Maltese cuisine is largely influenced by Italian flavors, particularly Sicilian, but also combines Arabic and North African recipes and native dishes. Throughout the country, however, you’ll find plenty of excellent restaurants specializing in Mediterranean food. Starters typically include pasta, risotto, antipasti, soups, and bread with dips, while main courses include meat and fish dishes. As you might expect with a nation in the middle of the Mediterranean, fish is heavily featured in Maltese cooking. In Maltese restaurants, you even get to choose your own fish from a display and decide how it will be cooked, which can include being baked in wine with a piquant of fresh tomatoes or grilled with citrus fruits.
Rabbit is a staple meat in Malta, forming the base for many local dishes. Fenek, as it is known locally, is generally found in red wine stews or accompanied with garlic and fresh Maltese pasta. Rubino, a former sweet shop in the capital of Valletta, is one of the best places to try a rabbit dish. The combined Italian and Maltese menu almost always includes a selection of rabbit dishes.
For some authentic Maltese cuisine inspired by home-cooked meals, head to the wine bar Legligin. Stand-out dishes on the menu will often include fish carpaccio, slow-cooked poor, Maltese sausages, and the local delicacy hobz biz-zejt, which is fresh Maltese bread with fresh tomatoes, olive oil, local herbs, and spices. Legligin also has a delicious wine list featuring the best wines from local vineyards.
Highlights of the traditional menus served in most restaurants in the region are aljotta (a tasty fish soup), soppa ta l’armla (a potato and cauliflower soup), gebnja (a soft and mild Maltese cheese served fresh or dried with vinegar), lampuki pie (fish pie), and bragioli. Bragioli, or beef olives, is a staple dish consisting of minced beef and herbs wrapped in sliced beef.
One of the most popular towns in the region is St. Julian’s. This coastal town situated north of Valetta is known for its beaches, including Balluta Bay, and its fishing port Spinola Bay. Not surprisingly, the fresh fish available here is outstanding, and the exceptional restaurants are a real treat. Portomaso Marina serves fresh fish year-round prepared to order alongside spaghetti ai rizzi, which is a local specialty of spaghetti cooked in a delicious sea urchin sauce. There are also some good Italian and Turkish/Arabic restaurants in the area. St. Julian’s is home to one of the best pastizzi stands in Malta: Mr. Maxim’s Pastizzeria. Pastizzi are traditional Maltese cakes, which are made in both sweet and savory varieties. The most delicious is the cheese cake: a cake made with gebnja wrapped in traditional dough.
Thanks to its almost year-round sunshine, Malta is a place that can be visited any time of the year. It’s relatively inexpensive to fly from the UK, with prices ranging from £25 to £130 ($32 to $195 USD) depending on the airline and season. There’s plenty to see and do in Malta, although it’s best explored outside of the peak season, however, especially if you want to take advantage of cheap accommodation.