Maltese were one of the firsts in the world to taste chocolates.
At first glance, it seems challenging to identify Maltese cuisine. With fresh seafood draped in rouge tomato sauce, velvety risottos, and even Roman pizza, is it masking itself as Italian food’s English half brother? When food reflects upon the heart of a culture, however, one can only fathom the multi-layers of Maltese cuisine. After all, its history comes as sordid and multicultural as one can imagine.
Having been ruled by the Romans, the Knights, the French, then the English; Maltese cuisine is also heavily influenced by its geographical location. Both Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flairs have heavily impacted traditional Maltese dishes. Since most of its food source needed to be imported from early on, in addition to its significant position between trade routes; Maltese cuisine has always been an adaptation of various European and North African flavors.
The Knights, who arrive from various European countries, ruled Malta before Napoleon’s French occupation. Hence, aljotta, the Maltese fish soup with herbs and tomatoes, is similar to the French bouillabaisse. Due to Knights’ connection to the wealthy, they brought chocolates to Malta who were one of the firsts in the world to taste the famous treat. It’s no mistake that Malta’s national dish is stuffat tal fenek, or rabbit stew, which was also brought to the island by the Knights.
Due to its proximity to North Africa, one might be surprised to find out that pork plays a popular role in Maltese cuisine. Since Muslims don’t eat pork, this might have been the Maltese’s way of defining its national identity, leaning toward Christianity rather than Arab culture. Often on the menu, you’ll see: pork sausages, grilled pork, and kawlata – pork and vegetable soup.
Prior to its independence in 1964, Malta was a British colony. Hence, its cuisine incorporated British condiments and products: English mustard, HP Sauce, Worcestershire sauce…just to name a few. For example, aljoli is a Maltese paste to eat with crackers or bread. The dish originally derived from Britain except for the replacement of egg with herbs, olives, anchovies, and olive oil.
Here are some essential Maltese dishes to try:
1. Lampuki Pie
This is a Maltese fish pie made from mahi-mahi. The pie is British influenced, but the Arabic flavors comes from usage of lemon peel, mint, and raisins. In addition, tomatoes, capers, and olives add a hint of Italian flair.
A pastry with dates filling sinde. When it’s plural, it’s called “maqrut,” or diamond-shaped sweets.
Translates to “beef olives” with a stuffing made with: bread, bacon, garlic, parsley, and wedges of hard boiled egg.
Goat cheese made in Malta and Gozo Island. Most sheep milk produced in Malta is used for this type of cheese production.
5. Helwa tat-Tork
A dense, sweet confection that came to Malta probably during Arab era.
6. Hobz biz-zejt
Literally means “bread with oil.” It’s essentially an open sandwich with Maltese bread which is sourdough with a hard crust and soft center with numerous air holes.
The Maltese version of ratatouille, a stew of vegetables, flavored with olives and capers.
A traditional savoury pastry with ricotta or mushy peas filling.
9. Stuffat tal-Fenek
This is traditional rabbit stew that came from the Knights of St. John, and is the signature Maltese dish mixed with homegrown herbs and vegetables.
10. Widow’s Soup
Or, Soppa tal-Armla. It’s soup made from fresh vegetables including kohlrabi, peas and broad beans and soft gbejniet cheese.