Malta’s Guide to Local Food: Traditional Meals & Cheap Eats

by Kristina Cassar Dowling
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Malta is best known for its 300+ days of sunshine! There’s the sun, the sand and the sea to keep you entertained and of course the food! Our Mediterranean islands are packed with delicious eats for you to try!

Traditional delicacies range from quick fix snacks that are ideal for on-the-go adventures or fully thought out dishes perfect for a sit-down meal with family, friends or that someone special. And here’s the best part, they’re available all-year-round, so even when the sun is glistening on the warm Med sea, you know you’re in for some good eats!

Maltese cuisine has evolved through time with inspiration and direct heritage taken from the country’s previous rulers, including the Cavallier Knights of St John or neighbouring countries such as Italy and Sicily or Libya and Tunisia.

Although local food that has – through time – been dubbed traditional, might carry a pinch of inspiration and a dash or adaptation from other cuisines, there’s one element in the local food scene that is uninterruptedly Maltese – the daily dedication to chowing down on fresh produce with undeniable passion and pure pride.

Get ready to dig into a Hearty Maltese Meal

A visit to the islands of Malta is bound to be welcomed with a series of delicacies; guided by the scent of toasted garlic cooking away in good (and we mean good) pressed olive oil and the fragrant aromas of freshly picked herbs! Local meat, fish and vegetables are freshly cooked in local restaurants for both locals and visitors alike.

No matter if it’s fine dining or the local snack bar, Maltese food is comfort food at its most genuine. Here are some of our favourites:

Stuffat tal-Fenek | Rabbit Stew

Rabbit is one of the most loved meat options in Malta and Gozo. This delicacy has a long and interesting history that started with the introduction of rabbits to the island by the Knights of the Order of St John. These furry mammals were released into Buskett Woodlands where they were intended as hunting entertainment to the Cavaliers – locals were not permitted to hunt in this ‘wild’ area. When the hunting restrictions were lifted in the 18th century, the dish now known and loved by locals as the traditional dish of Malta came into existence.

Rabbit Stew also known as Stuffat tal-Fenek is a hearty dish made with root vegetables such as carrots, potatoes and onions and the star of the dish – braised and slow-cooked rabbit. You can often find marrow fat peas in this dish too which is either a hit or miss with locals.

Rabbit can also be served with spaghetti, creating a rich tomato-based sauce packed with rabbit meat. Maltese families usually have quite a generous appetite and this pasta dish is often opted for by many as a starter prior to a messy-but-oh-so-scrumptious fenkata.

A fenkata is, for lack of a better description, a rabbit-themed feast where deep glass bowls of pan-fried rabbit are presented to a hungry table of eager eaters alongside thick-cut fries and the occasional (and far smaller) bowl of fresh salad. You can choose your rabbit to be prepared in copious amounts of garlic or a wine and garlic reduction – equally mouthwatering and equally traditional.

Some of the best spots to get your fenkata on are Mgarr’s Tac-Canti, Bahar ic-Caghaq’s Marley’s or St Paul’s Bay’s Simenta.

Stuffat tal-Qarnit | Octopus Stew

Stuffat means stew, so essentially many meats can take on this preparation technique, it all depends on the family’s dietary needs, the restaurant’s speciality and sometimes the time of year or festive season. During Lent, for example, locals would trade in their Stuffat tal-Majjal (Pork Stew) for a fish-based option.

Stuffat tal-Qarnit is a sea-based dish made with local octopus. Every Maltese stew features potatoes, onions, garlic, peas, tomatoes, kunserva (local tomato paste), red wine, salt, pepper and your choice of herbs – the octopus version features capers, black olives, lemon juice and lemon zest.

Served alone with a chunk of hobz tal-Malti or ftira (both traditional bread), on a bed or pasta or with a portion of rice. Local red wine just makes sense with this dish, so go ahead and order yourself a glass.

Try out Ta’Kris in Sliema, Tal-Familja in Marsascala or D’Office in Valletta for a rich, fresh and fragrant octopus stew.

Timpana | Pasta Pie

The Sicilian timballo must have inspired the well-loved pasta pie that you can get your hands on in Malta – one that we call Timpana. Traditionally made with rigatoni pasta, bolognese and pie crust as either a full-on pie-style dish or simply as a topper over the baked macaroni – you know, to cut down on some of the calories.

