When it comes to mouthwatering Mediterranean dishes, Malta means business. Think hearty bowls of stuffat tal-fenek, or rabbit stew, cooked in local wine, and fresh-out-of-the-oven buttery pastizzi.
Malta’s many flavours are woven into each and every one of its dishes, mirroring the influences left behind by many different cultures over hundreds of years. These days, Maltese cuisine is a seasonal and gastronomic adventure. Here are our recommendations on what to eat and where to eat it when you’re on Maltese turf. Tip number one: arrive hungry.
No trip to Malta is complete without devouring at least a few pastizzi. These almond-shaped delights are food for the soul and they’re sold pretty much everywhere across the archipelago. Enjoy the buttery layers of flaky golden pastry stuffed with warm ricotta cheese (pastizzi l-irkotta) or peas (pastizzi tal-pizelli) as they are served straight out of the oven.
Hotspot Crystal Palace Tea and Coffee Bar is a local favourite and mere steps from Malta’s magnificent Mdina – just follow the wafts of freshly baked pastry.
The seafood served at Ta’ Cenc Il-Kantra is as fresh as it gets. Nestled in the cliffs surrounding the secluded Il-Kantra beach, the restaurant overlooks the glittering waters around Gozo, providing an ideal backdrop for a memorable meal. Whether you want to stop by for a swift pint of cold Cisk or enjoy a romantic meal at sunset, Ta’ Cenc Il-Kantra is one of those places that ticks all the boxes.
The menu is bursting with flavours influenced by neighbouring regions – think marinated slices of swordfish served with black-olive cream, and chives and pumpkin tortellini with cream of pistachio. If you want to sample the best, opt for the catch of the day cooked to accommodate your taste – so in whichever way you like.
The family-run Tal-Familja is a real nod to nostalgia. Tables on the veranda are draped in dusty-pink tablecloths and the rustic decor creates a home-away-from-home atmosphere, enhanced by the scattered family photos and the beloved menu of hearty dishes. As well as freshly caught fish and shellfish, the menu features some interesting meat dishes. Traditional Maltese cuisine – including punchy, garlicky fried rabbit cooked slowly in local red wine, and spaghetti tossed in a rich rabbit sauce – steals the limelight. One thing you must try is the bragioli, beef olives, which are, in fact, not olives at all. Tender slices of beef are made into bite-sized parcels and stuffed with generously seasoned minced meat, all served with lashings of tangy tomato sauce. This much-loved dish, a common dish on Maltese menus, dates back to medieval times.
When you’re visiting the island of Gozo, aside from enjoying the jaw-dropping beaches and world-class diving, sampling local ġbejniet is a must. This traditional cheese is made by local farmers using methods passed down through the generations.
Some ġbejniet are sun-dried (moxxa), or, if a kick of heat is your thing, then go for the peppered variety (ġbejniet tal-bżar). You’ll find them at most Maltese food markets – hit up Is-Suq tal-Belt, in the capital, for the best local treats – but Ta’ Rikardu, on Gozo, is an unmissable spot. Feast on ġbejniet from Rikardu’s own farm and and sip wine from its vineyard, or go behind the scenes and try your hand at the actual cheese-making process.
While you’re in the northern region of Mellieha, where winding roads lead to sandy beaches, be sure to stop by Commando for a bite to eat. The family that owns Commando is well-known in the area, having been serving food here since the 1930s. The name Commando derives from the owner’s personal history with the Royal Marines.
Here you’ll find seasonal plates scattered with fresh colourful ingredients and a Michelin-worthy menu; you could order anything and leave with a happy belly. The seafood is freshly caught, and all the ingredients are of exceptional quality. If you’re choosing from the vegan menu, try the porcini and tofu ravioli served with roasted hazelnuts and mushroom oil.
There’s an air of sophistication at Tarragon in St Paul’s Bay, where floor-to-ceiling windows soak the restaurant in natural sunlight and let in views of the Mediterranean seascape. The field-to-fork approach means that seasonal ingredients are sourced as close to the restaurant as possible. Sustainability is a key factor here, and the menu has been curated using this local produce to showcase the exceptional flavours of Malta. Any dish is made better when washed down with a bottle of wine recommended by the in-house sommelier. There’s also a vegan tasting menu that changes regularly. Past menus have featured dishes such as roasted king oyster mushrooms with an onion and thyme velouté sauce, and a charred asparagus salad served with a leek and hazelnut pesto.
Pick up a menu in a Maltese restaurant and you’ll find it full to the bream (sorry) with all sorts of fishy dishes, aljotta being a favourite. This traditional fish soup is made using the whole fish; head, tail, bones, you name it – it’s all going in. Most likely influenced by Malta’s historical links with France, it’s a Maltese take on the classic bouillabaisse. Sometimes it’s served with rice, sometimes packed with potatoes, and sometimes tomatoes sneak their way in too for extra zing. But garlic is the real hero when it comes to making a proper aljotta, and herbs are used by the handful.
There are many places to sample traditional aljotta on the island, but to head to Gululu, in the seaside town of St Julian’s, for the best. Ask for the traditional fish soup served with rice and a side of gooey ġbejna moqlija, deep-fried sheep’s cheese.