Food in Malta – the ultimate guide

We cruised into the stunning grand harbour of Malta on a beautiful sunny day. We were about to spend a couple of days in Malta and it just wasn’t long enough. You really need much more than that to really appreciate the island and to find the best places to eat. But thankfully we did our fair share of enjoying the food of Malta and its food culture and probably gained a few pounds on the journey.

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We were in Valetta where we hiked up to the main street – there’s a ton of stairs from the port but we managed it and started strolling down Republic Street. It became very obvious that the Maltese believe that the food of Malta is to be savoured and enjoyed and rushing any kind of meal or snack is to be avoided.

Malta’s UNESCO World Heritage capital Valetta is a perfect tiny gem of a capital city. It is extremely walkable although there are many steps up and down the charming cobblestone streets. It is known as a Citadel Capital surrounded by the bluest seas you have ever seen and towered over by its 16th-century fortifications.

Malta was built by the Knights of St. John, the Knights of Malta and it has the highest density of historic sites of any country in Europe. Some sites are older than the pyramids and its famous Grand Harbour takes in tens of thousands of cruise visitors a year.  

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It was at Grand Harbour that scenes for Game of Thrones were filmed. On the east side of the Grand Harbour in Karkala, Fort Ricasoli doubled as the Gate of the Gods of King’s Landing.

Due to its position in the Mediterranean, you can see that Maltese cuisine has many influences from around the region. There’s a trace of North African, a pinch of Italian a soupcon of Spanish and traditional Maltese cuisine that hints at all of these flavours together creating a unique and truly Maltese food scene.

The food of Malta

In Malta, an entrée or starter is usually a dip with bread or crackers, soups in the colder weather, risotto, or antipasti.

Maltese Food culture tip

In North America, the entrée is the main course, and appetizers or starters became the first course. In various countries in Europe – France for example, the entrée stuck with its translation which is the ‘start’ or ‘beginning’.

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The main course in Malta will generally be meat or fish-based – they are an island after all. This can be accompanied by pasta, or potato – usually a starch of some kind.

When eating out you will often see that the fish available on the menu are often displayed whole and you get to choose the fish you want and how you like it cooked. This is usually prepared simply with wine or lemon with some fresh capers or tomatoes added.

Desserts – well it is said the Maltese love their sweet things and there are plenty of lovely desserts, and cookies. Religion has always played an important part in Maltese culture and many traditional Maltese sweets are baked during certain religious holidays or festivals, such as Lent, Easter or Christmas.

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32 foods in Malta you must try

When you love food you want to learn all about the food culture of the place you are visiting. Maltese food is relatively unknown when you think of world-famous foodie destinations such as Chinese, Italian, American or British. 

Maltese food is very much an undiscovered gem of the Mediterranean. It’s truly dependant on what is available seasonally and locally. Remember Malta is an island and foods that have to be shipped intend to be expensive so it’s much less expensive to depend on what is grown and produced locally and that’s what you need to experience with the food in Malta.

Here’s a list of Maltese food you can taste when on the island. 

  1. Pastizzi – Savory Cheese or Pea Cakes
  2. Qassatat – Vegetarian/vegan pies
  3. Kwareżimal – Maltese Lenten Cookies
  4. Figolli – Maltese Easter Biscuits
  5. Prinjolata – cake
  6. Qagħaq tal-Għasel – Treacle/Honey Rings
  7. Għadam tal-Mejtin – bones of the dead
  8. Imqaret – date filled pastries
  9. Biskuttini tal-Lewz – almond cookies
  10. Kannoli – Cannoli
  11. Cassata – ricotta cake
  12. Pudina tal-Ħobż – Bread Pudding
  13. Qubbajt – Nougat
  14. Stuffat tal-Fenek – Rabbit Stew
  15. Fitira Bread
  16. Braġioli – Beef Olives
  17. Torta tal-Lampuki – Lampuki Pie
  18. Aljotta – Maltese Fish Soup
  19. Pixxispad – Grilled Swordfish
  20. Stuffat tal-Qarnita – octopus stew
  21. Spaghetti biz-Zalza tal-Qarnit 
  22. Soppa tal-Armla – Widow’s Soup
  23. Kusksu Bil-Ful – Broad bean and pasta soup
  24. Imqarrun il-Forn – Mac & Cheese
  25. Timpana – Pasta Bake Wrapped in Pastry
  26. Spaghetti Rizzi – Spaghetti with sea urchins
  27. Platt Malti – Maltese Platter
  28. Bigilla – Maltese Bean Paste
  29. Zalzett Malti – Maltese sausage
  30. Gbejna – sheep’s cheese
  31. Qarabaghli Mimli fil-forn –  Stuffed squash
  32. Bungiel Mimli –  Stuffed Eggplant

