As a country, we have a strong sense of national identity, and unsurprisingly, our food forms a big part of that. But if you take it from a foreigner’s perspective, our food can seem to be both weird and wonderful.
Although I had spent the first twelve years of my life living in Scotland, my mother, who is Maltese, often made us imqarrun (baked macaroni) and kwareżimal (Lenten biscuits), so I wasn’t very surprised with the Maltese cuisine when I moved here.
But when my friend came to visit, she was absolutely flabbergasted by all the carbs we eat, and every time she asked me what a traditional sweet was made of, seven out of ten times the answer would be ‘ground almonds’.
This led me to ponder the question: What exactly is traditional Maltese food?
Image above: Maltese loaf (Ħobż tal-Malti)
We love our carbs: From imqarrun to pasta in a rabbit sauce, we’re probably second only to the Italians in our consumption of pasta. We also believe that our bread is the best in the world – and a good loaf from a bakery in Qormi can vouch for that – and we’ll have it with anything: drizzled with olive oil, drenched in kunserva or even plain to be dunked in a bowl of hot stew. More than that, we add potatoes to a lot of dishes, including our stews, and we’ve turned baked potatoes (patata l-forn) into a dish in its own right as well.
Image above: Baked Macaroni (Imqarrun il-Forn)
Our sweets are… bizarre: When you think of a traditional Sicilian sweet, the first thing that comes to mind is probably their cannoli. And when you think of British sweets, an Eton mess or a Victoria Sponge often tops the list. But with Maltese sweets, it’s ‘figolli’, ‘qagħaq tal-għasel’ (honey rings), ‘prinjolata’ or ‘pudina tal-ħobż’. We also cannot leave out imqaret! But they’re not exactly what most people would think of as proper desserts, are they? I mean, the Italians have their tiramisu, the French have their crème brûlée, and here we are serving ground almonds enclosed in two sheets of pastry. But we love it and it tastes divine.
Image above: Qagħaq tal-għasel (left), Imqaret (right)
Fat is King: Tying in with our love of carbs is our love of fats, which marry each other perfectly in the iconic pastizzi (savoury cheesecakes). Stuffed with peas or ricotta (or, the latest spinoff: chicken), these diamond-shaped puff pastry pies are calorie bombs – and we don’t just have one, we have two or three – some people even have seven! We’ll have them for Sunday breakfast, as an on-the-go snack or even as a pre-hangover cure after a night out partying. We love pastizzi so much, that the Malta Tourism Authority even promote them in our international adverts.
Image above: Pastizzi
We love meat: People are usually very shocked to discover that we eat rabbit and horse meat – which are often accompanied by potatoes. They are a part of our tradition and we’ve developed a liking to them. To us, they are the same as beef, mutton, pork or poultry, and when someone points out that a rabbit could have been someone’s pet, we cast on them the evil eye.
But why is it that these are our contributions to the world cuisine? Why wasn’t it something more spectacular or gourmet?
Quite simple, really.
Our recipe books were not written by flamboyant French chefs who worked in palatial kitchens, and our food wasn’t eaten by the nobility. Malta’s traditional foods come straight from our ancestors who worked long hours in the fields and who had backbreaking jobs. They were the ones who needed all this sustenance and who passed on their taste for such foods.
In fact, like our language, which survived 1,000 years of foreign rule, our food tells the story of this arduous, fighting-fit nation who simply enjoys eating large portions of its glorious, home-made chow.
What do you think? Does our food tell our story? Let us know in the comments section below.