBnB will not have a bread cutter). It is best to buy it cut up already.

Hobz biz-zejt – “Bread with olive oil”


The Hobza biz-zejt is a sandwich made with local maltese bread. Combine capers, tomato, olive oil and pepper. You can also include Gbejniet (local goat cheese), Zalzett tal-Malti, or tuna. Probably not all three through.

For the tomato, some like to use the “Kunserva” which is a tomato concentrate.

Take this with you to the beach and it will give you the energy boost needed for yet another friendly wrestling match with your older kids in the surf of Golden bay.

Gbejniet


Gbejniet is a local cheese made from goat;s milk. You can get pepper ones or non-pepper ones. They are also mature ones (which have a slightly harder bight) and “young” ones.

Zalzett tal-Malti

This is a local sausage. It is quite distinct, the closest is the “country sausage” but it has its own mix of herbs (rather than spices) which make it very tasty.

Imqaret

Imqaret are diamond shaped, deep fried date filled pastries. They probably have their origins in the Arab conquest of Malta, which happened some time between 870 and 1091 AD. 

There are stalls dedicated to Imqaret, the deep fried version. Some mechanics are important here, the Pastizzi stalls bake “all” their products.

So the fried Maqrut is hard to come up with in the baking stalls. The fried Mqaret shops are really and truly a one trick pony, which struggle with cash flow.

Following the Maqrut rebellions** of the 1990s and the laissez faire culinary liberalism, the culinary academics at the university of Malta came up with the baked Maqrut. The treaty of the baked maqrut of 1991 restored peace to the islands.

So now,  dear tourist, in the Pastizzi stalls you can find the baked version of the Maqrut. I personally prefer the baked ones, something deep down tells me I am making a healthier eating choice. Especially when the explosion of flavor hits my taste buds, and then soon after the carbs hit my blood stream hitting my system with a much needed surge of energy.

Albeit for a few minutes. 

After which I start thinking if I should attack the last Maqrut still swinging in that paper bag, the one I bought for my better-half. I can always claim they were out of Mqaret, with a naughty smile and make him go back to the shop around the block in Sliema for some more.

From a culinary perspective, I am personally inclined to the baked version because the oil messes too much with the flavors of the dates and the pastry. In the baked version, the dates are still moist on the inside, a stark contrast to the dryishish pastry on the outside. MM We will keep close tabs on this competition. Early indications show that the fried Maqrut is walking on the same path of the red male squirrels, who are slowly but surely being ousted by the gray squirrel.

Ironically, now and again red squirrels have been spotted in Malta but they grey’s have not made their appearance yet it seems. Watch out.

**This was confirmed in one of my dreams  around March 2023.

Rabbits

Rabbits cooked in wine or gravy are great! I am sure vegetarians and vegans disagree but for the rest you need to try this.

Rabbits are a traditional Maltese dish. The serving looks like fried chicken or chicken stew. I promise it will not look like the pet hamster Tommy has. Usually served with potato wedges and a salad.

This can be served as individual portions, or as a communal plate. From my acute observations of this ritual the rabbit and the potatoes disappear first, then the salad is always last to go. So prioritize accordingly.

There are some traditional Maltese restaurants that serve this dish, however they tend to be out of the way in Mgarr beyond the mountains of the South East, which is about a 30 minute drive from Sliema / Gzira. Ok, maybe 45 in rush hour. If you decide to go on this journey for the sake of the Rabbit you can combine it with a walk around Golden Bay / Gnejna etc. 

I am hesitant to recommend any specific restaurant, as they do go in and out of fashion. Change management etc. So your best bet is Google reviews to be honest.

I have to tell you this, my grandma claims that during WWII when food was very tight they still ate rabbits. However, there were no rabbits around. This seemed to coincide with a rapid decline in the local stray cat population. A rule of thumb is that if the ribs are rounder (compared to what?) then it probably eats mice rather than lettuce. I am sure this is a good story to share with your family in the middle of that Sunday Rabbit lunch.

Fish

You can find Fish in most restaurants, by far they are the priciest dish. Not all fish are wild though, some are farmed. Those floating nets one can see just off the coast sometimes are fish farms.

Flat bottomed fish, which tend to be deeper water, are usually not farmed.

However, if you still want to taste fish at a lower rate, you can always go to a fish shop, ask them to clean the fish, ask them for some spices and then simply fry it, add lemon and dinner’s ready.

If you are a family of 4 adults, a fish dinner could easily go above 80 to 100 Euro. If you cook in house, in your airBnB flat and then go for a walk in the Sliema promenade you can spend 50 Euro less and you can spend that watching some live music in one of the Gzira front bars.

In Malta, every meal cooked at home or in a restaurant is a voyage worth savoring. Bon appétit.

Octopus

This is another delicious traditional Maltese dish, I am reluctant to recommend, because I suspect there are much less of them around then before.

However, they are very tasty, especially if you can find the version with raisins and walnuts. Anyway, I consider eating Octopus similar to shark fin soup.

If you really wanna go for it, buy a plate and share it between the group.


Sea Urchin Spaghetti

This was delicious. However it is no longer possible to have this dish at least between 2023 and 2005. The sea urchin colonies in Malta have been disappearing. I do remember the seabed carpeted with these spiky creatures. They can still be seen but in much smaller numbers. It used to be served with pasta or eaten raw, picked up on the beach and eaten on the beach.


Pasti – or Sweet Pastries

Maltese and Gozitans have somewhat of a sweet tooth. Unfortunately the proof is all around us. The confectionaries in Malta are loaded with delicious-looking-things, which make your eyeballs-jump-out and your sugar tooth fall off and bang against the shop counter for her share of sugar.

Shapes, sizes and taste vary and there is something for all eyes and stomachs.

In previous decades past, confectionaries were local and all had their specialities. However local chains of tycoon confectionaires have taken over those independent ones. They are sill OK, but I do miss the variety of the shops in the 1980s.

Twistees

Good morning, my name is Tom and I am a Twistees addict. I like these things. They are not too sweet, just crunch enough, if slightly messy to eat. The hassle is worth it. They also have a low fat, low cheese and gluten free versions, we are saved.

They are made out of rice (out-smarting the Chinese again), but don’t you dare declare Twistees in your five-a-day vegy score card☺

They really go down well with some Kinnie or local beer.

(This is true) There were rumors in 2002 that the recipe has changed, however the local producers vehemently denied this. At that time people also had problems tasting and smelling, so maybe it was senseless to claim this in that period.

Kinnie

Kinnie is a bitter local drink originating from the island. It is made out of the usual suspects and blood oranges. It goes well with most dishes and even solo. It tastes less artificial than the other sodas to me. However it still is a soda at the end of the day.

Cisk Beer

Cisk “the original”, is a fine local beer. In terms of taste is a brother to Stella and Maes and a  distant cousin to Bud and Carlsebrg.

There are many versions of this now, Mama and Papa Cisk have been busy!

There are nine varieties of this beer now to suit every taste bud. There is something for those who like it sweet and those who like it bitter.


Conclusion

In Malta you will experience new tastes in a completely new environment. An AirBnB flat gives you the best flexibility to buy from Uber eats, cook, prepare. If you are on a budget for a short term rental in Malta this is definitely an advantage. For those who need or want to keep a close eye on what they eat, having your own fully equipped kitchen makes things easier.

A lot of energy went into writing this article, I hoped you liked it 🙂