 

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Coffee and pastries

Located in an old palazzo in the bustling streets of Valletta, Caffe Cordina traces its origins back to a small tea shop in Bormla, it has since grown and become a beacon for foodies going to Malta. This is absolutely where you must enjoy a Coffee and pastry or a light lunch.

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Pastizzi and other savoury pastry snacks

Pastizzi

Pastizzi was the first thing I had to have in Malta. Here not only is this a typical Maltese street food but when sitting down with a coffee in the café one usually has a selection of pastizzi with the coffee.

Pastizzi is essentially a filo pastry dough stuffed with ricotta or a pea paste called piżelli in Maltese. Pastizzi pastry is stretched and folded with layers of fat in between each layer resulting is a glorious crunchy, flaky crust.

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Each pastizzi are folded together in a specific way which indicates the filling. Traditionally the ricotta pastizzi are folded down the middle but the pizelli are folded down the side. There is also a puff pastry version known as tax-xema that comes in round and half-moon formats respectively. 

Qassatat

Similar to pastizzi but a little larger, qassatat have a more shortcrust pastry casing and are filled with the same ricotta or pea fillings but they can also be filled with ricotta and a variety of other fillings like sautéed onions, fava beans, spinach or anchovies.  or a variety of other fillings.

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Kwareżimal   

Kwareżimal are a traditional Maltese cookie that is widely available during Lent. It is a vegan cookie that doesn’t contain any dairy or meat products. Made from ingredients that include intrita which is a ground almond paste, flour, sugar, cinnamon, honey, and orange zest.

These Lenten cookies were introduced by the Knights of Malta, and people still love them today.

Figolli

Figolli are a Maltese Easter Biscuit that are baked during the Easter celebrations. They are a flat almost cake-like cookie that is made in the shape of a lamb or rabbit. A simple dough of flour, sugar, egg yolks and butter filled with almond paste and topped with either icing sugar or melted chocolate sweet-toothed heaven of a cookie.   

Prinjolata

Prinjolata is a small mountain of sugar it’s a cake that is coated with cream, and decorated with glace cherries and drizzled with chocolate. Usually made at Carnival time which takes place before Lent.

Qagħaq tal-għasel – honey rings

Honey rings or Qagħaq tal-għasel are circular in shape and filled with black treacle. Generally made for Christmas originally they can now be found all year round. Treacle is a thick, sticky dark syrup made from partly refined sugar similar to molasses but lighter and slightly sweeter.   

Traditional Maltese sweet honey rings made with black treacle, orange peel, cinnamon, spices and honey. Qaghaq tal-Ghasel traditional christmas dessert on Malta

Għadam tal-Mejtin – bones of the dead

Bones of the Dead or Għadam tal-Mejtin is baked around Halloween or All Souls’ Day which is celebrated on the 2nd of November. This is a bone-shaped cookie filled with marzipan to emulate marrow.

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 Imqaret – date filled pastries

Imqaret is a fried pastry dough stuffed with date paste.  Imqaret is one of the Maltese food traditions that originated from the Arabic world. These super-sweet pastries are cut into a diamond shape and the name imqaret is the plural of ‘maqrut’ which derives from the Arabic word meaning diamond. My husband thinks they are a  version of Fig Newtons on steroids.

Biskuttini tal-Lewz – almond cookies

Biskuttini tal-Lewz similar to a thumbprint biscuit from England this is a soft cookie made with almond flour, which means they are a soft biscuit and usually decorated with a whole almond on top or a glace cherry.

Cannoli or Kannoli

A massive favourite of the Maltese these gorgeous tubes of heaven are found in every Maltese bakery. They are filled with a creamy cheese with the addition of dark chocolate, cherries, nuts or citrus fruit decorations. These are the Kannoli of dreams. 

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Cassata – ricotta cake

This is a particular favourite at Christmas which is not traditionally Maltese but Italian. A light ricotta-filled sponge cake scented and flavoured with marzipan. 

