Following the launch of the first MICHELIN Guide Malta on 26th February 2020, we take a closer look at the country’s cuisine.
Malta sits in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea and has a unique identity and rich culture. It is characterised by limestone cliffs, rocky coastlines, red-tinged beaches and bustling marinas – and its year-round sun, beautiful landscapes and ease of accessibility make it a popular holiday destination.
The capital, Valletta – a world heritage site – is an elegant fortified city built by the Knights of St John, with many defences visible above ground but also hidden away below; a result of the islands’ desirable location. Also worth exploring is the mysterious ‘Silent City’ of Mdina – the former capital – as well as characterful fishing villages such as Marsaxlokk.
Malta’s cuisine is unique due to its geography and history of occupation, with the various foreign powers who ruled over the islands each bringing something different to the mix. Cooking is generally rustic with strong Italian and Sicilian influences – and some British, French, Spanish and North African flavours thrown in. Unsurprisingly, seafood takes the lead, with island ingredients like tomatoes, olives, aubergines and courgettes also playing a big role. Local prickly pears are also something of a feature.
There’s a wide choice when it comes to where to eat, with a good mix of city restaurants and those in beautiful natural spots or with sea-facing terraces. Many have a simple, rustic look and even in high end places, the atmosphere is laid-back and the dress code casual. Lunch is quieter and some restaurants open for dinner only. Most open at around 7pm. Even during peak season, reservations are not always essential.
Old World Italian and French wines are popular but there are also some great and very affordable lesser-known local choices available which are definitely worth a try – many are of these local wines are white. The island is also well-known for its fruit liqueurs, which include the likes of pomegranate and pear.
Most of the population speak English, so English menus are widely available. The majority offer a fairly extensive à la carte, with just a few serving tasting menus, and portions are generous. Here’s what you might expect to find on offer:
Fish stew – similar to French bouillabaisse; very popular just before Easter
A dip made from mashed broad beans and garlic and served with snacks or appetizers
Beef stew with wine and olives – sometimes also prepared with eggs, bacon or mushrooms
Aubergines filled with minced beef or pork and often oven-baked
A small round cheese made from sheep’s milk
Bread dipped in olive oil and topped with ripe tomatoes, tuna, onion, garlic, tomatoes and capers
A version of ratatouille with tomatoes, capers, olives, eggplant and bell peppers
Traditional broad bean and pea soup
A British-influenced pie filled with a white fish known as ‘dolphin fish’
A warm snack – a crispy puff pastry diamond filled with either mushy peas or ricotta
A warm snack filled with ricotta, fava beans and spinach
STUFFAT TAL FENEK
Considered Malta’s national dish, this rabbit stew exists in numerous versions
Pork sausage served with pasta and/or sauce
Although desserts aren’t a big focus in Malta, you’ll find the following sweet treats, especially during holidays and celebrations:
A sweet date pastry
A fried sweet pastry (inspired by the Italian version) and generally filled with ricotta cream
QAGHAQ TAL GHASEL
Sweet rings made with black treacle, orange peel, spices and honey; popular at Christmas
TORTA TAL LEWZ
Almond pie; popular at Easter
TORTA TAL MARMURAT
Almond and chocolate tart, usually baked for national celebrations
Click here to see all restaurants listed in the MICHELIN Guide Malta