Summer in Malta is a special kind of fun, especially for the natives who really and truly know how to delve into the rich produce that our islands have to offer.
Aside from swimming, water sports and the occasional evening boat party, that blue scintillating jewel that is the Mediterranean Sea marks the origin of another enjoyable experience – this time, a culinary one.
I’m one of those people who looks forward to this season because it’s the one where fresh fish is most plentiful, and also affordable. On those hot summer Sundays, after a refreshing swim and a chilled Prosecco, eating a succulent fish drizzled with fresh lemon and caper sauce seems like the most natural thing in the world. It’s my definite favourite summer lunch, right after ħobż biż-żejt on the beach.
Malta is blessed, in that being positioned almost directly in the middle of the Mediterranean, it has access to multitudes of different types of fish. And although I’m not interested in fishing per se, I must admit that I’ve lately become quite the connoisseur when it comes to choosing my main course. Here are some of my recent favourites.
Gilthead Bream (Awrata)
This type of bream, typically found in the Mediterranean Sea, is generally around 35cm in length and is found near sandy bottoms at relatively shallow depths. The Gilthead Bream is also to be found in hatcheries, as it’s successfully farmed in many countries, one of them being Malta, where the success rate of its hatching has resulted in it being exported to Italy and other European countries. It is called ‘gilthead’ because of the golden stripe between its eyes.
Dusky Grouper (Ċerna)
The grouper is a very tasty flaky fish with a distinctive mild flavour. Each fish grows up to a net weight of 6 – 15 kg. It has a big body with a big mouth, and its colour varies from brown to green, depending on its age. It’s a solitary fish and generally, lives amongst rocks and in caves. Groupers are in decline, and the species is considered to be an endangered one. As of 2012 in fact, MEPA had proposed a course of action to try and protect its habitat, in order to enlarge its numbers.
Dolphin Fish (Lampuka)
The lampuka, with its wonderful blue and silver colour, is known to be the Maltese’s favourite fish. This fish is migratory and it visits our waters from the end of August till December. It generally weighs about 1 to 1.5 kg and is a good source of B12, B6 and B3 vitamins. Also known as mahi-mahi – which means ‘very strong’ in Hawaiian – the dolphin fish is a surface-dweller and is therefore highly sought for both sportfishing and commercial purposes due to its healthy population, meat quality, good size and accessible quality.
The high season for swordfish is between May and August, however, due to over-fishing, strict regulations on this species are now in place. Swordfish are migratory predatory fish. They commonly reach around 3 metres in length and are found near the surface to a depth of 550 metres. Contrary to popular belief, the snout or ‘sword’ of this fish is not used to spear, but instead, may be used to slash at its prey to injure the prey animal to make for an easier catch.
Atlantic Blue Fin Tuna (Tonn)
This species of Tuna fish is the largest one and can live up to 40 years. They are a migratory species with a body built for speed since they have retractable fins and their eyes are set flush to their body. They’re predators, eating herring, mackerel and even eels with their tiny pointed teeth. Their name belies the fact that most catches of Atlantic Blue Fin Tuna actually take place in the Mediterranean Sea, since they spawn here. In Malta, in particular, Blue Fin Tuna is one of the species of fish eaten most commonly by locals, even though a high percentage of the fish caught are flown directly to Japan to be consumed in the sushi and sashimi market. Atlantic Blue Fins are warm-blooded, which is a rare trait among fish.