Pudina tal-Ħobż – Bread Pudding

If you need something a little bit more filling then a bread pudding is a sure-fire filler. As with most bread pudding recipes, this dates back to the 18th century when stale bread needed to be used. The bread is soaked in a mixture of sugar, butter, a hot chocolate powder, vanilla and sometimes lemon and orange rinds, raisins and additional spices. 

Qubbajt – Nougat

Nougat has been a part of Malta’s culinary heritage for centuries, possibly introduced during the island’s Arabic rule. This ancient almond and honey (or sugar) based confection is found in several southern European countries. In Malta, the name comes from the Arabic qubbayt and it is thought that nougat was part of the medieval Arabic culinary tradition in Spain and Sicily, which eventually made it to Malta.

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Traditional Maltese Cuisine

If you cruise into Malta a word of warning do not be tempted to eat on the waterfront near your ship. There are much better restaurants in town and you will find the prices much lower. Be aware though that many of the restaurants are closed on Sunday evenings.

Traditional Maltese food is rustic and based on the seasons. Look out for Lampuki Pie (fish pie), Rabbit Stew, Bragioli (beef olives), Kapunata, (Maltese version of ratatouille), and widow’s soup, which includes a small round of Gbejniet (sheep or goat’s cheese).

Stuffat tal-Fenek – rabbit stew

A top favourite among the Maltese people is stuffat tal-fenek (rabbit stew), often identified as the national dish. Legend has it that it started off as a form of resistance to the Knights of St. John who imposed strict hunting laws.

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Ftira Bread

Ftira, which is bread is a staple of Maltese cuisine. Ftira is a ring-shaped, leavened, Maltese bread, usually eaten with a filling like fresh tomatoes and onions, tuna, sardines or even potato. In Gozo, they eat Ftire like a pizza with thin slices of potato on top. Ftire was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List and it dates back to the 16th century.

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Braġioli – Beef Olives

Baġioli really has nothing to do with Olives except for the fact that they resemble stuff olives. The beef if sliced thin rolled and stuffed with a hardboiled egg, garlic, bread crumbs and parsley.  You will find this on most Maltese menus island-wide.

Lampuki/torta tal-Lampuki – grilled fish or fish pie

Lampuki is a fish that is known worldwide as mahi-mahi or dorado. A very meaty white fish in Malta it can be found from August through to December. Lampuki is best served grilled and in Malta, it is served with a garlic sauce or in a pie called Torta tal-Lampuki. The pie is filled with fish alongside vegetables and olives.

Aljotta – fish stew

Aljotta is a fish and tomato stew similar to a bouillabaisse but it uses very small fish filled with small pieces of fish, some shrimp and white rice along with the tomatoes and onions.

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Pixxispad – Grilled Swordfish

Another simple but full-flavoured dish is the grilled swordfish. Grilled with the skin on usually in a baking paper and flavoured with lemon, pepper, salt, olive oil and sometimes capers this is a mouth-watering dish when sitting on a seafront terrace. 

Stuffat tal-Qarnita – octopus stew

This is an octopus stew that is very common in Maltese cuisine and is served in several different ways. In Malta, the octopus is frozen for a few days before being cut into pieces and boiled in salted water. It is then cooked in a broth that includes olive oil, chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, lemon and orange rinds and parsley. A bowl of this stew is usually served with bread.

Fried octopus with lemon and spices on white plate with fork and knife in summer street cafe in Marsaxlokk, Malta Food of Malta

Spaghetti biz-Zalza tal-Qarnit 

The octopus stew above when thickened is also used for a spaghetti dish which is very popular in Malta.

Soppa tal-Armla – Widow’s Soup

Soppa tal-Armla is a traditional Maltese dish dating back many years. During hard times such as WWII this dish was the mainstay of many a Maltese diet. It consists of seasonal vegetables that can include peas, broad beans, potatoes, onions, carrots and any others that are available. 

Pasta dishes on Malta

Kusksu Bil-Ful – Broad bean and pasta soup

This soup is made using a large grain couscous which is actually pasta. The soup combines broad beans, tomato paste and lots of herbs with the usual vegetables such as onion and carrot. 

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Imqarrun il-Forn – Mac & Cheese

Obviously, Italian inspired everyone loves mac and cheese, the Maltese version isn’t much different from others around the world. Macaroni pasta cooked in a lovely cheesy creamy sauce with a deep brown crips topping – my personal favourite. 

