The secluded lido was far below a limestone terrace and white umbrellaed café. A sheltered cove opened into the impossibly blue Mediterranean, looking over the Gozo Channel to the island of Malta. A courageous young man dove from the terrace. Seabirds fed small fish to chicks in cliffside nests.
The waiter brought a tray of seafood on ice, caught in the cove below me that morning. I chose a small Pagella (red snapper), to be grilled whole. I listened to my fish sizzle and sipped a glass of Maltese bubbly. As I daydreamed and gazed across the blue water, small plates with olives, bread, cheese, sausage, and beans began filling my table. That’s when I fell in love with Maltese food.
In 30-days on Malta, I didn’t eat one morsel that was unappetizing or poorly cooked. Restaurants, cafes, markets, and street vendors sell fresh, locally produced meat, fish, veg, fruit, and dairy.
I tried street food, sidewalk cafes, 4-star, and buffets. At farmer’s markets, village shops, mobile fishmongers, traveling farmers, and supermarkets, I bought food for picnics and my apartment. I was never disappointed.
When you go to Malta try everything, it’s all delightful, but don’t miss these favorites of mine ~
Maltese Plate—an introduction to Maltese Food
The Maltese plate is an amuse-bouche served before a Maltese meal. Traditional ingredients are Maltese crackers, Bigilla—a spicy bean paste, olives, Maltese sausage, Gbejniet—Maltese cheese from sheep’s milk, and Hobz biz-zejt—rustic Maltese bread spread with savory tomato paste and olive oil.
You’ll find the Maltese Plate in many versions. If you are dining alone, it will be a small plate. When in a group, it can be an overflowing board. Larger versions to share can be ordered in some eateries. It makes a great afternoon snack with a glass of wine of course.
I believe it’s what you should eat first in Malta. You’ll get a thirst for local flavor, and hunger for Mediterranean food.
Find Maltese Plates in most restaurants and sidewalk cafes. You can make your own from the goodies you buy at the local food shop.
Street food—Malta’s foodie bargain
If you only eat one thing in Malta, make it street food. It is the soul of traditional Maltese fare. It’s hearty, travels well, and costs almost nothing. €5 will buy enough for a filling lunch and a cold beer.
Try pizzette—Maltese pizza. The classic version has creamy sweet-tangy goat cheese, tomatoes, olives, potatoes, and fish. Next, a pastizzi—crisp, layered pastry with cheese or cheese and pea filling.
Qassatas are English-style hand-pies. You’ll find pea, tuna, spinach, or chicken flavors. I tried the chicken numerous times. A creamy filling had Middle-Eastern spices, including a touch of cinnamon. It was intoxicating. My favorite chicken qassata baker is in Bugibba.
Find street food in cities where its usually sold at narrow stalls between shops. They typically have a baker’s style glass case displaying their goods with prices clearly marked. One euro will buy two pastizzi.
In villages, these types of food can be found at the village bakery. Get there early, most bakeries sell out soon after lunch. It’s also popular at village festivals.
Fish—taste the Mediterranean
Eating fish daily was my biggest foodie delight while in the Mediterranean. A wide variety of fish and shellfish are served in every restaurant and are available fresh in markets.
In restaurants, you may be asked to select the fish you want from an iced display of the days catch. You can choose the cooking method, typically grilled or fried. Sometimes a salsa of local tomatoes and peppers is offered.
I love shrimp. King Prawns served steamed were sweet and succulent. They taste more like lobster than prawns. I ate them in cocktails, with rice and pasta. The meaty crustaceans can be a bit pricy in restaurants. I got a kilo (2.2 lbs) from the fishmonger for €13 ($14.45). They were a feast I shared while sitting on my balcony in Marsaskala Harbor, watching the boats come in for the evening.
Seafood salads were on offer at lunch, many places I ate. Smoked or cured salmon, mussels, and shrimp on a bed of greens and Marie Rose sauce became a lunchtime staple. Light and refreshing, they helped chase the afternoon heat.
Common fish on Malta—Lampuka (Mahi-Mahi), swordfish, seabass, grouper, and sea bream. Shrimp, mussels, clams, oysters, and urchins are available most of the year.
Where you find fish on Malta
Find fish everywhere, in fact, you’ll always be surrounded. Restaurants, cafes, even street vendors, serve seafood. It’s always fresh and locally caught.
Villages usually have a fishmonger either in a shop or a small lorry driving through the streets of the village, sounding a melodic horn to announce his arrival.
Go to the open-air fish market in Marsaslox. The fishing village is humming with vendors, buyers, and sidewalk cafes.
You need to go 60-miles to Sicily to find more authentic Italian food than Malta’s. The two countries share many recipes. Maltese versions will typically use goat or sheep’s cheese, but imported Italian cheeses are common.
I had lasagna often. The price was usually right for lunch. In the busier tourist areas, lasagna was served with bread and a glass of wine for under €9 ($10). Enormous servings, a Maltese tradition, were enough for two.
In villages at neighborhood cafes, a bowl of seafood pasta brimming with shrimp, scallops, and salmon was about the same price.
Find Italian in restaurants and cafes, markets, and street vendors.
Rabbit is the 2nd most popular protein for the Maltese. Fish is first. It is served fried, stewed, or with spaghetti. I tried them all. My favorite was Fenek—rabbit stew. The rabbit is marinated in red wine, then cooked long and slow with veggies.
Find rabbit in restaurants, cafes, markets, and street vendors. It’s also a popular dish at village festivals.
Libations for all
Yes, beer and wine are food. Both are exceptionally good food in Malta.
Maltese wine has been made for centuries. Local wine is widely available and very reasonably priced in shops and restaurants. Red, white, and sparkling wines are made for Maltese food or for sipping the sun down.
My favorite white was Girgentina. The Maltese grape has been cultivated on the island for eons, but its origin is unknown. Some say it’s like chardonnay, but I found it to be lighter and a better pair with fish.
Find wine everywhere. The best winery on the island is Meridiana. Their internationally award-winning wines are available in restaurants and markets island-wide. A visit to the estate is a delightful experience. Call ahead to order the Malta Platter and wine tasting. It will be one of your most Maltese experiences.
Cisk beer (pronounced chisk) has been Malta’s favorite since 1929. Available in six styles, I enjoyed the easy-going pilsner with most foods and as an afternoon cooler. Find Cisk everywhere.
Malta food, eat & drink Best Eats Video
Malta’s prime location and delectable food
Malta is 60-miles south of Italy, 176-miles east of Tunisia, and 207-miles north of Libya. Greece, Turkey, Syria, Israel, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Spain, and France aren’t far.
Many powers have conquered and occupied Malta, including Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Greeks, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Knights of St. John, French, and British. Each new conqueror left a mark on the country’s way of life.
Today, independent Malta is a magnificent mélange of all it’s conquering cultures. You will taste it in the food.
For more information about where to eat, sleep, and play in Malta, go to Visit Malta.
Photos by Mary Charlebois
To learn how the author spent a few hours at London’s Heathrow Airport during her trip to Europe you can read her story on 10 Things to Do at London’s Heathrow Airport. On the subjects of food, eating, drinking in Malta, how about exploring the hottest wine-scene in Northern California? You can read Mary Charlebois’ story on Alternatives to the Napa Valley Wineries here.