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The Maltese Islands

Maltese Traditional Food


Maltese cuisine is typically Mediterranean, with some influence from Italian cuisine particularly Sicily and South Italy. The Maltese cuisine also embodies the gastronomic legacies of Malta’s past rulers such as Spanish cuisine and more recently the British one. There are many unique and distinctive local dishes.

Appetizers

  • Żebbuġ Mimli (stuffed olives): Large, green, pitted olives filled with a piquant mixture of chopped anchovy, caper and breadcrumbs.
  • Fażola Bajda bit-tewm u it-tursin (beans with parsley, garlic and olive oil): Large dried white beans, soaked overnight, simmered until cooked and dressed with finely minced garlic, chopped parsley and olive oil and served cold. Flaked canned tuna or salt cured tuna and black olives may be added.
  • Fritturi Tal-Qaqoċċ (artichoke fritters): Floured and fried artichoke hearts, poached with olive oil and garlic, dipped in flour mixed with parsley and salted anchovy or garlic and deep fried. 
  • Fritturi Tal-Makku (whitebait fritters): Fresh whitebait are dipped in a mix of flour, chopped parsley and minced garlic, deep fried in small handfuls and served with lemon wedges.
  • Bigilla (bean paste): This paste is made with a type of dried bean called ful tal-Ġirba. The beans are soaked for 24 hours, rinsed and cooked until they are very soft. Subsequently they are mashed and mixed with salt, pepper, olive oil, crushed garlic, chili and chopped parsley. Usually served with traditional Maltese water biscuits called galletti or Maltese bread.
  • Bebbux (snails): Snails which usually are simmered in red wine, Lacto (a local ale) and Kinnie with mint, basil and marjoram.

 

Soups

  • Minestra (thick vegetable soup): The traditional minestra is a hearty soup combining numerous fresh vegetables and one or more pulses like beans, chick peas and split peas, accompanied by a slice of crusty Maltese bread. This dish is eaten all year round, but usually preferred in winter as a healthy, warming dinner.
  • Kusksu (broad bean and pasta soup): The essential ingredients are a form of small pasta beads called kusksu, which give it a particular texture, and fresh broad beans cooked with onions and tomato paste. It is a spring favorite, since that is the time when broad beans are in season.
  • Soppa tal-Armla (widow's soup): So called because of the tradition of neighbours supporting poor widows living in their neighbourhood by sharing produce or meals with them. This vegetable soup is a thinner version of Minestra rounded off with fresh ġbejniet (cheeslets), which melt into the hot soup. Usually raw eggs are added at the end and when they are just set, the soup is ready. 
  • Aljotta (fish soup): A rich fish soup, similar to broth with plenty of garlic, herbs like mint or marjoram and tomatoes.
  • Kawlata (pork and cabbage soup): A thick and chunky stew-like soup of cabbage, potato and pork knuckle with Maltese sausage and sometimes bacon. Traditionally the meat is removed from the soup and served as a second course.

 

Pasta and Rice

  • Mqarrun il-Forn (baked macaroni): A baked dish made with macaroni, Bolognese style meat sauce, egg and various other ingredients such as chicken livers, hard boiled eggs, peas and bacon. The macaroni is usually topped with a layer of grated cheese, which will melt during the baking process and help to bind and set the pasta.
  • Ravjul (ravioli): Ravjul is typically filled with ricotta and fresh parsley and covered with a garlic scented fresh tomato sauce, garnished with celery and basil, and served with freshly-grated cheese. Alternatively spinach or minced meat or local sheep’s cheese (gbejniet) can also be used as filling. 
  • Ross il-Forn (baked rice): This dish is quite similar to baked macaroni, with rice being a main ingredient.
  • Timpana (pastry-covered baked macaroni): Baked macaroni tossed in a tomato sauce containing a small amount of minced beef and sometimes hard-boiled eggs bound with a mix of raw eggs and grated cheese. It can regarded as a sort of macaroni meat pie as the pasta is encased in pastry or topped with a pastry "lid" and baked till the pastry is lightly golden.

