No meal in Malta will bore you. At least, I found it to be so on a recent trip. The country’s cuisine is an exciting blend, just like the people that inhabit this marvellous Mediterranean island.
The unique mix of dishes carries with it the cultural contributions of previous occupying countries, as well as those that surround the strategic isle. The culinary combination makes dining out feel like a journey through history.
Origin of Spices
Maltese cuisine has strong Sicilian and English roots, but also smacks tastily of Provencal, Greek and Maghrebin foods from the North African regions, including Morocco and Algeria. This means choices abound in most restaurants with fresh seafood particularly plentiful, which is always a treat for me while dining on islands.
Rustic and savoury dishes including an oft-served octopus stew and many variations of fried or stewed rabbit – a culturally significant dining experience called “fenkata”. There’s nothing like the Mediterranean use of fresh spices, myriad greens and veggies, with great olive oils. It blends nicely with the warm climate and al fresco dining, which is done everywhere on Malta.
In search of the best menus in Malta, I vaulted to heaven in the basement of the capital Valletta’s historic Manoel Theatre. At a well-known seafood spot, Fumia, I was served tantalizing traditional Sicilian dishes at very reasonable prices. I loved the antipastos, full of blended seafood marinades, salty dough crust-encased baked fresh fish (‘al sale’) and a dreamy creamy squid ink and lobster ravioli. Even the tidy dress code fit the clean menu and surroundings.
Following the “fresh today” trend, Rubino is another eatery that hits the spot. I must admit that dining on ”doughnuts” was not in my plan, but the waiter, Serge, recommended sfinec ta l-incova, and was later tipped well for his tip. It’s a savoury doughnut with anchovies, made more splendid by tips of rich red Dionysus Merlot Gozo D’or wine. I’m glad I left room for Rubino’s specialty dessert – cassata siciliana. The sponge cake soaked in sweet liqueur and layered with divine ricotta cheese leaves nothing to the sweet tooth’s imagination. On tasting this delicate delight, I immediately made reservations for the following Tuesday night, the communal fenkata celebration, which you must book ahead for.
The next day, the al fresco mood took me to lovely Kantina, a café bordering St. Paul’s and St. John’s Cathedrals. At tables cooled by shady trees, Kantina offers tasty traditional Maltese ftira bread, huge miza platters, sandwiches and salads. Needing a bit more bolstering for a day of walking Valletta’s streets, I indulged in mouth-watering BBQ and Honey Spare Ribs. Again all the dishes were very reasonably priced and musicians regaled diners with cool tunes from the nearby cathedral steps, as overhead, parasols sprayed an equally cooling mist.
The Second Course
Wanting a bit more of a cozy meal after hiking aplenty with some new found friends, the following evening’s repast was enjoyed at La Mere – a small but lovely place with local artists’ work displayed on the walls. It could be too small if a large party jumps in, but they allowed us to bring our own wine and only charged a corkage fee, winning favour outright. A fantastic fresh lamb tajine came surrounded by a divinely fresh mix of veggies. The superb chicken tikka masala and tikka sizzler were both accompanied by rice and naan bread. All in all, good value, service and a pleasing ambience, we all agreed.
Across the island at Mellieha on the next day, I pushed my group to dine Italian at Agliolio in the Radisson Golden Sands hotel for lunch, as I’d heard it was great. Though the service was not lightning fast, we all loved the views of Golden Bay and the kids got a chance to play nearby on the beach. We soon fell into a soporific lull, being served Rossinis – drinks with strawberry puree and topped with sparkling wine – along with pizzas featuring roasted veggies and Affumicata (Calabrian sausage). In the end it was panzerotti de pecora – filled with goat cheese and served on a tomato fondue – that took the group tasting award, but with the risotto di verdura’s rich Calabrese pesto coming in a solid second place. Given the heat, cool milk shakes made a perfectly sweet ending to the meal.
Back to Basics
Based on another tip from a waiter we head for a location that topped the village of Melliah, but off the main road, where we found a converted farmhouse called Rebekah’s Restaurant. This is the place to go for wonderful home-baked breads and perfectly served local wines.
Delicate amuse-bouches were the start of a round of well-remembered, hearty dishes for dinner. These included a classic octopus salad – ultra-fresh – followed by a chorizo and asparagus risotto, beef and kangaroo (yes Kangaroo) carpaccio, wild boar and an astounding veal fillet.
Sampling the extensive wine list, we were all extremely happy, or should I say merry, by the time we were served a heavenly chocolate fondant. The ambience was a bit lofty, but the courtyard dining was comfortable and the food exquisite. Oh, and if you like poultry, try the whole duck with hoi sin sauce for a tender delight you’ll quack about later… I did.
Memorable, magnificent Malta provides a long list of places to dine away your holiday. From quaint cafes to sumptuous fine dining venues, you have plenty of choices to keep your appetite sated in what is still a Mediterranean paradise.
Tips to Build your Appetite
In addition to feeding your appetite for fine food on Malta, you can also feed your fascination and physique. Here are 5 attractions and activities that will help you feast on the island’s history, culture and natural beauty as well as its diverse cuisine.
- Spend a day in Malta’s capital, Venatta a UNESCO World Heritage site packed with history and old-world architectural beauty.
- Visit the Megalithic temples, which date back over 3000 years and include some of the oldest places of worship on the planet.
- Take a boat to Gozo, a tiny island with yet more ancient temples where rural life continues as it has for decades and the views of the rugged coastline are nothing short of breathtaking.
- Explore the Maltese countryside to work up an appetite for more fabulous food. The island has an ideal climate for hiking and striking landscape is peppered with historical sites.