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Malta's cuisine is a ragout of European flavors, thanks to its early colonizers. Coming from France, Germany, Italy, Spain, England and other countries, they brought their favorite foods, recipes and chefs.

Vendor sells rabbit for fenkata.
Vendor sells rabbit for fenkata.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Fried or stewed rabbit meat is a popular Maltese meal, so much so that fenkata (eating rabbit dishes) is a culinary tradition.

Some cooks sauté the meat, Provence-style, in olive oil and garlic, then simmer it with bay leaves and red wine. Others make an Italian version, by stewing the rabbit with onions, garlic, herbs and tomatoes. Maltese eat the sauce with spaghetti, as a first course, and the meat with "chips" as they call French fries.

Pasta is a staple in Maltese cooking. We enjoyed macaroni, baked with ricotta cheese and eggs, as a main course. Timpana, a meal in itself, consists of macaroni baked with minced beef and pork, eggs, tomato paste and Parmesan cheese. Flaky puff pastry encases the entire dish.

Soups are thick with vegetables and pasta. Uniquely Maltese is soppa tal-armia or widow's soup, made from vegetables and cheese with a poached egg in each serving.

Maltese sheep and goat milk cheeses

Farmers' wives make gbejniet, small, round goat or sheep milk cheeses, on Malta's smaller sister island of Gozo. Sometimes they roll the cheeses in crushed black peppercorns, and then marinate them in olive oil and vinegar. They're delicious with Maltese bread and potent homemade red wine. Dried gbejniet, with their pleasant nutty flavor, are ideal for grating, like Parmesan cheese.

Seafood shop in Tarxien Market
Seafood shop in Tarxien Market
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

We found gbejniet at the Tarxien market. Stands also display pyramids of blood oranges, jars of onions pickled in wine vinegar, and stacks of fresh artichokes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.

The Maltese frequently stuff their vegetables with garlic and bread crumbs, or minced meat, tomato purée and cheese. Garlic and fresh herbs are essential ingredients. Merchants often add handfuls of parsley and celery leaves to customers' purchases.

Maltese wine and beer

Malta's location in the Mediterranean Sea means that fresh fish is ubiquitous. Restaurants in the fishing village of Marsaxlokk serve tender octopus fried in garlic, steamed king prawns and grilled bream. In homes, Maltese bake fish on a bed of sliced potatoes, onions and tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil.

Local wines complement the island's Mediterranean cuisine. Marsovin, a company that spans three generations from 1919, makes great wines, ranging from a fruity Palazzo Verdala Rosé to a full-bodied La Valette Vin Rouge.

Pastizzara (pastizzi-makers) display tray of savory ricotta-filled snacks in Valletta.
Pastizzara (pastizzi-makers) display tray of savory ricotta-filled snacks in Valletta.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Maltese beer is excellent, especially Farsons' Hopleaf brand. It goes especially well with pastizzi, diamond-shaped pastries filled with a ricotta and egg mixture and baked. Some pastizzara (pastizzi-makers) stuff the savory snacks with mashed peas.

Bread baked in wood-fired ovens

Our fondest memories are of Malta's sourdough bread. When shaped into flat discs and sprinkled with sesame seeds, the breads are called ftajjar. Bakers use paddles to remove the crispy-crusted loaves from wood-fired ovens. Mouthwatering aromas pour into the street, beckoning shoppers with net bags. (Hot bread melts holes in plastic bags.)

Making flat breads (ftajjar) in bakery
Making flat breads (ftajjar) in bakery
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The best way to enjoy Maltese bread is as hobz biz-zejt. Locals take two slices of bread and rub each piece with half a tomato until it becomes pink. They sprinkle on chopped garlic, salt, pepper and capers, then drizzle it with olive oil. This flavorful sandwich reminded us of Provence's pan bagna and Italy's bruschetta.

Gelat - Maltese ice cream

For dessert, fresh figs, peaches, grapes, melons and other fruits are popular, as well as cheese, especially gbejniet.

During the summer, ice creams and Italian-style gelati and cassatas are refreshing ways to finish a meal. Gelat, traditional Maltese ice cream, is made from evaporated milk with candied fruits and nuts.

To sample Malta's decadent sweets, visit Caffe Cordina in Valletta. (The premises were once the treasury of the Knights of St. John.) Order a cappuccino and a Roma pastry (layered with coconut and sweet ricotta cheese, topped with cream).

Relax and look up at the ornate arched ceiling, where paintings depict the previous occupiers of the island. They're a fitting tribute to those early gourmands who brought their recipes to Malta and made it a treasury of Mediterranean cuisines.


Malta Tourism: www.visitmalta.com

More things to see and do in Malta:

Patron Saint Feast Days in Malta

The Silent City Mdina and Rabat Malta

Malta Filming Locations

UNESCO Temples in Malta