Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A taste of Malta

Last year, my youngest sister was living in Malta with her family and we went to visit them there, for a week(from France, where we were based for six months). It was a revelation: not only because of the striking natural beauty of this nevertheless densely-populated little country, but also its long and fascinating history, its gorgeous architectural heritage, from the most ancient and complex of Stone Age temples anywhere in the world to the forts of the Knights of Malta and thousands of quaint little terrace houses set on charming, steep streets; a laid-back atmosphere due to its engagingly modest and friendly people, who all, it seems, know about Australia, as so many Maltese migrated there—and many of them have come back to their beloved island and started up little businesses recalling that history, with such places as 'the Australia Butchery', and the bus proudly labelled 'Toongabbie, NSW! And its delicious food.
Malta is an island nation, with three major islands as well as some smaller ones, and that is very much reflected not only in their love of the sea's bounty. There is a big fishing fleet, with lots of small operators passing down brightly-painted boats from father to son(boat-building is also quite an industry, if small-scale, in Malta.) Fish especially features strongly on the menu, and a large range is sold by harbours, in fish markets and from mobile stalls, and octopus and calamari also often appear. Rabbit is also beloved, with one of the national dishes being a delicious garlic and red wine rabbit stew(we had one of these in the beautiful ancient town of Medina, and it was spectacular.). Pork is popular, and Maltese peppery pork sausages are particularly delicious, with the same kind of meaty, coarse texture as a Toulouse sausage. The nearby island of Sicily has heavily influenced the cuisine, with olives, herbs, anchovies, tomatoes, pomegranates, garlic, ravioli and red wine common ingredients, but there's also many other different influences, from Arabic(Malta is pretty close to Arab North Africa, though very much resolutely turning its back to Arabic culture, not only because the Maltese are very strong Catholics but also because of historical enmity after the Arabs conquered the islands in the eleventh century and enslaved its people) to French, Spanish, and even German, because of the many different backgrounds the Knights of Malta came from. British influence can also be seen with such things as Worcestershire sauce readily available. Capers are an island speciality and are sold in every little shop and in the markets, and favourite vegetables are eggplant, artichokes and zucchini. Sweets betray a strongly Arabic influence, with nuts, honey, and sesame seeds, orange flower and rose water common ingredients in a variety of cakes, and there's also sweet ravioli. A quirky island speciality is also jam and liqueurs made with the prickly pear which proliferates in part of the country, and the Maltese also make very nice ricotta style and other white cheeses, some fresh and creamy, others hard and salty or peppery(these mostly come from the island of Gozo, which is renowned for its cheese), and a range of delicious liqueurs, from jewelled pomegranate liqueur to chocolate liqueur(chocolate has a long history in Malta—it's thought that along with Spain it was one of the first places where chocolate was first tasted outside of Central America.)
If you live in Australia and you're interested in trying Maltese food, there's a few suppliers here(we've bought Australian-made Maltese sausages in a big butchery in Seven Hills, for instance), but also a Brisbane-based website where you can order quite a few Maltese specialities, from sausage to cheese and more. It's at


  1. I spent four weeks in Malta some 24 years ago. I loved the old green buses that took us around, the street carts with delicious pea and potato pastries and the orange drink mixed with milk, Sensation I think it was called. What struck me was the peacefulness, friendliness, the ocean, history and streetscapes. I loved the whole experience. I had my birthday at a place or restaurant called the Blue Grotto. We also went to Gozo on the ferry. Many happy memories although I didn't end up with my then Maltese boyfriend. But thanks to him I visited a wonderful place.

  2. Yes, it's a very endearing place, isn't it, just as you say..So peaceful in feel and yet such a rich and even tormented history..And those buses are gorgeous! They were yellow when we went there but just as quaintly charming even if uncomfortable! And loved all the boats--and that serene ride across the harbour from Cospicua, where we were staying, to Valetta itself, on one of those lovely old wooden boats..