 

Meats

  • Braġjoli (beef olives): A thin slice of beef rolled round a tasty filling of breadcrumbs, bacon, eggs and fresh herbs. The filling may also include a slice of cooked ham, hard-boiled egg, grated cheese and a hint of curry powder. This dish is particularly tasty when slowly braised in red wine or in tomato sauce.
  • Fenek (rabbit): Rabbit is very popular and one of the most well known Maltese dishes. The rabbit, often previously marinated, is lightly browned with garlic and herbs, and then simmered for several hours, ideally using a terracotta casserole, either in red wine or a rich tomato sauce. Traditionally rabbit stew is served on spaghetti, locally known as "Fenkata", and for many it is the unofficial national dish. 
  • Laħam fuq il-fwar (steamed meat): Thin slices of beef are placed on an oiled plate and layered with the filling for bragjoli or else with garlic, chopped herbs like marjoram and parsley, and breadcrumbs or cooked spinach. The meat and filling layers, which must not be too many, are covered with a second plate or with greaseproof paper and the meat is left to cook gently and slowly on top of pot until tender. This is a very healthy cooking method, and is also used for cooking thinly sliced liver, Maltese Sausage or thin pork chops, and also for simmering small fish or fish fillets over fish soup.
  • Falda Mimlija (stuffed flank): Pork flank with a pocket cut into it. The pocket is filled with a mixture of minced pork, grated cheese and parsley, bound with eggs. 
  • Laħam taż-żiemel (horse meat): Horse meat is usually steamed or fried with garlic or else simmered on top of the stove or in the oven in an onion and white wine sauce. 
  • Zalzett tal-Malti (Maltese sausage):  Maltese sausage is typically made of pork, sea salt, black peppercorns, coriander seeds and parsley. It is short and thick in shape and can be eaten grilled, fried, stewed, steamed or even eaten raw when freshly made.

 

Fish

  • Lampuka (dolphin fish): Lampuki are perhaps Malta's favourite fish. The Lampuka has fine, white flesh with only a few large bones and is found in abundance in the seas between Sicily and Tunisia. It can be poached with rosemary and red wine or lightly pan-fried in olive oil and finished with garlic, lemon juice and marjoram. It may also be oven-baked in white wine, olive oil, tomatoes, onions, olives and capers, or cut into small filleted pieces and deep-fried. Best of all it can be made into a surprising fish pie of many flavours with spinach or cauliflower, walnuts or chestnuts, capers, sultanas, hard-boiled eggs, herbs, and lemon zest, all enclosed in a short crust pastry.
  • Stuffat tal-Qarnit (slow braised octopus): A dish which consists of octopus, onions, tomato paste, olives, peas, bay leaves, walnuts and raisins slowly simmered in red wine.
  • Stuffat tal-Bakkaljaw (salt cod stew): Salt cod which is soaked and simmered with chunks of potatoes, diced carrots, onions, garlic, tomatoes, salted anchovies, raisins and nutmeg. 
  • Sawrell Mimli l-forn (baked stuffed mackerel): Mackerel filled with a mixture of breadcrumbs, olives, salted anchovies and parsley. It is baked between layers of potatoes, onions and tomatoes sprinkled with salt, pepper, fresh marjoram leaves and olive oil.
  • Klamar Mimli fl-inbid (red wine braised stuffed calamari): The filling is made from breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic and capers, and optionally a slice of hard-boiled egg in the middle. The filled calamari is then gently stewed in red wine with sultanas and nutmeg. Usually served with boiled potatoes dressed with olive oil and chopped parsley.
  • Braġjoli tal-hut (fresh fish roll-ups): Thin slices of fresh tuna or other large fish like Aċċola (amberjack), Denċi (a large pink sea bream), Ċerna (grouper) or Pixxispad (swordfish) are rolled around a filling of breadcrumbs, mint or marjoram, capers, olives, salted anchovy fillets and chopped hard boiled egg. The rolls are browned then briefly and very gently simmered in garlic-scented olive oil and glazed with a little vinegar.
  • Pixxispad Mixwi Mħawwar (grilled sword fish steaks with fresh herb topping): Thick swordfish steaks are grilled on gentle heat and when just done they are topped with a mixture of chopped fresh herbs, lemon zest, capers and olives and drizzled with olive oil. Grilled fish is usually served with a crisp fresh salad.

