These are the must-try dishes in the central Mediterranean archipelago
Maltese cuisine is a fascinating melting pot of Sicilian, English, Spanish, Arabic, North African, and French foods—a symbol of the strategic island’s many occupiers throughout history. Though the island hosts many sophisticated and modern eateries, traditional Maltese food is also delicious and (be warned) fairly heavy on the carbs, with Mediterranean flavors blending into British-influenced savory pies and French pastries.
Portions are enormous, and often shareable. Be sure to try a tender rabbit (fenek) dish, served either fried or in a stew, and, if you’re around in-season, the popular lampuki fish. You’ll snack on achingly crispy-soft bread, delicious desserts, and enormous capers, encouraged in their growth by an ideal Maltese climate. In Malta, you can’t go wrong.
Here are some must-try items:
A pastizz (plural: pastizzi) is a traditional Maltese pastry stuffed with a delicious filling, usually either ricotta (pastizzi tal-irkotta) or peas (pastizzi tal-piżelli). They’re made with a pastry similar to Greek phyllo dough, folded with layers of fat and rolled a bunch of times. You can buy this street food pretty much wherever—in cafes, in bars, and yes, on the street. They’re not the healthiest option in the world, but pastizzi are Malta’s most popular snack, so if you can, give it a try!
A cousin to the more famous pastizzi, qassatat is a traditional Maltese pastry made with a variety of fillings, most commonly ricotta, peas or spinach. The small pies are pinched and left open at the top, a petite volcano of goodness. Qassatat are a bit healthier than pastizzi, and have thus become more popular lately (although they’ve been likely around for several hundred years). For some of the best qassatat—and pastizzi—in Malta, head to beloved hole-in-the-wall pastizzeria Crystal Palace, in Rabat.
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Kapunata, like the Sicilian dish Caponata, is similar to ratatouille—a yummy and popular vegetable dish that can be served hot or chilled. Kapunata is pretty flexible in terms of specific ingredients, but it usually involves tomatoes, aubergines (eggplant) and green peppers, flavored with garlic, olives, herbs, and capers. It goes great with grilled fish, and, as an appetizer, is often served with a slab of crusty white bread.
Timpana is, believe it or not, a pie filled with pasta. It is carb-worship at its most unambiguous—lasagna on speed, if you will. Macaroni or other tube-shaped pastas are mixed with a meat sauce and encased in puff pastry. But of course, it’s mouth-wateringly good—crispy on the outside, moist and flavorful on the inside. In Maltese homes, it’s often prepared as a
special-occasion meal, on Christmas or Easter. Try the restaurant Ta’ Marija, in Mosta, for their spin on the dish.
Maltese Lampuki Pie is a fish pie made with the beloved lampuki, the Maltese name for the Mahi-Mahi or dorado. On Malta, lampuki are caught using the traditional “kannizzati” method, in which fisherman use woven palm fronds to lure the fish into the shade. Alongside the delicate white fish, the savory pie is baked with tomatoes, onions, black olives, spinach, and more, though family recipes tend to differ. Be sure to try it if you’re on Malta during lampuki season (August-December)—for seafood, the towns of Marsaxlokk and Marsaskala are popular destinations, and Busy Bee, on the Msida waterfront, is known for its lampuki pie (and delicious desserts).
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