Malta, the small European island nation in the southern Mediterranean, has long been a cultural crossroads between Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Its culinary traditions reflect those cross-cultural ties, yet have developed in a localized way. Maltese cuisine is heavy on the savory, where olives, olive oil, capers, bread, cheese, fish, and meat—especially rabbit—all play starring roles.
Because of its popularity as a tourist destination, you can find a little of everything in Malta. But trying new foods is one of the joys of travel. So instead of going for familiar burgers or Italian pizza and pasta, sample these top foods to try in Malta.
Widely regarded as the national dish of Malta, stuffat tal-fenek has as its main ingredient a food long linked to Malta's history with rabbit. Wild rabbits were brought to Malta by the Phoenicians, who introduced them as a food source. Since then, the presence of rabbits has guaranteed a source of fresh meat on islands where it's difficult for other livestock to thrive. Available virtually everywhere in Malta, this traditional rabbit stew is made with red wine, tomato sauce, spices, and garden vegetables. You may find it served alongside potatoes or over pasta. In Valletta, try it at La Pira Maltese Kitchen. For something more rustic and traditional, head to Selmun Bar & Restaurant in Selmun.
Perhaps the most typical street food in Malta, pastizzi are savory, filled puff pastries. Though there are a lot of variations across the islands, the traditional filling is either peas or seasoned ricotta cheese. Pastizzi are casual food to eat on the go. You'll find them sold at grocery stores and delis, at beachfront takeaway eateries, and other unassuming joints. The widely regarded best place for pastizzi in Malta is Is-Serkin Crystal Palace Bar, a hole in the wall in the city of Rabat.
A quick go-to lunch or snack, hobz biz-zejt comes as either an open-faced or stuffed sandwich made from a round of crusty Maltese bread. It's filled or stuffed with tomatoes, tuna, onion, garlic, and capers, and drizzled with olive oil. Other varieties include anchovies and local sheep's cheese. Try it, and we guarantee you'll never look at a tuna fish sandwich the same way again. Hobz biz-zejt is a popular snack to be eaten at the beach. Pick some up at Buchman's Snack Bar in Gzira.
Ftira is everywhere in Malta and Gozo. The round bread, often used for stuffed sandwiches, takes a different turn on Gozo, where it's used as the base for ftira ghawdxija, the specialty pizza of Malta's sister island. Ftira is thicker and chewier than normal pizza dough, meaning it can withstand some heavy toppings like sheep's milk, sausages, or eggplant—and the toppings always include potatoes. Locals and tourists alike line up outside positively non-descript Mekren's Bakery on Gozo for takeaway orders of these hearty pies.
Virtually every country in Europe has its version of sausage and charcuterie, and Malta is no exception. Zalzett Tal-Malti, or Maltese sausage, is spicier than some of its continental counterparts. It's typically made of pork, with spices including coriander, peppercorn, garlic, and lots of salt. It's popular as a grilled item or stewed with tomato sauce. Dry versions of Zalzett Tal-Malti often show up thinly sliced on charcuterie boards. Try them in Valletta at Nenu the Artisan Baker.
Torta Tal Lampuki
Lampuki is the Maltese name for mahi-mahi, and when these prized fish are in season, it's time for lampuki pie. The savory fish pie is baked in a light and crunchy pastry along with mint, potatoes, and capers. It's served at homey coffee shops and chic restaurants alike, and ranks as one of our top must-try items on Malta. Get it fresh—and with a sea view— at Ta' Victor in Marsaxlokk.
Think of aljotta as the more lemony, garlicky, herby cousin of French bouillabaisse. Once a traditional meal during Lent, when most Maltese swore off meat, aljotta has now become an all-season dish, with recipes varying to reflect that catch of the day, or whatever fish and seafood are in season. Like so many Maltese foods, aljotta can be simple cafeteria fare made with leftover fish or an elegant dish with a few pieces of pricey crustaceans floating on top. Palazzo Preca in Valletta does a fine version, as does Legends, on the seafront in Marsaskala.
It's not exactly a light meal, but chances are it will be a memorable one. Harkening to Malta's love of food wrapped in pastry, Timpana is baked pasta pie—in a pastry shell. The outside of the timpana is sturdy, and the pasta inside—usually macaroni—is typically baked with meat, tomatoes, bacon, garlic, cheese and onions, for a creamy, carb-heavy one-dish meal. There are variations on timpana. Tarja Moqlija Timpana, for example, is a pie made of fried vermicelli noodles. Find a traditional timpana at no-nonsense Diar il Bniet on the southwest side of Malta.
As a quick bite to accompany a morning coffee or as a fancier dessert, imqaret are ubiquitous in Malta. A small, crunchy pastry filled with dates and seasoned with orange peel and spices, and then deep-fried, imqaret can be bought by the bag as a snack to go, or is often served with ice cream in sit-down restaurants. They're especially delicious when served hot. On Gozo, Tepie's Coffee Bar is a favorite stop for imqaret, which also tops the desserts list at L'Aroma Restaurant in Sliema
As hummus is to Arabic and Eastern Mediterranean cuisine, bigilla is to Malta. The fava bean dip usually shows up on a mezze-like appetizer platter, accompanied by olives, cheese, charcuterie, and bread. The dip is made with mashed fava beans, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, and herbs and is often eaten with Galletti crackers. Bigilla is a great before-dinner starter or late-night snack—try it with a wine, beer, or cocktail at Gugar Hangout & BAR on Valletta's busy Republic Street.
Cheese shows up in a wide range of Maltese dishes—often it's mild ricotta made from sheep's milk. But for something more flavorful, look for gbejniet, a savory goat's milk cheese. It's sold in fresh, cured, or dried forms, and may be seasoned with pepper or other herbs. You'll find it deep-fried as an appetizer, cured on a mezze platter, or fresh as a filling for pasta. Pick some up at a Maltese grocery or specialty store, or look for it on menus everywhere.