Timpana sometimes also features hard boiled eggs. Some families leave them whole to be served up per portion, some roughly crumble the boiled eggs into the pasta mixture and others omit the eggs entirely.

Essentially, timpana is Imqarrun il-Forn (Baked Macaroni) with that extra luscious dough to crown the dish. Ironically though, Imarrun’s close cousin, Ross il-Forn (Baked Rice) doesn’t often feature that doughy addition.

The best places to get your timpana fix include Diar il-Bniet in Dingli and Ta’ Nenu the Artisan Baker in Mgarr or Valletta.

Torta tal-Lampuki | Lampuki Pie

Lampuki; also known as Dolphin Fish or Mahi Mahi, is a seasonal fish that finds its way to every Maltese and Gozitan’s kitchen come September. Once lampuki season hits, all other fish are quickly forgotten – locals love it, we make sure that any visitor to our islands falls in love with it and undoubtedly freeze a few filleted portions for the sad lampuki-free months to follow.

Calling Malta’s version of the fish Mahi Mahi is a little misleading since the size, and therefore texture and flavour of the fish is nothing similar to the pōke-style protein you can get in Hawaii and similar climates. The local version is subtle in taste and pretty flaky in texture and is served in a variety of ways: lightly floured and pan fried, cooked in a puttanesca-like sauce with capers, olives and a few fresh herbs as well as in a pie we call Torta tal-Lampuki.

When lampuki are in season it sounds like a roaring shame to use this highly sought after fish in a pie, but when the season’s almost out and the Pixkerija (Fish Market) prices reduce heavily, Lampuki Pie is all you can think of!

Get your fix at Cafe Jubilee in both Malta and Gozo – plus you can also take a couple of frozen pies home too; Cafe Jubilee will set you up with the perfectly edible souvenir.

Ftira Għawdxija | Gozitan Pizza

Gozitan Pizza. What is it? And more importantly, what makes it Gozitan? Oh are you in for a starchy, savoury and aromatic treat! Prepared with a naturally mind-blowing local bread base, the dough is stretched out, not too thick, and not too thin and topped with a variety of ingredients ranging from the commercial pepperoni to the perhaps most traditional Gbejniet, Zalzett Malti u Patata – that’s fresh local goat’s cheese, Maltese sausage and, yes, you guessed it… potato.

The thinly sliced potatoes are generally placed on the surface of the Ftira Ghawdxija allowing them to bake gracefully and crisp up to deliver the ultimate comfort food you’ll ever try. Originating in Gozo, this dish became a go-to during the Second World War when resources were scarce, but given that the result was better-than-pizza good, it was kept alive through Malta’s culinary evolution.

Head to Gozo for the best Ftira Ghawdxija – choose between Mekren in Nadur or Maxokk which is also in Nadur, Gozo. If you can’t get to Gozo Il-Forn tal-Ghawdxi makes a mean Gozitan Pizza too!  

Quick & Cheap Eats in Malta and Gozo

Now although we’ve got some bigger-spend meals in Malta, there are tonnes of quick and cheap eats that you can either grab-and-go or sit-and-dine style, to enjoy the savoury and sweet flavours of the islands. Here are some of our absolute favourites:


Rikotta, Pizelli, Incova, Tigieg – ricotta cheese, peas, anchovy, chicken – in order of traditional-levels but not necessarily in order of preferences for the local consensus! Eating Pastizzi in Malta is a sacred ritual, hungry drivers will even stop traffic to get their share from the Pastizzerija on the corner.

Best enjoyed with a glass (very important) of loose-leaf (very important) tea and a splash of evaporated (very important) milk! The rulers of Pastizzi include Is-Serkin in Rabat, Cafe Paris in Qormi and any Sphinx you find as you wander around the island.

Ftira biż-Żejt | Open Sandwich

Ftira biz-Zejt or Hobz biz-Zejt is what we locals re-imagined bruschetta as. We don’t toast the bread since it’s so light, airy and packed with a rich yeasty flavour, we spread a generous scraping of kunserva and top the tomato bread with fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, maybe some olives, perhaps a few capers, sometimes tuna and most definitely a good drizzle of olive oil, freshly ground pepper and local sea salt.

