By Rachael Funk
The difference between a good vacation and a great vacation can come down to one thing: food. You could be tromping around the world’s most beautiful locales, but if you and your travel buddy are hungry all day, you’re probably not going to appreciate the subtleties of how the sunlight glitters off the Mediterranean Sea or the majesty of the Mdina Gate. Even worse, you could get your hopes up for a life-changing dish then have to nurse crushing disappointment for hours after a sub-par meal.
Well. We can’t always correctly guess your personal tastes, but we can give you a running start in the direction of Malta’s freshest, tastiest, and crowd-pleasiest dishes. Whether you’re a farm-to-table foodie or a go-with-the-flow grazer, you’ll definitely want to sink your teeth into these regional wonders.
What it is: Simply put, this is rabbit stew. Malta’s national dish, this is as traditional as it gets! A rich component of Malta’s spectacular heritage, this slow-cooked dish blends the flavors of the fall-off-the-bone rabbit and fresh herbs by simmering everything in a tomato, red wine, and garlic sauce.
Where to get it: United Bar and Restaurant
Address: Triq il-Maghkuba, L-Imġarr MGR1505, Malta
Hours: 7 pm – 10 pm Tuesday – Friday, 12 pm - 12:30 pm and 7 pm - 10 pm Saturday - Sunday
What it is: Only the freshest, crustiest Maltese bread, lovingly rubbed with juicy tomatoes and kissed with a few generous lashings of olive oil. The name translates to “bread with oil,” but this popular snack is often enticingly piled with cheese, onion, and fresh-caught tuna.
Where to get it: Olympic Bar (Xufi)
Address: Constitution Street, Mosta, Island of Malta, Malta
Hours: 5:00 am – 5:30 pm Sunday – Friday, 5:00 am – 12:00 am Saturday
What it is: One of the most popular snacks on the islands, these indulgent beauties are a gift from the gods of gastronomy. The savory pastries are usually stuffed with ricotta cheese or mushy peas, tenderly wrapped in a buttery, impossibly flaky puff pastry and lovingly baked to mouth-watering perfection.
A tip from the locals: while you are on your quest for Crystal Palace pastizzi, don’t miss their qassatat! Similar to pastizzi, this small, pastry-wrapped pie can hold ricotta, mushy peas, or a mix of spinach and anchovies. You’ll thank yourself while you’re watching the bakers pull them directly from the oven and slip them into your bag.
Where to get it: Crystal Palace
Address: Triq San Pawl, Ir-Rabat, Malta
Hours: 7:00 am – 10 pm daily
What it is: Well…it’s snails. Though the main ingredient in this dish could be a deal breaker for conservative eaters from the United States, other countries are wild about snails! Though many have described the taste of the snails themselves as a “silky earthiness” or “similar to clams or oysters but more substantial,” the real pull for these tasty morsels is the sauce. Traditional bars often serve these up cooked in red or white wine, garlic, tomato, and parsley. Others might offer Bebbux bl-Aljoli, which is more of a snail stew that simmers wine, veggies, herbs, olives, breadcrumbs, and anchovy paste.
Where to get it: Tal-Ingliz Restaurant
Address: Triq IL-Kbira, L-Imġarr, Malta
Hours: 6:30 - 11 pm daily
Photo by Instagram user @bepgal
What it is: Cheese made with goat or sheep’s milk, salt, and rennet from Gozo Island. These delicious little cheeselets can be eaten all kinds of ways: fresh, peppered, fried, added to any number of dishes, pickled in vinegar, on top of watermelon…the list goes on forever. Similar to fresh mozzarella, fresh Ġbejna has a smooth texture and a sharp taste that becomes more piquant as it ages. Unequivocally, the place to enjoy this tasty snack is on the farm of cheesemaker Rikardu Zammit in Gozo. Though his cheese can be found in restaurants in Malta and Gozo, a visit to Ta’ Rikardu affords you an unforgettable milking and cheese-making experience. The homemade wine Rikardu also produces is just an added bonus to the whole experience.
Where to get it: Ta’ Rikardu
Address: 4, Fosos Street, Ir-Rabat Għawdex, Malta
Hours: 10 am - 6 pm daily
Lampuki (and other seasonal seafood!)
What it is: Another Maltese delicacy, this fish is also known as dorado. A meaty, white fish with a delicate flavor, lampuki is easy to create a variety of dishes around. One of the most popular ways to prepare and eat it is lampuki pie, which is a puff pastry filled with fish, veggies, and herbs. Thanks to its versatility, if you happen to be in Malta during the migration season (the end of August through December), you’ll have no shortage of ways to try it. Even if you’re not visiting during lampuki season, one thing’s for sure: you’ll want to head to the south of Malta for the freshest, most delicious seafood catches of the day.
Where to get it: Tartarun
Address: Tartarun, Xatt is-Sajjieda, Marsaxlokk, MXK1301
Hours: 12 pm - 3 pm and 7:30 pm - 12 am daily
What it is: A fried pastry with date filling, this desserty treat can be found all over the place! Though they are often cut into a rectangle shape, the name “Imqaret” means “diamonds.” They can be served with a dusting of sugar or with ice cream and are terrific crowd-pleasers.
Where to get it: L'aroma
Address: ** 17, Ghar il-Lembi Street, Tas-Sliema SLM 1562, Malta
**Hours: 11 am - 10 pm daily
What it is: A dense, nutty cake packed with flavor from almonds, honey, and orange rinds. The moist, nutty dessert is often served during weddings and other celebrations. Often topped with sliced almonds and powdered sugar, this rich indulgence goes perfectly with a cup of coffee and a late night stroll.
Where to get it: Santa Lucia Cafe
Address: Triq Il-Linja, Ħ'Attard, Malta
Hours: 9 am - 8 pm Monday - Friday, 9 am - 9 pm Saturday, and 8 am - 8 pm Sunday