There are a few typical Maltese dishes and some fantastic sweets that are really not to be missed.
Every country has its traditional cuisine, yet what leaves the most lasting impression is the street food and Malta is no different. Naturally, there is a lot to discover on a Maltese menu, and a visit to a Maltese restaurant is certainly due. However, if your time is short and there is only some traditional Maltese dishes you can try, these are the traditional Maltese foods we recommend everyone should try while in Malta.
01. Pastizzi (stuffed pastries)
Pastizzi, baked pastries which are traditionally stuffed with ricotta or peas, are probably the most famous traditional Maltese food. Variations have developed over the years, with spinach or chicken fillings becoming popular. Qassatat is a different version of pastizzi, usually bigger and using shortcrust pastry instead of filo. Many pastizzi shops – typically a hole-in-the-wall establishment – have developed a rather large menu variety, including baked rice, baked pasta, an assortment of sausage rolls and pies, and sweets! All for under 2 euro a piece, and sinfully delicious.
02. Ftira biż-żejt (tuna roll)
Another very typical snack is the ftira biż-żejt. This traditional Maltese food consists of a single portion of Maltese bread spread with tomato paste and olive oil and stuffed with a variety of ingredients that may include tuna, gozo cheeselets, capers, olives, pickled vegetables, salad and more. This is commonly eaten as a lunch-on-the-go or a seaside snack, and is available from most food kiosks and bars.
03. Bigilla (bean paste)
Bigilla is a bean paste or dip made from fava beans, locally known as “ful tal-ġirba”, and includes garlic, chilli peppers, parsley and olive oil. The paste was traditionally sold hot from bigilla vendors on the street, however now it is available at all supermarkets. It is typically served as a dip with galletti, water biscuits, but it is also ideal spread on bread in a sandwich or as an ingredient in other dishes. Healthy and delicious!
04. Maltese platter
In typical Mediterranean style, a typical shared lunch snack will consist of a finger-food platter that will include broken Maltese bread and galletti along with bigilla, capers, pickled onions, sundried tomatoes, stuffed olives and gozo cheeselets. Olives are often depicted as a delicacy, but in Malta they are a daily food; they are typically stuffed with anchovy or tuna. Gozo cheeselets – ġbejniet – come in many variations; they are made from sheep or goat’s cheese and may be soft or hard, plain or peppered. All is drizzled with olive oil, of course.
05. Fenek (rabbit)
Undoubtly one of the most famous traditional Maltese dishes, there are even places that specialise only in hosting a “fenkata”, which is the term used when locals go out to eat, specifically, rabbit. Mġarr and Baħrija are well-known for such establishments; do not expect anything fancy! The starter will usually consist of “bebbux bl-aljoli” (snails in a garlic sauce) to snack on, followed by a starter of spaghetti with rabbit sauce. The rabbit itself is typically served fried in garlic or as a stew, and washed down with a good local wine.
06. Qarnita (octopus)
Another favourite among traditional Maltese dishes is octopus, which is also typically served fried in garlic or as a stew, while spaghetti with octopus sauce is also popular. The best place to eat octopus is at a fish restaurant that serves the fresh catch; Marsaxlokk – Malta’s best known fishing village and fish market – is probably your best choice.
07. Lampuki (Dorado fish)
Only available in September, when the Mediterranean sea around Malta is warm and calm, the lampuka is Malta’s national fish and locals keenly await the season when they can taste its delicious, white, flakey flesh. The fish is typically fried and served whole or in pieces – watch out for the fish bones! The traditional lampuki sauce is made from fresh tomatoes, olives, capers, olive oil, salt and pepper. This is a traditional Maltese food you absolutely must try if you’re here in season.
08. Patata l-forn (baked potatoes)
This is the Maltese equivalent to the English Sunday roast. The preparation is simple: a layer of onions, a layer of thickly sliced potatoes, a layer of pork steaks, another layer of potatoes, add water, season, and chuck in the oven. The resulting dish is delicious, with a variety of soft and crunchy potatoes. The potatoes can also be prepared alone, without the meat, to serve as a side-dish to another preparation.
09. Imqaret (date sweet)
Imqaret are the traditional Maltese “street sweet” if ever there was one. Typically sold from small, mobile imqaret friers, imqaret consist of dates wrapped in pastry which is then deep-fried. In a restaurant, you may have them served with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. Yumm!
10. Pastini tal-lewz (almond sweet)
Almonds are a big thing in Maltese sweets. These small almond sweets are typically enjoyed with afternoon tea, but there is a huge variety of traditional sweets made from almonds: figolli, kwarezimal, prinjolata, and the traditional wedding cake are all made from almonds.
Which of these traditional Maltese foods have you tried, and which did you enjoy most? Is your favourite traditional Maltese food listed here? If not, which is it?