My Malta may be a little different from the regular tourist’s Malta. For me it’s about family memories, reconnecting with my cultural heritage, decompressing and a little exploration into the past of Maltese food DNA, to gain a better understanding of what my little island home’s culinary identity could evolve into.
Malta’s modern day food is a direct reflection of its history, which isn’t always a good thing. We have been battered and bruised by the countless wars and occupiers, all leaving Malta with a disjointed culinary landscape. But once you peel back the layers, like bandages on a healing wound, you can start to see the raw natural beauty of Maltese culinary potential, and this is the food I want to unlock.
So, keeping all that in mind when I’m eating in Malta, I focus on simple flavours, spectacular sun-kissed produce, and the history of the food’s origin.
My number one go-to is a small seafood restaurant called Terrone—a simple, tasty, clean, and fresh restaurant by the beautiful bay in Marsaxlokk. Owned by a Maltese-Australian family it has, in my opinion, the best food on the island.
A childhood memory that still brings a huge smile to my face is walking though the ancient streets in Zejtun—the city my father was born in—and searching for a little hole in the wall pastizziarija called Rogers. No bells, no whistles, no tables and no service, but you can’t leave Malta without tasting one of their ricotta pastizzi. Light and crispy pasty cooked in a centuries-old oven that I swear adds to the flavour.
If traditional Maltese food is what you’re after, then you can’t go past Qrendi Bocci club. This is a real suburban home-style cooking venue. You will be extremely challenged to find better Maltese braised and fried rabbit, snails and, of course, horse meat! Believe me, try the horse meat. It is stunningly sweet and tender and cooked with love and skill.
Seeing that tourism is Malta’s biggest market, it does take a little skill to filter though the tacky chicken and beef tourist-driven slapped up menus that you will find in any budget tourist destination—chips, steak, and huge bowls of cheap pasta, plus deep-fried everything—but if you look carefully there are a few diamonds in the rough.
One of these little gems is Nenu’s. On first impression you may think that this place is a bit gimmicky and that a meal here will be quickly forgotten, but you will be greatly mistaken. Nenu’s is a really good all-rounder—it has the whole Maltese cuisine on one menu. My favourites are the Maltese cheese-filled ravioli with a simple spiced tomato and onion sauce, the braised octopus with walnuts and of course, you must try a traditional fitira—a thick Maltese style pizza that is moist and crunchy all in the same go. Be really careful not to order too much in one sitting—the serves are big and the cuisine is heavy and filling, but it’s a cool place to check out in Valletta.
If you’re looking for something a little higher-end, then my two picks would have to be Cafe Del Mar in St Paul’s Bay for drinks, beats and people watching; or Risette in Valletta, for a contemporary, European style cuisine from a chef that is pushing the envelope.
Of course, you can’t go to Malta in the summer without immersing yourself in the magical waters of the Mediterranean, and in my opinion there is only one beach to swim: Delimara Bay. A traditional Maltese beach, it has no sand, no umbrellas, no toilets, and no restaurants, so make sure you come prepared. Every time I go back to Malta, Delimara Bay is the first stop on my list. It was where I decided I wanted to become a chef; where my son, father, grandfather and I learnt how to swim; and where my aunty’s ashes remain. It is very special to my family and I would do anything to be back there right now.
Seeing Gozo is a must—it’s Malta’s agricultural heart and hasn’t been overrun with tourists or development. It’s like taking a glimpse back in time to what Malta used to be. Slow paced, without stress, it is the perfect place to reconnect with your loved ones and more importantly, yourself. The best way to experience Gozo is by booking a farmhouse villa. There are so many special, hidden gems scattered throughout the island, and some areas are luxurious and stunning. The Gozitan-style fitira is also worth a go and there is none better than Mekrens bakery.
Originally published by Delicious on 27 October 2018. Written by Shane Delia.