The distinctive cuisine of Malta has a long and rich repertoire of dishes, the best known of which are:
Starters / Nibbles
ebbu Mimli (Stuffed Olives)Large green pitted olives filled with a piquant mixture of chopped anchovy, caper and breadcrumbs.
Faola Bajda bit-tewm u it-tursin (Beans with parsley, garlic and olive oil) Large dried white beans previously soaked overnight simmered till cooked, dressed with finely minced garlic, chopped parsley and olive oil and served cold. Flaked canned tuna (tonn ta-ejt) or salt cured tuna (tonn miela) and black olives may be added.
Fritturi Tal-Qaqo (Artichoke Fritters) Floured and fried artichoke hearts, previously poached with olive oil and garlic, dipped in a batter of flour mixed with parsley and salted anchovy or garlic and deep fried. Vegetable fritters are also made of slices of pumpkin, kohlrabi, zucchini, aubergine or long gourd (qara' twil) as well as with cauliflower florets and even wedges of Roma or curly endive lettuce. The vegetables are usually raw though they may have been previously parboiled or cooked, as with the artichokes.
Fritturi Tal-Makku (Whitebait Fritters) Fresh whitebait are dipped in a flour, chopped parsley and minced garlic mix and deep fried in small handfuls. Served with lemon wedges.
Bigilla (Bean paste or dip) Bigilla is a traditional bean paste. It is made with a type of dried bean called ful tal-irba, similar to those used for Egyptian Ful Medames- The beans are soaked for 24 hours, rinsed and cooked until they are very soft. Subsequently they are mashed and mixed with salt, pepper, olive oil, crushed garlic and chopped parsley.
Chili is optional. Usually served with traditional Maltese ship's biscuits called Galletti or oba tal-Malti drizzled with olive oil.
"Angels on Horseback"In British cuisine, oysters or (sometimes scallops) wrapped in bacon and grilled are called "Angels on Horseback" while "Devils on horseback" are grilled bacon-wrapped prunes, two savouries originating in Victorian times. In Malta the local version consists of small grilled, pieces of liver wrapped in bacon.
Bebbux (Snails) Snails simmered in red wine, Lacto (a local ale), and Kinnie with mint, basil and marjoram. Often served with Ajjoli sauce or Salsa adra, see below.
Minestra (Thick vegetable soup)
The start of many Maltese meals is soup. Traditionally minestra is a hearty soup combining numerous fresh vegetables and one or more pulses like beans, chick peas and split peas, accompanied by a slice of crusty Maltese bread, oba. This dish is eaten all year round, but usually preferable in winter as a healthy, warming one dish dinner.
Kusksu (Broad Bean & Pasta Soup)
Another meal-in-a-soup, the essential ingredients are a form of small pasta beads called kusksu, which give it a particular texture, and fresh broad beans, cooked with onions and tomato paste. Some families also add another item (fresh peas or potatoes or gbejniet or small calamari) to the dish. The pasta is similar in shape to Sardinian Fregula but is not the same as North African couscous, which in Tunisia is called Kusksi or sometimes Kusksu. For many this soup is associated with Good Friday. It is a spring favorite, since that is the time when broad beans are in season.
Soppa ta l-armla (Widow's soup)
So named because of the tradition of neighbours supporting poor widows living in their neighbourhood by sharing produce or meals with them. This vegetable soup is a thinner version of Minestra (see above), rounded off with fresh bejniet which melt into the hot soup. Usually raw eggs are added at the end and when they are just set, the soup is ready. A common variation makes the soup with just onions, lettuce, peas and carrots plus the traditional egg and cheese protein elements.
Aljotta (Fish soup)
A rich fish soup, similar to broth in consistency, with plenty of garlic, herbs like mint or marjoram and tomatoes. Usually contains rice, though variants may substitute fine long pasta or small pasta stars.
Kawlata (Pork and cabbage soup)
Thick and chunky, almost a stew, of cabbage, potato and pork knuckle with Maltese sausage (see below) and sometimes also bacon. Traditionally served as two courses with the meats removed and served as second course but may be served as a comforting one pot cold weather meal
Brodu (Clear broth)
May be a clear vegetable broth or a meat broth, which in turn may be beef or chicken or both. Stuffed vegetables or stuffed meat or chickens are often cooked in broth, also rice or pasta or small meatballs.
