Arabs, Romans, French and English have all left their mark on Malta. The latter, perhaps thankfully, did not influence one thing Maltese love with a genuine passion. Food and drink. Join us as we explore the best traditional Maltese food and drinks. Heartwarming soul food that both tourists and locals can’t get enough of. So sit back at your imaginary restaurant table in Malta, and let us order for you a traditional meal you’ll love… doggie bag to go, of course.
Before heading for your restaurant of choice, it’s a must-do to start off your traditional Malta food and drink odyssey with a Maltese street food classic, pastizzi.
The Maltese and visitors to the islands have been munching on these delicious savoury snacks for generations. Made with filo pastry and filled with either mushy peas or ricotta, traditional pastizzi cost under 50c. You can find them in street food pastizzerias practically on every corner.
These street food outlets also offer other affordable snacks, such as pizza squares, sausage rolls, and timpana, traditional Maltese pasta pie. If you’re in the Rabat area, near the Silent City of Mdina — a location for The Game of Thrones series — head for Crystal Palace pastizzeria. It’s famous among locals for making the finest pastizzi in all Malta and Gozo.
2. Kinnie and Cisk
So you’re at your table in a restaurant. Locals are discoursing animatedly in their native tongue, Malti, their preferred way of communicating, even though English is the Maltese Islands second language and spoken by 88% of the population. The waiter asks what you’d like to drink. Teetotallers should definitely try Kinnie, a kissing-cousin of the Italian chinotto, a bittersweet fizzy soft drink made from the bitter fruit of myrtle-leaved orange tree and extracts of wormwood. For the others, Cisk (pronounced Chiss-k) is a refreshing, relatively light lager, while the higher-priced wines from the Delicata range are exquisite.
3. Ħobż (Maltese bread) & ftira biż-żejt
With your drinks, your table server should bring you a basket of bread, and hopefully the traditional Maltese staple made with sourdough, Ħobż biż-Żejt (literally bread with oil). While not really on most restaurants’ menu, this is a good juncture to recommend ftira biż-żejt, a open sandwich that’s a hit, particularly in summer. This versatile and filling humble appetizer uses Maltese bread as its base, which is then topped with a sweet tomato paste (kunserva), drizzled with olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes, tuna, and sometimes capers, green olives, and chopped green peppers.
4. Bigilla (bean paste)
Most Maltese restaurants will have bigilla on hand. Made from mashed tic beans, ful ta’ Ġirba, you slather this bean paste on Maltese bread or water crackers. To the paste Maltese chefs add parsley, garlic and a mix of other herbs to give the condiment its zesty, aromatic flavour.
5. Aljotta (fish soup)
You’re ready for starters, so how about a mainstay of traditional Maltese cuisine, aljotta? You can eat this sublime fish soup as either a starter or as a main course. If you’re lucky, your aljotta will feature rockfish. With the entire fish, head and tail cooked in its own juices before being removed, the flavour is rich and heavenly. With garlic, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and herbs added, its authentic soul food of Malta. Why not try the dish at one of The Telegraph’s 2022 Best Restaurants in Malta.
6. Soppa tal-Armla (widow’s soup)
For those not fans of fish, here’s a delicious alternative for your starter. While difficult to find nowadays, soppa tal-Armla was a staple of Maltese life during the Ottoman wars and WWI and WW2 because it was so inexpensive to make.
While the base of this wholesome dish is always fresh Maltese vegetables, variations come with ġbejniet, little Maltese cheese circles made from sheep’s milk, potatoes, carrots, onions, kohlrabi, and cauliflower.
7. Maltese sausage
Now it’s time for the mains. Meat lovers familiar with the South African sausage boerwors (literally farmer’s sausage), will love its Maltese counterpart. Like its African cousin, you can eat Maltese sausage raw, which is most likely something only macho Africans and Maltese do as a party trick. Flame grilled, however, it is truly delicious and goes with just about everything.
8. Torta tal-Lampuki (Lampuki pie)
Lampuki is the Maltese name for mahi-mahi, or dorado. They migrate through the Maltese peninsular every year and get caught in great numbers by fishermen in their traditional luzzu boats.
Many restaurants cook the meaty lampuki on its own to perfection, as travel writer Pip Jones shared via Twitter:
However, if you’re after the traditional Maltese way of eating the fish as it has been for centuries, lampuki pie is the way to go. Chefs bake the dolphinfish with cauliflower, carrots, black olives, capers, garlic, and tomato in a buttery pastry. The result? The tender lampuki in a thick, crusty pie tastes nothing short of divine. For the best seafood restaurants in Malta serving lampuki, head to Marsaxlokk, a beautiful little fishing village where luzzu boats bob in the glittering harbour.
9. Stuffat tal-Fenek (Rabbit stew)
The star of Maltese cuisine for many is rabbit stew, and no restaurant serves the national dish better than the humble-looking Farmers’ Bar in Mgarr, Malta. This laid-back, atmospheric gem is a favourite among farmers working the nearby fields, and is also famed for its bragioli (beef olives) and timpana, as this happy customer shared on Instagram:
The dish made its debut in Malta around about the time the Knights of St. John built the Grand Harbour. Tender cuts of rabbit, which breed in huge numbers in the fields around Malta’s old national airport, are slow-cooked to perfection in a pot, along with wine, garlic, onions, carrots, potatoes, tomato, and traditional Maltese herbs.
Served with potatoes and Mediterranean sun-kissed vegetables, it’s another typical soul-food dish that encapsulates the rich warmth of Maltese culture.
10. Imqaret (date cakes)
Now that you’re satiated by savoury Maltese cuisine, it’s time to hit the sweets. Although typically a street food, you’ll find the bite-sized, diamond-shaped traditional date cakes on many a local restaurants’ menu, often served with ice-cream. The date filling is aromatic bliss, the pastries deep-fried and a legacy of the time Malta was under Arab rule.
Proof of this is a practical sister of imqaret found in the North African country of Tunisia, called macrood. The little pastries are best eaten hot with a shot of post-meal espresso.
11. Ħarruba (carob liqueur)
To finish your meal on a flourish along with your espresso, order yourself an Ħarruba (the Maltese Ħ is silent, for all those English teachers out there), which is a popular Maltese digestif.
It’s made from the chocolaty fruit pods of the carob tree, which grows in abundance all round Malta and its sister island Gozo. Maltese drink this liqueur chilled, on the rocks, or neat.
After such heartwarming meal in the welcoming company of locals, a moonlit stroll beneath starry Maltese skies is both a must and a pleasure. Read our A-Z Malta travel guide to find out more about this glorious little archipelago in the heart of the Med.