 

Eggs and Cheese

  • Gbejniet (Gozo cheeselets): These are small, round cheeses made from sheep’s milk or sometimes goat’s milk, often served as part of a light lunch or as part of a hearty dinner. These cheeselets come in four varieties, fresh (friski or tal-ilma), sun dried (moxxi), salt cured (maħsula) or peppered (tal-bżar). The fresh ones have a smooth texture, a subtle, milky, and creamy flavor and are kept in their own whey in a similar manner to fresh mozzarella. The sundried variety have a more definite, nutty almost musky, taste and are fairly hard, but can keep for a long time without refrigeration. The pepper cured variety, are covered in crushed black pepper and cured, after which they may be stored in oil, or sometimes pickled with the addition of vinegar. The latter are the tastiest and their sharp taste becomes more piquant as they age. They also develop a lovely crumbly texture. The dried varieties are traditionally served with galletti (a local type of biscuit) and a glass of robust red wine. Ġbejniet are often referred to as a goat’s cheese, as indeed they originally were, though today these are almost always made from sheep’s milk. 
  • Balbuljata (scrambled egg dish): Eggs scrambled with tomatoes, onions, fresh herbs, corned beef and grated cheese. Some variant dishes use broad beans or gbejniet instead of corned beef.
  • Torta tal-Irkotta (fresh ricotta and parsley pie): Open faced or closed short crust pastry pie with local sheep's milk ricotta, a sharp grated cheese and chopped fresh parsley bound with eggs.
  • Froġa bil-ful u l-ġbejniet friski (omelette with fresh broad beans and fresh local cheeselets): The beaten eggs are mixed with shelled broad beans and mint. The finished omelette is topped with fresh ġbejna slices, which melt on the omelette.
  • Tarja bil-bajd (spaghetti omelette): Angel's hair pasta, cooked and tossed in cheese and butter, mixed with eggs and shallow fried.
  • Froġa bil-laħam (potato and meat omelette): This omelette is made with mashed potato, small pieces of finely chopped beef, green fresh onion tops and bound with eggs and grated cheddar cheese.

 

Vegetables

  • Ful bit-tewm (beans with mint and garlic): dried broad beans are soaked overnight and then cooked with garlic and fresh or dried mint. Dressed with oil and vinegar, this dish usually accompanies fish dishes.
  • Patata l-Forn (Maltese style baked potatoes): Layers of medium thick potato rounds are placed on a bed of medium thick slices of onions, seasoned with salt, pepper and aniseeds or caraway, or more rarely dried thyme, and almost covered in a mixture of 1 part olive oil and 1 part water. Roast meats, game birds or meat stuffed vegetables like aubergine, are usually cooked on top of these potatoes. The potatoes on top get a chewy dark skin while those submerged are meltingly tender.
  • Kapunata (Summer vegetable medley): A summer dish of pan braised tomatoes, capers, aubergines and green peppers, often served as a side dish with fish or cold on its own as a savoury summer lunch. Used also on pizza, pasta, on Maltese bread as a snack or mixed with cold long grain rice and topped with canned tuna or hard-boiled eggs for a summer rice salad. 
  • Ħaxix Mimli (stuffed vegetables): The fillings for cabbage leaves, small marrows, artichokes, gourds, potatoes, onions, curly endive, tomatoes, aubergines and green bell peppers range from ricotta, herbs and cheese, to ground beef with bacon, cheese, and parsley, to rice with cheese, garlic and olives, to fresh or canned fish like lampuki or tuna and to breadcrumb based fillings with cheese, olives and capers and anchovy or garlic. 
  • Qargħabali Mimli (stuffed round small marrows or long pale green gourds): Round pale green zucchini or courgettes, particularly delicious when stuffed with minced beef, cheese and parsley or with ricotta and grated sharp cheese. The stuffed vegetable is subsequently baked or braised in tomato sauce or else cooked in chicken or meat broth. Sliced rounds may also be fried, and served hot or cold, or the marrows may be made into a creamy soup. They can also be made into fritters or fried vegetarian rissoles or patties.
  • Brunġiel Mimli (baked stuffed aubergines): The aubergines are halved and some of the flesh is scooped out, leaving a shell. The pulp is cooked with ground beef, tomato paste, garlic and onions, and mixed when cool with eggs and cheese. The shells are filled with this mix and topped with breadcrumbs mixed with grated cheese, dotted with butter and baked till crisp and crusty on top. 
  • Ħass, ful u piżelli (braised lettuce, fresh broad beans and peas): A spring dish of the above vegetables braised in olive oil with green onion or young leek tops. Nice when paired with juicy slices of the locally produced delicacy of cooked ham on the bone called perżut tal-għadma.
  • Stuffat tal-Qargħa Ħamra (pumpkin stew): Sliced or diced orange pumpkin flesh cooked with onions, garlic, sultanas and mint, usually served with rice.

