There have been many influences on Maltese food as different nations have visited or invaded the island – the French, English, Germans, Arabs and Italians have all left their mark. The Italian influence is probably the strongest. Ravioli and macaroni are popular but made in the Maltese way, with the ravioli are stuffed with ricotta cheese and generally larger than the Italian variety and cooked to a softer texture.
One of the famous meat dishes is bragioli, or beef olives, a rolled stuffed piece of meat cooked slowly. Rabbit is also extremely popular and many Maltese families raise their own. Meals are large and served communally – the famous baked pasta pie timpana generally feeds a small army of people.
Many dishes are able to be served as two meals, such as the tomato based stews like stuffat tal-fenek (braised rabbit) and stuffat tal-qarnit (octopus stew), in which the rich flavoursome tomato sauce is served with pasta as a first course and the meat is served with vegetables as a main course.
Pulses are popular both fresh and dried. One famous Maltese dip is bigilla, made from dried broad beans cooked and mashed with garlic, hot pepper and anchovies and eaten with crusty bread. Also made with crusty bread is the national snack of Malta, hobz biz-zejt, which translates as "bread with oil". Thick slices of bread are spread with the beloved sweetish tomato paste called kunserva and topped with capers, olives, garlic, black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Sometimes tuna or anchovies are added. Another snack has become well known in Australia – the flakey golden filled pastries called pastizzi, which are sold on street corners and village bars and eaten hot with black tea or coffee.
Maltese cheese is simple and homemade – the soft fresh cheese called gbejniet is eaten during a meal or with fresh figs or grapes to finish. An aged version comes plain or rolled in fine black pepper and is eaten as a snack – both have a sweet slightly nutty taste.
Maltese sweets show many of the influences of other countries, however. The Arab influence is seen in biscuits stuffed with a date mixture and the English bread and butter pudding is a more solid chocolate version in Malta, eaten hot or cold. Fruit served chilled is always part of a dessert spread – typically stone fruit, figs, melons, pears, grapes, citrus or pomegranates.
View our Maltese recipe collection here.
A simple, delicious soup made from fresh vegetables including kohlrabi, peas and broad beans. It’s healthy and low fat. If you can find soft gbejniet cheese (available from selected delis and cheese makers), pop it into the hot soup for a few minutes before serving and you’ll enjoy the beautiful taste of molten cheese too.
Stuffat tal-fenek is a marvellous slow-cooked dish that’s full of flavour, the meat so tender it falls off the bone. This recipe goes further than just one course - Maltese families love to use the rich tomato sauce with pasta as a first course and serve the rabbit with vegetables as a main.
With ingenuity the Maltese have adapted this recipe from the English bread and butter pudding (Malta was once a British colony) and added an Arabic twist. Day-old bread is soaked in water and mixed with generous quantities of dried fruit, almonds and cocoa. Puddina is served in slices with black tea as an afternoon pick-me-up.
The joy of this recipe is that you don’t need the best cuts of meat to make a delicious meal. Thin slices of tenderised beef are stuffed with minced veal, herbs and flavourings and gently cooked in a tomato-based sauce. This can also be served as two meals in the traditional Maltese way with the cooking sauce paired with pasta as a first course.
Hobz biz-zeit translates as bread with oil. This open sandwich slathered with kunserva (sweetish tomato paste) and topped with the best the Mediterranean has to offer is Malta’s number one snack food. In his recipe, Shane Delia especially likes to use white anchovies, which are pickled in vinegar rather than preserved in salt or oil and have a mild, sweet flavour.