Posts Tagged ‘qassatat’

My time in the sun: Maltese Cuisine

October 28, 2010

Enjoying the Sun

The reason for the recent absence of posts is that I’ve been on holiday.  The majority of my time away was spent in Malta.  I had a great time and ate lots of food and now I’ve returned I want to share my experiences of Maltese cuisine (there were no maltesers involved much to the disappointment of my partner).

 

Malta is made up of three islands, Malta, Gozo and Cominio, situated about 93km from Sicily sitting between Europe and North Africa.  People first settled in Malta 7000 years ago, and although it is now an independent republic, Malta has been invaded many times over the years.  As a result its cuisine, much like its culture, takes influence from both its geography and varied ownership having many Mediterranean and Arabic influences while maintaining its own character.

 

Maltese fare is generally rustic farmers’ sort of food.  That’s not to say that it can’t be refined, there are plenty of restaurants serving fine dining versions, but at its heart it’s a comforting cuisine with a lot of stews, soups and pies/pasties.  To my frustration it was not always that easy to find restaurants serving traditional Maltese cuisine, there were far too many places offering English food (fish and chips!) or Pasta and Pizza.  In the end, after much searching and consultation of guidebooks we did manage to try and fair amount of traditional food.

 

One of the main meats that was offered was rabbit (fenek).  Rabbit is so popular that they have apparently nearly been hunted to extinction on the islands.  It is often served in a red wine and bay sauce, but can be just fried.  It’s quite rare to see rabbit on the menu outside of very posh restaurants in Britain (although I did once have a lovely rabbit curry in a pub in west Wales) and I was eager to give it a go.  More often than not we were served half a rabbit, which always seemed a huge amount (I’m only little!) but provided great variety as we got both lean loin and flavorsome legs to chew on.

Rabbit in Red Wine Sauce

Another popular dish appearing on many menus was Bragoli or “beef olives”.  These consist of minced beef mixed with herbs, spices and bacon (and occasionally a hardboiled egg, but that was not a good addition!) wrapped in a thin slice of beef.  The parcel (or olive) is then cooked as part of a stew (tomatoes, peas, red wine) and served with chips or rice, although I suspect that bread may have been more authentic.

Bragoli, or beef olives

Being an Island there was also plenty of fish and seafood on offer with squid and octopus proving to be popular choices both in stews and as pasta accompaniments.  It was October when I visited so the Lampuka (Mahi Mahi or Dolphin Fish) should have been in season, but unfortunately I never found any to try.  There was however plenty of other fresh fish options around (I had some gorgeous Sea Bass).

spaghetti with octopus

As nice as the main meals were, it was the snacks that I loved.  The Maltese love their pastries, both savoury and sweet!  In the savoury category you get pastizzi and qassatat made with puff and shortcrust pastry respectively and filled with either cheese or peas.  The peas were a hit with my partner and I and these made brilliant mid morning/afternoon snacks!

a pea qassatat

Sweet wise I enjoyed both freshly fried date pastries (mqaret) and fried pasty tubes filled with sweet ricotta (kannoli) immensely.  Luckily for me we did a lot of walking during this holiday, otherwise I think I may have had trouble fitting in my clothes by the end of the holiday!

kannoli

date pastries

Despite the lack of traditional restaurants you can see that food is still central to life in Malta.   Everywhere we went there were people selling local produce such as the delicious gozo goats cheeslets (ġbejniet) – available fresh, peppered or dried and preserved – honey, capers and jams along with fruit liqueurs.  I brought home quite a stash!

pomegrante jam and gozo cheese

The final thing I want to mention is the (unofficial) national drink of Kinnie.  This is a soft drink made from bitter oranges and herbs and is advertised everywhere, I did not however once see anyone drinking it!  Undeterred and in the spirit of adventure I bought a small bottle to try.  It’s not unpleasant but fairly non descript, if anything it tasted a little gingery, but without being told I would have struggled to guess just what was in it.  I was glad I tried it, but not something to be exported home!

Kinnie

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