 

Sauces

  • Zalza Pikkanti (bell pepper and caper sauce): Vinegar sharpened stewed bell peppers with tomato paste, garlic and mint or marjoram, sometimes also black or green olives, capers and softened onions, most often used with fish.
  • Zalza tal-Kappar (caper sauce): Capers, olives, parsley and mint, optional stewed fresh tomatoes, onions and tomato paste. Ideal with grilled fish like swordfish steaks.
  • Zalza Ħadra (green sauce): Sauce of parsley, fresh breadcrumbs, garlic and filleted salted anchovies with either vinegar or lemon juice
  • Arjoli (garlic sauce): There are two types of this sauce. One is made by pounding softened galletti with basil, mint, parsley, garlic, capers, olives and anchovy fillets and diluting with oil, while the other is made by mixing chopped fresh tomato pulp with large amounts of garlic, parsley, fresh or dried mint and olive oil. Most commonly used as a dip or sauce for snails, or to accompany shellfish or octopus.

 

Savoury Pastries

  • Sfineġ (deep fried pastry puffs): These squares of crisp pastry filled with small pieces of salt cod or anchovy, best eaten when hot.
  • Pastizzi (ricotta or pea filled savoury pasties): Pastizzi are small, diamond-shaped or shell shaped packets of multi layered crisp pastry stuffed with either fresh ricotta or with a mushy split pea mixture which is sometimes slightly spicy.
  • Qassatat (round pastries with anchovy, ricotta or other fillings): Same as Pastizzi but made with short crust pastry, traditionally filled with ricotta, peas, or spinach and anchovy.


Bread

  • Ħobża tal-Malti (Maltese bread): A crusty bread loaf with a deliciously fragrant soft inside which is the mainstay of a meal. Very popular as snack food particularly served with simple local produce like fresh tomatoes or tomato paste and ġbejniet. Maltese bread is best eaten fresh but cooled off, as it loses most of its taste and crunchiness within a day. Even so, some people prefer to eat when it is straight out of the oven.
  • Ħobż biż-żejt u t-tadam (bread with olive oil and tomato): Two slices of crusty Maltese bread, or sometimes a very small whole loaf are rubbed generously with a juicy ripe local tomato cut in half, then drenched in olive oil, seasoned with salt and ground black pepper and filled with one or more of the following items: canned flaked tuna, thinly sliced fresh onion, olives, basil, salted anchovy fillets, tiny Malta capers, fresh mint, sliced hard boiled egg, lettuce, small pickled vegetables, white beans and pickled onions. 
  • Galletti (water biscuit): Round, hard and dry white savoury biscuits, rarely homemade today but available commercially in smaller and larger versions. Frequently accompany pre-meal nibbles and dips like bigilla.