Gain u Ross (Pasta and rice)
Mqarrun il-Forn (Baked macaroni)
A baked dish made with macaroni, bolognese style meat sauce, egg, and various other ingredients varying according to family tradition including chicken livers, hard boiled eggs, peas and bacon. The macaroni is usually topped with a layer of grated cheese or besciamella (bchamel) that will melt during the baking process and help to bind and set the pasta.
Ravjul (Malta Style ravioli)
Gozo restaurant ravjul topped with grated bejna
The ravjul (sing. ravjula) is typically filled with ricotta and fresh parsley and covered with a garlic scented fresh tomato sauce garnished with celery and basil. This is served with freshly-grated Parmesan or Romano cheese. Alternatively spinach or minced meat is used as filling. In Gozo, Ravjul are filled with local Sheep's Cheese (bejniet). Traditionally ravjul portions are sized by the number of individual ravioli, and always counted in dozens and half dozens. Ravjul can also be caramelized and served as a dessert.
Ross il-Forn (Baked rice)
Ross il-forn (or Baked Rice) is quite similar to Mqarrun il-Forn (Baked Macaroni). There is a version made with Maltese sausage (see below) that has saffron as an additional ingredient. It is placed in the oven uncooked with 2 cups (200ml) of water for every cup of rice.
Timpana (Pastry-covered baked macaroni)
A slice of timpana.
Baked macaroni tossed in a tomato sauce containing a small amount of minced beef and sometimes hard-boiled eggs bound with a mix of raw egg and grated cheese. It can be thought of as a sort of macaroni meat pie as the pasta is encased in pastry or topped with a pastry "lid" and baked till the pastry is lightly golden. The basic difference between Timpana and Mqarrun il-Forn is the addition of the pastry case or lid which makes Timpana the richer dish, more suited to festive occasions. There is also a less well known Timpana tar-Ross, where the pastry encloses rice mixed with chopped chicken livers braised with softened onions and garlic, broth mixed with tomato paste and saffron, grated cheese and eggs.
Ghain bl-inova (Pasta with Anchovy Sauce)
Spaghetti dressed with a piquant sauce of tomato paste, salted anchovies and garlic is fried till crisp. Often a supper dish.
Ghain Grieg (Pasta "beads" with minced pork and cheese)
A short local pasta that resembles Italian "ditali" is dressed with a sauce made of minced pork, diced bacon and sliced onions long simmered in chicken broth. The separately cooked pasta is tossed first in butter, then in the pork and bacon mixture and finally with lots of grated cheese. The cheese used to be British Cheddar but today it is more often Parmigiano-Reggiano. Why this should be called "Greek Pasta" - or by some "Turkish Pasta" or even "Greek Rice" - is a complete mystery! This dish is not traditionally made in country towns and villages and seems to be known only in urban centres like Valletta and Sliema, possibly a 1950s dish
The excellent local pork is probably the most universally eaten meat, followed by local rabbit, mainly imported beef and local chicken and turkey. Imported lamb and veal are also popular. Game birds like quail (summien), which are now farmed, turtle doves (gamiem) and wild pigeons (bieen) are also popular. Offal and organ meats like pork liver and kidneys, tripe, brain, tongue, heart, stomach and tail also form part of the cuisine and are much loved by traditionalists and gourmets though not the squeamish. They are less popular today than in the past when the fine cuts of meat were not within everyone's reach.
Brajoli (Beef olives)
A thin slice of beef rolled round a tasty filling of breadcrumbs, bacon, eggs and fresh herbs ("beef olives" in British English, "braciole" in Southern Italy or "involtini" in Northern Italy). The filling may also include a slice of cooked ham, hard boiled egg, grated cheese and a hint of Curry powder. Particularly tasty when slow braised in red wine or in tomato sauce.
Rabbit fried with wine and garlic
Perhaps because the Knights of Malta - who could eat rabbit any time they chose and enjoyed hunting them for sport - prohibited the islanders from eating rabbit with the one exception of L-Imnarja, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul held at the end of June, or maybe because most Maltese families kept rabbits as courtyard animals destined for the pot, rabbit is very popular and one of the most well known Maltese dishes, one of the few served in restaurants. The rabbit, often previously marinated, is lightly browned with garlic and herbs, then simmered for several hours, ideally in a terracotta casserole, in red wine or in a rich tomato sauce. Restaurants usually serve it with chips (french fries), and salad, though crusty local bread to soak up the rich sauces and a cooked green vegetable are more appropriate. Traditionally rabbit stew is served on spaghetti. The meal based on spaghetti with rabbit and rabbit stew is called "Fenkata" (from fenek = rabbit) and for many it is the unofficial national dish. It is enjoyed to this day in the Buskett woods on the feast day of St Peter and St Paul.
