Local, fresh, simple and seasonal; four important words that capture the essence of Maltese and Gozitan cuisine. Maltese food is influenced by its close proximity to Silicly and North Africa yet it still contains its individuality with its own unique twist.
You’ll find an array of Mediterranean flavours with an emphasis on seafood, vegetables, pasta, meats, bread, cheese and olive oils – a lot of it! Every ‘Maltese’ dish we tried felt like it had come straight from Nanna’s kitchen. Home cooked & hearty. For the most authentic Maltese cuisine, look out for the family-run restaurants in the smaller towns.
Try these traditional Maltese dishes on your next visit to Malta and let us know what your favourite is!
1/ Fenek (Rabbit)
Rabbit stew, or as the locals call it, Stuffat Tal-Fenek, is Malta’s national dish. The rabbit is often served in one of two ways, stewed or fried. When stewed, it is a slow cooking process (over 2 hours) which allows the meat to become incredibly tender & typically fall off the bone. The stew is a rich gravy tomato based sauce and can include a variety of vegetables such as onion, garlic, carrots & potatoes. It is also commonly served with spaghetti or some form of pasta. You can find this dish at almost any Maltese restaurant. To us, it tasted and looked extremely similar to chicken but the sauce is what made it.
Tip: Try it at Otters Bistro (Marsaflorn)
2/ Gbejniet (Maltese Cheese)
The Maltese love their cheese, especially Gbejniet! Gbejniet is a typical, extremely versatile Maltese cheese made from goats or sheep’s milk, salt and rennet. It can be found in 3 forms; fresh, dried or cured and can be flavoured with pepper (our preference) or plain. Aside from eating this cheese as is, it is also commonly served deep fried, on salads, inside of ravioli (instead of ricotta), and occasionally, even in pies.
Tip: Try it…everywhere!
3/ Pastizzi (Pastries)
You won’t go very far in Malta before you see (or smell!) one of these delicious creations. These days they are filling pastizzis with many different ingredients but the two traditional pastizzis contain ricotta cheese or mushy curried peas. They are extremely fatty and very high in calories so don’t get too excited when you see the 30c price tag unless you want your waste to expand at a rapid rate. Best had in the morning when they’re fresh out of the oven!
Tip: Try it at Crystal Palace (Mdina)
4/ Aljotta (Fish Soup)
Aljotta is a lemony, herb-based fish based soup which is light, fresh and flavourful. The flavours stem from the herbs, citrus, garlic and of course fresh seafood (mussels, octopus, prawns, fish, typically rockfish). A hearty meal for any seafood lover!
Tip: Try it at Guze Bistro (Valletta)
5/ Hobza biz zejt or Ftira (Bread with Oil)
A pretty basic, yet very typical type of crusty sourdough bread which is often found in the shape of a semi-circle. Almost like a donut! You can eat this plain with olive oil or more commonly found, it is smothered with kunserva (sweet tomato paste) and then drizzled with olive oil and topped with a choice or mix of tuna, anchovies, olives, capers, beans onion and bigilla. Personal preference on toppings with this dish!
6/ Bigilla (Bean Paste)
Photo Credit: A Maltese Mouthful
Often described as the dip of all dips, Bigilla is a real staple in Malta. This spreadable dip is traditionally made using dried, smashed fava beans locally known as “ful tal-girba”, olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic and herbs and eaten with Galletti’s (described below). Personally, we didn’t see the appeal as there wasn’t enough flavour for us but that’s not to say you shouldn’t find out for yourself! You can find this on every single menu as a starter or side.
7/ Timpana (Baked Macaroni)
Carbs on carbs on carbs. The ultimate pasta pie. This baked pasta dish is made using very simple ingredients – macaroni and pastry. The macaroni is cooked in a bolognese based sauce with minced meat, bacon, tomatoes, garlic, onions and cheese and then baked in a puff pastry. It’s very heavy so make sure you’re hungry before trying to indulge in this meal!
8/ Imqaret (Fried Date Pastry)
Imqaret’s are a diamond-shaped deep fried Maltese sweet treat that can be found at many corner stores and on the dessert menu at restaurants. The pastry is filled with dates then deep fried and dusted with icing sugar and served alongside ice cream. If you’re grabbing one on the go, you’ll miss the ice cream 😉 so make sure to give one a try when it’s fresh out of the fryer.
9/ Zalzett Tal-Malti (Maltese sausage)
The Maltese sausage is a homemade sausage primarily made with pork. They are influenced by England but made in accordance with Portuguese traditions. Fresh Maltese sausages are made with garlic, herbs, peppercorn, crushed coriander seeds and spices while the dry types are made a little more simple.
During a friend’s BBQ in Malta, we learned that the Maltese also enjoy eating these raw…I don’t know about you but we couldn’t bring ourselves to trying that! Could you? Ew no. PS. It’s very hard to make sausages look appetizing in photos 😉 When you ask a Maltese local what they miss when they leave their country…it’s these!
10/ Ftira Ghawdxija (Gozitan Pizza)
This Gozitan Pizza is a speciality on the island of Gozo. The type of dough used to create the base of the Ftira Ghawdxjia is different from that of a normal pizza. It has a unique taste and is much thicker. Although the toppings on the pizza vary, there is always one staple ingredient which makes this dish so unique… potatoes. Yep, potatoes on top of a pizza. Don’t judge it till you’ve tried it! Beware, it’s rather filling. Surprise, surprise!
Tip: Try it at Mekren Bakery, Gozo
11/ Brungiel Mimli (Stuffed Aubergines)
Some may argue that this local dish didn’t originate from Malta but we seemed to have found it on every local menu which is why we’ve added it to our list (plus I love me a good aubergine!). The aubergines are sliced in half and stuffed with a variety of ingredients which can vary from minced meat to olives, caramelised onions, garlic, aubergine pulp, croutons, tomatoes and topped with parmesan cheese before being put under the grill. Finally, a little break from the carbs.
12/ Maltese Snacks
Every country has their signature snacks and Malta is no different. Fortunately for us, our local friends greeted us with a little welcome packet allowing us to sample some of these Maltese favourites!
- Twistees: We have twistees at home in Australia but these were different (and preferred!). Plus their only 60c a bag! Rice-based, gluten free, crispy and full of flavour. Not necessarily a healthy grab and go snack, but it’s all about balance ;).
- Galletti: Also known as “water crackers”. These are a thin, hard, brittle cracker served alongside a variety of dips to start your meal or with soups. They’re quite bland alone but they can be found in different flavours to enhance the taste.
- Kinnie: A bitter-sweet, 50g sugar-filled soft drink beverage! Found in any corner store, it’s worth trying at least once.
- Cisk: A traditional Maltese lager beer.
- Ottijiet: A crumbly, buttery, sweet based cookie with sesame seeds, cloves & aniseed. They are shaped in a figure of 8 (hence the name ottijiet, the plural of otto which is 8 in Italian) and are commonly served alongside tea and coffee or with breakfast.
- Kannoli: Originating from Sicily but all throughout Malta, these treats are to die for. Crisp, sweet crunchy tubes filled with sweet ricotta cheese. You can find them plain or flavoured with cocoa, nuts, chocolate, or candied fruits. If you’re going to try it once, make sure it’s from Busy Bees in Msida, Malta.
Do any of these local Maltese delicacies sound appetizing to you?
- Read: Malta Travel Guide: EVERYTHING you need to know!
- Read: 14 Top Things You MUST Do in Malta: The Ultimate Bucket List
- Read: Gozo & Comino, Malta – EVERYTHING You Need to Know
- Read: 10 Top Things You MUST Do in Gozo, Malta