Timpana – Pasta Bake in Pastry

Another Italian inspired dish but with a twist – this is a macaroni dish bathed in a Bolognese sauce and then baked in pastry. The cooked pasta is coated with the sauce and lots of cheese then covered with puff pastry.

Spaghetti Rizzi – Spaghetti with sea urchins

An interesting dish if you love sea urchins. The dish is perfectly simple just sea urchin tossed with thin spaghetti, olive oil, tomato, herbs and lemon juice. The sea urchin melts down into a rich creamy but light sauce bathing the pasta.

Platt Malti – Maltese Platter

Very similar to the mezze platters of Greece and Cyprus the Platt Malti offers a wide selection of tasty bites. These could include stuffed olives, Maltese sausages (see below), a Maltese version of caponata called Kapunata, Bigilla paste (see below) and sundried tomatoes and maybe some gbejna.

Traditional maltese appetizer with tuna, cheese and tomatoes.

Bigilla – Maltese Bean Paste

Bigilla is a Maltese pureed bean paste very much like hummus and served either as an appetizer or a condiment. It is broad beans that are mashed with parsley, garlic and other herbs like basil or mint and combined with olive oil.  

Bigilla is a traditional Maltese snack made with a special type of broad beans

Zalzett Malti – Maltese sausage

The zalzett tal-Malti, the traditional fresh Maltese sausage, made from ground pork, sea salt, crushed black peppercorns and coriander seeds, garlic and sometimes parsley, it is considered a staple in Malta.

Gbejna – sheep’s cheese

A small round of sheep’s cheese is served fresh on a platter or wrapped in a pastizzi.  Served on a platter with tomato, capers, olives and onions along with a lovely Maltese wine. 

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Qarabaghli Mimli fil-forn –  Stuffed squash

Any time of squash can be stuffed with this tasty mix of pork, beef and Maltese sausages. The mix usually contains garlic, herbs, onion, tomato paste and cheese which is then stuff into either a whole squash or sliced rounds of zucchini or long squashes. 

Bungiel Mimli –  Stuffed Eggplant

Very much the same as the stuffed squash above the eggplants are baked with a crispy topping of breadcrumbs flavoured with herbs and garlic.

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What to drink in Malta

Kinnie

Kinnie the national soft drink of Malta was introduced to Malta in 1952 and it’s made from bitter oranges and wormwood extract. To me, it tasted like Jaegermeister and it was horrible. But some love it and supposedly the Maltese adore it.

Ċisk

Ċisk is a local lager type of beer, very light and perfect for those hot Malta days. There is a low-carb version along with a Chill Lemon and Chill Berry variety available.

Where to get a taste of Malta

Here’s a selection of some of the top places to taste traditionally prepared Maltese food. L

Nenu the Artisan Baker

Nenu’s is a very popular restaurant in Valetta and it offers a menu of authentic Maltese food.  Said by the Maltese to be just like granny’s the restaurant also offers In this workshop, visitors have the opportunity to participate in a hands-on experience of ftira-making.

Caffe Gordina

Caffe Gordina   Founded in 1837, the Cordina family started off from a small outlet in Bormla, where the shop began to specialize in the baking and preparation of traditional Maltese sweet delicacies. The shop re-located to Valetta in 1944 and became the place to stop for a coffee or tea and some fine pastries.

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Rubina

One of the best traditional restaurants in Valletta is Rubino. Opened to clients in 1906, Rubino is one of the oldest establishments in Valletta. Originally a confectionery and run by Vincenzo Rubino from Palermo, Sicily, it soon became a Valletta landmark. The restaurant serves many a traditional Maltese dish including many of those mentioned in this article. One of the best places in Malta for rabbit it is also famous for its ricotta-based cassata Siciliana.   

Legligin 

Chris, the owner of Legligin which is a wine bar, is a knowledgeable Francophile who has an impressive cellar full of wines from all over the world. The venue is a small and cosy room with rustic decorations and a background of old French songs and jazz, the favourite music of the place. To accompany your wine, a variety of mezes are offered for tasting, with recipes inspired by the entire Mediterranean including hummus, marinated tuna, marinated mussels, and other Maltese favourites.

Have you made it to Malta yet?

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1 thought on “The fabulous Food in Malta”

  1. Having spent time in Malta, I can also attest to the delicious sweets. Great read and helping insights into other Maltese dishes and recommendations.

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