Holiday Tips for Malta: Food and a Bit of Sightseeing

The last couple of years I’ve had a couple of friends ask me for recommendations and tips for a visit to Malta. This is the latest I’ve written. I figured other people might find it useful so here it is.

Hi Michael, How’s London in October? Rainy, I’m guessing?

Anyway, as I told you when you were in Prague, me and my girlfriend will be visiting Malta about ten days from now.

Could you give us some tips perhaps? Myself I’m mainly and mostly interested in food. The local thing would be what we are looking for. for example, in Italy, by chance we walked into this place, which looked like a czech jidelna – like a snackbar – but turned out to bto have great, simple traditional food.

Do you know any of such places? or how to recognize the average traditional diner? we are staying in Valetta, Marsalforn (Gozo) and Qawra. Perhaps for S you could advise some sightseeing tips.

London get’s it fair share of rain but I think people have a disproportionate impression of how much rain we get :) Malta got a bit of rain last week as well as you can see in the video below.

Malta weather in November can be tricky. With clouds, storms and lots of rainfall or bright sunny days not too warm not too cold.

Anyways on to the food! The Maltese people love food so I think you will find some compatriots there. The Maltese kitchen is related to Italian/Sicilian in many ways but with their own particular twist to it. Culturally the island has had influences from most of the big empires of the Mediterranean so the Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Sicilian has had an impact on the language, culture and food. Wikipedia has a very comprehensive list of dishes and their Maltese names.

Kinnie

A local soft drink that you should most definitely try is Kinnie. Made with bitter orange it’s refreshing without being super sweet and great for a hot day. Local beers are Cisk Lager and Hopleaf Pale Ale – the latter being my favorite.

Pastizzi yumy!

The snack of Malta is the Pastizzi as shown above. It’s a flaky pastry made with either mushy pea or ricotta (cheese) filling. Another variation is the Qassatat. You can buy pastizzi and other fresh-made snacks at small corner bars or pastizzeria as they are sometime called. As the place you found in Italy the front wont give away a good place like Crystal Palace here which supposedly is the best in Rabat/Mdina.

Crystal Palace

You can also find pastizzi in band clubs. These institutions started as community projects and today each band club will have a bar at a central location of the villages. They might not have the best pastizzi but you get to experience the enthusiastic (to say the least) conversation culture of Malta often executed by elderly men. In the village where Ann is from there are two band clubs across from each other and when we walked by it I always heard shouting coming from inside. At first I just thought it was a once-off drunken row but after hearing it a couple of times I asked Ann what they were fighting about and she said; “They are not fighting they are just discussing.” Without understanding the language it’s still interesting to go to a band club and see a real Mediterranean discourse unfold while having a Kinnie or Hopleaf. You find them at the center of towns, just go after the noise. Here’s the band club in Birgu:

St. Lawrence Band Club

Maxokk Bakery - pizza and ftira

I really like the local bakeries. Also very unassuming from the outside when you walk in you walk straight into the actual bakery where the oven might still be on and churning out fresh bread. The big round Maltese bread is called Ftira and the typical way at Ann’s house is to get it as a sandwich with tuna, capers, gbejnet (goat cheese) and kunserva. You can make that yourself if you want a lunch on the cheap.
However on Gozo the Ftira is an open sandwich more like a pizza and Maxokk Bakery in Nadur, Gozo is one of the best places to get one of these.

Maxokk Ftira

Being an island seafood is relatively cheap, fresh and very good. Apart from that a typical local dishes are rabbit stew (which is good), snails (I tried it once – nothing too exciting) and apparently horse meat (I’ve never noticed it on menus or been offered it at home). Apart from these “exotic” things you can get great pasta, pizza and risotto in most respectable places. My favorite is Ann’s aunts’ homemade ravjul.

When I’m there we mostly eat at home so I don’t know of any “hidden, secret” restaurants. I would do as in Prague – if you want food that locals eat go for a walk and get away from areas where there are too many tourists.

CHRISTMAS IN MALTA

One of Ann’s aunt has a place in Marsalforn, Gozo and whenever we or someone goes up to Gozo we always have to bring back some honey rings. The place they buy them from is a confectionary more or less opposite the bus station in Victoria, Gozo. I think you can get them all over the islands but their family has a special affection for exactly the ones from this place. And they are really good.

There are other Maltese seasonal sweets like the Prinjolata before Carnival or the Christmas Pudina tal-Ħobż but both are too sweet for my taste.

My favorite cake place has to be Fontanella’s in Mdina.

I would highly recommend making the trip into the Hypogeum – an ancient underground temple. Really fascinating place but because of the conditions of the place only 10 people are allowed in per hour so you should book tickets online before you go to Malta.

Photo of picture from Hypogeum book.