Laam fuq il-fwar (Steamed Meat)
Since many Maltese meals begin with soup this was a way for the frugal Maltese cook to utilise the heat from the soup pot. Thin slices of beef (most often) are placed on an oiled plate and layered with the filling for brajoli or else with garlic, chopped herbs like marjoram and parsley, and breadcrumbs or cooked spinach. The meat and filling layers, which must not be too many, are covered with a second plate or with greaseproof paper and the meat is left to cook gently and slowly on top of the soup pot till tender. A very healthy cooking method also used for cooking thinly sliced liver, Maltese Sausage or thin pork chops, and also for simmering small fish or fish fillets over an aljotta fish soup.
Falda Mimlija (Stuffed Flank)
Beef or more usually pork flank with a pocket cut into it. The pocket is filled with a mixture based on minced pork, grated cheese and parsley bound with egg. The stuffed meat may be steamed, poached in broth or baked on a bed of potatoes.
Laam ta-iemel (Horse or stallion meat)
Stallion meat was fairly widely eaten in the past when available, usually steamed (see above) or fried with garlic or else simmered on top of the stove or in the oven in an onion and white wine sauce. As noted by the British Food Journalist Matthew Fort farmers and country folk simply could not afford to be too attached to their working farm animals. "In the frugal, unsentimental manner of agricultural communities, all the animals were looked on as a source of protein. Waste was not an option"
Zalzett tal-Malti (Maltese sausage)
Maltese sausage is typically made of pork, sea salt, black peppercorns, coriander seeds and parsley. Another version includes garlic. The plain version is dried whereas the one containing garlic is to be consumed fresh. It is short and thick in shape and can be eaten grilled, fried, stewed, steamed or even raw when freshly made. More recently a barbecue variety has become popular. This variety is essentially the same as the original but with a much reduced salt content, and has a thinner skin.
Fresh Sea Urchin Roe, a prized delicacy, on toasted Gozo bread
Fish is much eaten on the two islands and Maltese know from experience which fish is best baked, which poached, which grilled and which fried. Fish is often cooked and seasoned very simply but it may also be stuffed, stewed or made into pies. Many shellfish and crustaceans are also available and very popular.
Lampuka (Mahi Mahi or Dolphin Fish)
Lampuki are perhaps Malta's favourite fish. Better known outside of Malta as Mahi-mahi, dorado, or dolphin fish, the Lampuka has fine, white flesh with only a few large bones, and is found in abundance in the seas between Sicily and Tunisia.
It man be poached (ghad-dobbu) with rosemary and red wine; lightly pan-fried in olive oil and finished with garlic and vinegar or lemon juice and marjoram; it may be oven-baked in white wine and olive oil with tomatoes, onions, olives and capers or grilled and served with Zalza Pikkanti or cut into small filleted pieces and deep fried; best of all for many of Maltese it may be made into a surprising fish pie of many flavours with spinach or cauliflower, walnuts or chestnuts, capers, sultanas, hard-boiled eggs, herbs, and lemon zest, all enclosed in a shortcrust pastry.
Stuffat tal-Qarnit (Slow braised Octopus)
Octopus, onions, tomato paste, olives, peas, bay leaves, walnuts and raisins slowly simmered in red wine. Many family variations exist: in one it is simmered in red wine, olives, tomatoes, black pepper and mint, in another with peas, tomatoes, lemon or orange zest, a bay leaf and a hint of curry powder. May be used as a sauce for pasta or served accompanied by Maltese bread.
Stuffat tal-Bakkaljaw (Salt Cod Stew)
Previously soaked salt cod simmered with chunks of potatoes and diced carrots, as well as onions, garlic, tomatoes, salted anchovies, raisins and nutmeg. The recipe may be changed according to the availability of seasonal vegetables. A winter version has pumpkin chunks and cauliflower florets and black olives along with the potatoes, onions and tomatoes and bay leaf and thyme are used for flavouring.
