10 Things You Can Only Buy in Malta
Marsaxlokk Market | europealacarte
The majority of products in Malta are imported, which is not surprising for such a small island. There’s certainly no shortage in choice when it comes to shopping, with well-known brands available in most outlets. However, there are some items that are produced in Malta and are difficult to find elsewhere. So seek them out while on your trip to Malta, for a unique experience.
As Malta enjoys warm weather for the majority of the year, there is demand for refreshing, cool drinks. For something a little different, try Cisk lager or the fizzy drink Kinnie. Drinks producer Farsons brought Kinnie to the market in 1952 and it was an welcome alternative to the many different colas available on the island, following the Second World War. A bittersweet orange flavour mixed with aromatic herbs, Kinnie is an acquired taste, but it’s worth a try! Farsons also produces Cisk lager, which has a full hop aroma and golden colour, and is still made to the same recipe as when it was launched in 1929.
Maltese beverages | © tpholand/Flickr
If you have the opportunity to visit a craft fair during your visit to Malta, keep a look out for stalls selling Ganutell. A traditional skill passed down from generation to generation, the creation of intricate flower-making using fine wires is as interesting to watch as it is to see the finished product. As pieces are often commissioned and also used to decorate churches, these beautiful pieces are not usually found in shops.
Growing on farmland, along the roadsides and even on wasteground, Malta is awash with prickly pear cacti. Best picked early morning or at dusk when the spikes on their skin retract, once peeled, the pears have a distinct taste with a melon-like scent to them. The best way to enjoy these summer fruits is in the form of one of the products they are made into. Browse local shops for delicious prickly pear liquors, jams and conserves. A taste of Malta to take home!
Prickly pears | © Peter Grima/Flickr
Made from mashed tic beans, brown beans or broad beans, this dip is available in most Maltese restaurants and from delicatessens around the island. The perfect accompaniment to freshly baked Maltese bread, bigilla is often served as a complimentary hors d’oeuvre in eateries while choosing from the menu. While recipes can vary slightly, the main ingredients remain the same: beans, olive oil, herbs, seasoning and lashings of garlic. Don’t forget a packet of mints for freshening up afterwards!
Mdina Glass first opened its doors in 1968 as the first glass company in Malta. Producers of stunning items to furnish your home such as candle holders, vases and centrepieces, each piece is unique as it is produced by artisans who not only blow the glass but shape it by hand, too. All glassware is made to a high standard and their outlet in Ta’ Qali craft village, allows visitors to enter the workshop to see items being made first-hand.
Mdina Glass workshop | © Boris Kasimov/Flickr
The fascinating ‘sleeping lady’
Recovered from Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, the only prehistoric underground temple in the world said to date back to circa 4,000 BC, the ‘sleeping lady’ figurine is now housed at Malta’s Museum of Archaeology. Carved out of stone, this 5,000-year-old lady lying on her side in a natural sleeping position has replicas available in many gift shops. She is an icon you will only find in Malta with a great history behind it.
Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, Triq Ic Cimiterju, Raħal Ġdid, Paola, Malta, +356 2180 5019
Not to be confused with bigilla, the savoury Maltese dip, bizzilla is a form of lace-making using techniques dating back to the time of the Knights of St John, when ornamental lace was a much sought-after fashion accessory. Fascinating to watch being made, wooden bobbins are used with various thickness of threads. Deft in their skills, it is not uncommon to see ladies sitting in their doorways on warm summer days, creating these works of art. A Maltese cross is entwined within bizzilla making it traditionally Maltese.
Lace making in Malta | © Cherry Blossom in Japan/Flickr
Originating in ancient Greece and Rome, and seen in many countries worldwide today, it is safe to say that Malta is not the only home of filigree, but these ornate pieces of jewellery and ornaments, made of delicately thin gold or silver wires, is a speciality of Malta and its quality is second to none. Handmade by artisans across the island, most jewellery and gift shops stock some sort of filigree, but the best ones to look out for are those made bearing the eight-pointed Maltese cross.
Malta’s sister island of Gozo, measuring a mere 67km square, has a popular product you’ll find in Malta too – Ġbejniet, delectable round cheese made from unpasteurised sheep’s or goat’s milk. It’s available plain or you’ll find it with local flavours added, such as garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and chilli pepper. Eaten as is, drizzled with olive oil on salads or added to soups or as a pizza topping, these popular cheese circles, made by family-run businesses, are always in high demand.
As with Cisk and Kinnie, you can’t visit Malta without trying a packet of Twistees. Although now widely exported, you will find the full range of flavours in their birthplace of Malta. Twistees, a savoury crisp snack, were invented over 40 years ago and were one of the first types of crisps to be baked rather than fried, making them an instant success. Branching out and keeping up with EU regulations, the iconic Twistees launched Twistees Lite and Tastees as even healthier options. Their own Facebook page has over 18,000 followers, and there are plans to launch six new exclusive flavours to celebrate Valletta being a European Capital of Culture 2018.
Twistees | © Zoonabar/Flickr