The Malta Food Experiment

Sep 2, 2009

So our Honeymoon was set for Malta.

Why Malta, you may ask?

Well, we wanted something different, with nice weather and historic things to visit.  Located in the middle of the Meditaranean Sea, Malta seemed perfect. And it was relatively easy to get to, Ottawa-Frankfurt-Malta and hop!

Food in Malta is not renowned as gourmet cuisine, but it is reasonably priced and there are plenty of locations to choose from. Foreign influences still play a major role in the local cuisine. The islands’ proximity to Sicily leads inevitably to many pasta dishes and pizzerias; the Brits also left their mark – fish and chips, obviously.  The Mediterranean stamp is there, with olive oil being omnipresent, and fresh vegetables, such as tomatoes and green peppers, are commonly used. Fresh fish is easily found and proudly offered.  Abundant, it comes poached, steamed, braised or grilled.

The national  dish of Malta is fried rabbit. But you can also find rabbit in stews and in pasta. Interestingly enough, we failed to see any rabbits around the islands. Another regional meat dish is bragioli. It is made with thin slices of beef wrapped round a minced meat, egg and bacon stuffing.

Other local delicacies include Gbejna, a sheep’s milk cheese, served either fresh or half-dried. It comes from Gozo, it looks like boccocinni, but it is much more firm. Also, the Maltese bread, called Hobz, is very crusty on the outside and soft on the inside, and is heavily consumed on the islands. Ftira is another bread, higher end, denser.

After visiting Malta’s National War Museum and walking around the city, it was time for lunch.  We picked Cocopazzo, a small place, located on Triq Nofs in-Nhar, which was recommended in our guidebooks. We were not disappointed.  We were hungry early, so the place was not really busy.  Colourful, cozy, unpretentious, with great service and great food.

From left to right:  Cocopazzo’s cozy atmosphere; complimentary bread pieces, oven-toasted with herbs and olive oil; we shared some delicious rabbit stuffed ravioli to start; I went for the mixed fish grill (red snapper filet, tuna filet, swordfish, shrimp – quite dense) served with fresh vegetables, 20€ ; Melissa went for the fried calamari on a bed of greens, fresh and tender, 13€; and it all came with a side of steamed vegetables, more food than we could consume.  The total bill was 56€, before tip.

Our second meal out, the next day, was after a 10 km walk, from Sliema’s waterfront back to Valletta, through Gzira, Ta’ Xbiex, Msida, Pieta’, Hamrun and Floriana.  It was a long walk under the baking sun of Malta, and we were ready for something civilized. We just happened to end up in front of Valetta’s 5 star hotel, the Phoenicia, so we went in to enjoy lunch on The Phoenix‘s terrace, which had a nice view of  some of Valletta’s fortification system.

I went for the classic Maltese Ftira, left, another local bread. Totally mediterranean,  with tuna, onions, capers, tomatoes and black olives.  Plenty of olive oil to bring everything together.  It came with a little basket of potato chips and a mini-salad, for 7€.  Melissa picked the Chicken Baguette, garnished with bacon and smoked cheddar.  It was served with a mediterranean salad for 8.50€.  Despite the 5 stars, and sharing the terrace with Ladies and Gentleman directly out of Falcon Crest, this was a nice lunch and not too pricey.

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