Octopus cooked in its own liquid with parsley, garlic and lemon
Sawrell Mimli l-forn (Baked Stuffed Mackerel)
Filled with a mixture of breadcrumbs, olives, salted anchovies and parsley and baked between layers of potatoes, onions and tomatoes sprinkled with salt and pepper, fresh marjoram leaves and olive oil.
Klamari Mimli fl-inbid (Red wine braised stuffed calamari)
The filling is made of breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic and capers with sometimes a slice of hard boiled egg in the middle. The filled calamari are then gently stewed in red wine with sultanas and nutmeg. Usually served with boiled potatoes dressed with olive oil and chopped parsley.
Brajoli tat-tonn (Fresh tuna roll-ups)
Thin slices of fresh tuna (or other large fish like Aola (amberjack), Deni (a large pink sea bream), erna (grouper) or Pixxispad (swordfish) are rolled around a filling of breadcrumbs, mint or marjoram, capers, olives, salted anchovy fillets and chopped hard boiled egg. The rolls are browned then briefly and very gently simmered in garlic scented olive oil deglazed with a little inegar.
Pixxispad Mixwi Mawwar(Grilled sword fish steaks with fresh herb topping)
Thick swordfish steaks are grilled on gentle heat and when just done they are topped with a mixture of chopped fresh herbs, lemon zest, capers and olives and drizzled with olive oil. Grilled fish is usually served with a crisp fresh salad or else with kapunata.
Eggs and Cheese
bejniet (Gozo cheeselets)
Selection of fresh and cured bejniet
These are small, round cheeses, made from sheep or sometimes goat milk, often served as part of a light lunch, or as part of a hearty dinner. These cheeselets come in four varieties, fresh (friski or tal-ilma), sun dried (moxxi), salt cured (masula) or peppered (tal-bar). The fresh variety have a smooth texture and a subtle, milky creamy flavour and are kept in their own whey in a similar manner to fresh Mozzarella. The sundried variety have a more definite, nutty almost musky, taste, and are fairly hard, but can keep for a long time without refrigeration. The pepper cured variety are covered in crushed black pepper and cured, after which they may be stored in oil, ot sometimes pickled with the addition of vinegar. These last are the tastiest. and their sharp taste becomes more piquant the more they age. They also develop a lovely crumbly texture. The dried varieties are traditionally served with Galletti an ancient local type of ship's biscuit and a glass of robust red wine.
''bejniet are often referred to as a goat cheese, as indeed they originally were, though today these are almost always made from sheep milk. In the early 20th Century using unpasteurised milk led to an Undulant Fever epidemic in the Maltese islands. Undulant fever is also referred to as the Maltese Fever since the link between the illness and unpasteurised milk was identified by the eminent Maltese doctor, archaeologist and scholar Sir Temi Zammit. Today thanks to a strict regime of certification of milk animals and widespread use of pasturisation the illness is completely eliminated from the islands and bejniet are not only completely safe to eat, they are a widely used and much appreciated local speciality. Still most Maltese much prefer the tastier unpasteurised artisan-farmer prouced cheeselets to the mass produced vacuum-sealed version! See below:
The widespread belief that bejniet made from pasturised milk are less tasty than those made from unpasturised milk has never been corroborated by scientific evidence. Still, mass produced bejniet, made exclusively from pasturised milk, tend to be less tasty than those produced by the cottage industry that makes use of certified but unpasturised milk.
Balbuljata or Barbuljata (Scrambled egg dish)
Eggs scrambled with tomatoes, onions, fresh herbs, corned beef (another British legacy) and grated cheese. There are also versions using broad beans or gbejniet instead of the corned beef or simply omitting it. Traditionally the grated cheese was an imported peppercorn studded sharp Pecorino known as obon tal-bar or more recently a Cheddar cheese, though gobon tal hakk malti is used these days.
Torta tar-Rikotta (Fresh ricotta and parsley pie)
Open faced or closed short crust pastry pie with local artisan sheep's milk ricotta, a sharp grated cheese and chopped fresh parsley bound with eggs.
Froa bil-ful u l-bejniet friski (Eggs with fresh broad beans and fresh local cheeselets)
The beaten eggs are mixed with shelled broad beans and mint and the finished omelette is topped with fresh bejna slices which melt on the omelette.
Froa tat-tarja or Tarja bil-bajd (Pasta "omelette" )
Angel's hair pasta cooked and tossed in cheese and butter, is mixed with eggs and shallow fri