Any good local snack bar will have a delicious version of this open sandwich, Mgarr Farmers’ Bar in Mgarr and Serafino Straws in Sliema would be a good place to start if you’ve never savoured this beauty.

Imqaret | Date Cakes

Imqaret are very similar to the store-bought fig rolls that your grandmother used to keep in her biscuit tin BUT… they’re freshly fried and filled with a smooth and very sweet date paste. If you’re lucky enough to get a fresh batch of fried imqaret appreciate the chewy filling and the crispy edges for that full-on sweet sensation.

Not many places to get the proper stuff apart from the food-truck stalls that devote their life to the art of Malta’s delicious date cakes. But when you find one, you’ll be extremely satisfied. You can often get a serving of imqaret as a dessert in local restaurants.

Pudina tal-Ħobż | Bread Pudding

Bread Pudding is one of Malta’s local sweets that gets its heritage from our British rulers who introduced the country’s love for tea and that coveted 4 o’clock tea-time ritual. Pudina tal-Hobz is best known for its creamy-come-chewy interior and crunchy but soothing exterior.

Made with left-over bread, brown sugar, cocoa, candied peel, nuts and an aromatic blend of cinnamon and orange zest steeped in milk and baked to perfection. Fingers crossed you’ll find this in local restaurants specialising in Maltese cuisine.

Figolli | Easter Biscuits

Figolli are traditional Easter treats made with ground almonds, citrus zest and sugar to form a lush filling encased in a sweet dough and topped with icing or a chocolate coating. The pros of figolli include the uncontrollable desire to eat the whole biscuit in one sitting, the chocolate egg that can be found in the centre of the biscuit and its ability to stay fresh for about a week when stored correctly. The cons… they’re only available for about a month in the year.

Busy Bee in Ta’ Xbiex and Mriehel, Toghma in Birkirkara and Dow’s Bakes all make one mean figolla.

Qagħaq tal-Għasel | Honey Rings

Ideal for your afternoon tea and the perfect biscuit to store just in case you’ve got guests over, Qaghaq tal-Ghasel are simply translated as Honey Rings and traditional to the collection of Maltese desserts.

Made with honey, lemon and orange zest, aniseed, chocolate and hazelnut, these rings are widely available in local supermarkets or specially made by the island’s talented artisan bakers. They’re also a great souvenir to take home with a long shelf life and 100% satisfaction guaranteed.

Make the most of your Malta holiday with Traditional Meals & Local Street Food

Malta’s palette is greatly inspired by the sea and the land’s produce. From zesty insertions and herby flavour profiles to rich tomato-based sauces and clean olive oil-focused dishes, the island’s rich soil and bountiful sea has kept the islanders and visitors to our sun kissed country happy for centuries.

There’s no doubt that local dishes have taken inspiration from our wide range of conquestors but with the sheer expertise and devotion to the culinary arts, local chefs and restaurateurs are taking the food scene by storm through the ample restaurants in Malta as well as the loved and celebrated Maltese street food. A visit to Malta can’t help but be a culinary experience and a magical one at that.

Kristina Cassar Dowling

Editor, content creator and blogger with a passion for all things creative! Published writer for 15+ years, Kristina has left her mark on quite a variety of industries; from agency life to the newspaper drive, editorial glam to the start-up hustle, her portfolio ranges far and wide. But her heart always skips a beat when the arts are involved. An expert food writer with a heavy focus on reviews, recipe creation and local guides on where to eat and what to try in the Maltese islands, Kristina's hunger for quick fix staples and extraordinary dining experiences will sort out all your pangs and cravings with one quick read. Her editorship of Air Malta's Il-Bizzilla Magazine also allowed her to fully explore her love of travel and discover the true Maltese islands. And because two content focus points aren't quite enough for her rattling brain, art and culture are always a favourite on Kristina's list, whether it's theatre reviews, artist interviews or simply a breakdown of Malta and Gozo's rich cultural heritage; she's always got something to say. At least that puts the BA in Art History to good use! Always looking for the next buzzing industry to tap into or the most iconic Malta-thing to celebrate - Kristina's writing is curated, honest and oftentimes goofy.

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