 

Sweets

  • Mqaret (deep fried diamond shaped pastry): Date-filled, orange flower scented, deep-fried pastries, which are served piping hot at home or from street vendors.
  • Kannoli (cheese or cream filled pastry): A tube-shaped confectionery of deep-fried crisp pastry filled with fresh ricotta and sweetened with pieces of chocolate and candied fruit. 
  • Torta tat-Tamal (date and cocoa tart): Anise perfumed open date tart with cocoa, chopped walnuts, orange juice and orange zest.
  • Torta tal-Marmorat (almond, candied fruit and chocolate pie): Lattice topped or closed pie with a filling of ground almonds, chopped candied citrus peel and grated dark chocolate scented with cinnamon.
  • Sinizza (ricotta and candied fruit sweet): Flaky pastry or sometimes sponge cake with a ricotta, candied peel and glacé cherry filling rolled up like a swiss roll.
  • Ħelwa tat-Tork: This is made of ground sesame seeds and sugar and is similar to the North African, Middle Eastern, Greek and Turkish varieties (hence the name). Traditionally, it contains crunchy whole almonds and some pistachios.
  • Pudina tal-Ħobż (bread pudding): Sweet made from stale bread which is soaked in water overnight to re-moisten it and then mixed with milk, cocoa, eggs, sugar, dried fruit and nuts. Sometimes liqueurs such as anisette or sherry are added. It is crunchy on top and moist on the inside, and commonly eaten all year round as a great way of using up bread.
  • Prinjolata (Easter pine nut sweet): A white dome or pyramid shaped Carnival sweet of layered sponge fingers or sponge cake and a soft meringue, butter cream and pine nut mixture, decorated with glacè cherries, more nuts and dribbles of melted chocolate. 
  • Kwareżimal (Lenten sweets): Kwareżimal is an almond biscuit scented with orange, lemon and tangerine zest, cinnamon and orange blossom water and traditionally eaten during Lent. The surface is drizzled with honey and sprinkled with chopped pistachios. 
  • Figolla (Easter shaped pastry sweet): This is a book-sized, golden, icing-coated biscuit stuffed with a mixture of sweet ground almonds made of various shapes. 
  • Ħobża ta' San Martin (Saint Martin's bread roll): This is a bread roll, sweetened with mastic, given to children for the feast of Saint Martin, celebrated in Malta on the Sunday closest to 11 November.
  • Qagħaq tal-Għasel or tal-Qastanija (treacle ring shaped pastries): Treacle rings made from a light pastry with a filling made of treacle, semolina, citrus zest, cinnamon and cloves.


Snacks 

  • Żrieragħ u Ġewż (seeds and nuts): Salted savoury nibbles like dried pumpkin and melon seeds, crisp fried dried broad beans and dry roasted peanuts are served to accompany a glass of wine or beer.
  • Karamelli tal-Ħarrub: Hard square candies wrapped in greaseproof paper made from the fruit of the Carob tree.
  • Twistees:  Twistees are a popular Maltese baked crisp savoury snack produced in Malta and are made from rice and corn grits.

 

Beverages

  • Ġulepp tal-Ħarrub (carob syrup): This drink is considered to be very soothing for coughs and sore throats. It can also be drizzled on ricotta, ice cream or fresh fruit.
  • Mbuljuta (chestnut and cocoa drink): Traditional homemade drink of sweetened chestnuts cooked with cocoa, tangerine zest, cinnamon and cloves, normally drunk hot but can also be served cold.
  • Ruġġata: A long drink made by diluting concentrated almond "milk" or syrup with cold water, very refreshing in hot weather. 
  • Kafè biz-Zokk tal-Kannella: Coffee scented with a piece of stick cinnamon. Other spices like cloves and aniseeds are used singly or together to flavour cooked coffee, which may also be perfumed with orange blossom water or chicory.
  • Kinnie: This locally produced drink is a non-alcoholic, mildy and pleasantly bitter soft drink that is very refreshing. It is made from a citrus fruit called Chinò and aromatic herbs and it is caramel in colour.

 

Wine

The production of wine in Malta dates back over two thousand years, from the Roman Era. Today grape varieties grown on the Maltese islands include Gellewza and Ghirgentina. Vineyards range in size from one-tenth of a hectare to twenty hectares and are mostly privately owned by part time farmers.

Grape harvesting commences by end of August. The white wine is of excellent quality and has a refreshing taste whilst the red wine is medium bodied. Noble grape varieties could be grown in Malta from which excellent wines could be made.

The present vineyards include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Carigan, Ruby Cabernet, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Trebbiano, Petit Verdot and Moscato.

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