There are loads of other historic sites and museums but since that doesn’t sound like you are too interested in that I’ll leave out the rest apart from my favorite museums which are Norman House in Mdina, St. John’s Co-cathedral in Valletta and the knights museum in the Infermeria in Valletta.

Mdina street

I’d recommend you go for a walk in Mdina preferably early morning or late evening as it is best experienced without hords of tourists when it lives up to it’s name The Silent City. It’s the old capital and really a charming place.

Fire

For things to do I would check out the salute at noon from Upper Barrakka Gardens in Valletta and see if there is a reenactment on at St. Elmo. Just walking in the streets of Valletta is amazing. Although the main Republic Street is a bit boring with mostly have the same shops as any other European country.

Malita Bar & Lounge in Valletta

Just two streets away from Republic Street is a “forgotten” street. The narrow Strait Street that was the bar and brothel street when the British servicemen where in Malta up til the independence in 1964. Walking down the street it’s like talking a walk through history as many of the old street signs still hang around slowly decaying.

Big panorama from Hastings Garden, Valletta

A “hidden” gem in Valletta is Hastings Garden at the southwestern corner. Climbing up on top of the bastions here is the perfect make-out spot it seems as there is always a couple of couples sitting up here when I come by. If the weather is nice it’s great for watching sunset or just to take in the grand view of Manoel Island and Msida Creek.

Risen Christ

While you are in Malta there will be a feast in Baħrija where you will be able to see a procession and ground fireworks.

Sat 13th at 6pm: mass followed by procession with statue around village. 9pm: statue ‘returns’ to church followed by a service. Then there is a band march followed by ground fireworks.

That was what I could come up with now. Let me know if you need more suggestions for places to go. Too read about the trips I’ve made to the islands see blog post about My First Time in Malta, Spring in Malta, Miniholiday in Gozo, Fireworks, Farm and Forts, Maltese Wedding, Easter in Malta, Christmas in Malta

A Maltese Wedding

Almost three months ago Ann and I made a trip to Malta. We went to catch up with her family and friends and to attend her cousins wedding. It was going to be my first wedding in Malta.

The events started at the village church in Å»urrieq where most of Ann’s family lives.

The church in the setting sun

The church is a typical Maltese church sitting in the center of the village and as the front door faces West it is always lit by the most golden light when the sun is starting to set. The ceremony started at 18.30 so as we walked up the roadwe got to see the church in all it’s grandeur.

Waiting for the bride

We went inside and the ceremony started. It was in Maltese so I’m not really sure all that went on. My liturgical knowledge is not really up to scratch but there were some different talks by the priest. Some of the aunts of the bride and groom went to the podium and read some bible verses. And in between there was music being played. Initially I thought it was just recorded music as I could not see the musicians but it turned out there were a singer and a keyboard player behind one of the columns. The songs were more modern that what we are used to hear played by organs in Danish churches.

Running around during the service was a cameraman with a huge light, a photographer and two light assistants with long booms. The photographer looked like a secret service agent in his black suit and an ear peice directing the cameraman and two assistants around. With the church ceremony lasting about an hour and a half I had plenty of time to look at all these guys running around trying to get the perfect shots.

Wedding 072

Afterwards we went outside to greet the newlywed as they exited the church and we threw confetti at them while they made their way to the veteran car that would take them to the venue. Here’s the sweet couple.

The newlywed

And then we headed to the venue of the reception. In church most of the family had been present but at the reception more friends and family showed up so we were in the neighbourhood of 300 people there I think.

The outside garden

The reception was held at Ir-Razzett L-Abjad which is an old farm house beautifully converted into a venue hall with a big outdoor garden. It was a huge place with people flocking around either the indoor or outdoor bar.

The hardworking bar man

I had already met a most of Ann’s uncles and aunts on this side of the family on previous trips but here I got to meet all the cousins as well as we came across them at the party.

Unlike Danish parties they don’t go around shaking hands or giving hugs. Instead you find a place to stand or sit while the waiters make the rounds with hors d’oeuvres and other foods. I didn’t take picture of the food and forgot all the different options but there was a lot (maybe it was something like this). A band was playing some background music but there wasn’t really anybody dancing and the food kept coming.

The band

I was quite hungry when the food started to arrive and didn’t realize that it would keep coming all through the night so I indulged a lot in the first couple of items and was struggling as we were halfway through the list. Anyways there was a lot(!) of food and as always in Malta it was really tasty.

The evening ended with the cutting of the cake (more food!) and coffee. An open bar and good food in a steady stream is the perfect combination to keep a Maltese happy so I think everyone had a good night.

Enjoying the cake

Check flickr for the rest of my pictures from the evening.

For me the wedding season continues later this summer with two weddings in Germany. I’m looking forward to seeing friends and joining more happy celebrations.