It’s March 31st and just as we pull into Stansted Airport coach station and I see the Departures signs in the distance, I have a little chuckle and shake of the head at slight disbelief that we’re about to jet off for the third time this year. This trip would be a little bit different however as I’m very lucky to work for a company that gave me the chance to work from anywhere for a week. It was the ultimate chance to get away, not have to take any annual leave and of course, experience another country’s local cuisine. So it sucked a little that I was glued to my laptop from 8am-4.30pm everyday, but determined to make the most of our evenings, we made it our mission to get out and experience the best Maltese food, which we quickly learnt has its own distinct flavours and beauty.
Running through our favourite finds, we’ll start off with our fave.
Legligin Wine Bar – Valletta, Malta
Tucked away in one of Valletta’s many narrow, characterful and unique streets is Legligin, a concept restaurant which offers a tasting menu featuring a variety of Maltese and Mediterranean speciality dishes. There is no choice in the menu and no alternative a-la-carte so until the 7 beautiful dishes arrived at our table, we had no idea what we were about to enjoy so incredibly much. At €28.50pp + drinks it was one of the pricier meals that we had but it was well worth the loosening of pockets and we found ourselves recommending it to those that we met in the later days of our time there.
The menu was wide ranging to say the least as we had everything from chicken and watermelon salad, a fish platter, mussels and the national dish of stewed Maltese rabbit. We went into having rabbit with slightly less trepidation as this wasn’t the first time we had the questionable meat on the trip. The first came a night earlier at La Pira.
La Pira Maltese Kitchen – Valletta, Malta
The history of the Maltese rabbit stew goes back a long way to Roman times. They believed that by consuming rabbit meat it would enhance a woman’s beauty but the soaring popularity was put to a halt by the powers that be in the 1700’s. Years passed giving Malta an abundance of rabbits that were running ravage and devastating farmland and crops until later that century when the hunting restrictions were lifted, but with plenty of supply, the price of rabbit meat dropped drastically and became accessible to the masses again.
I have to say though – there’s no evidence of those low prices still being present today. At €16.50, we found this to be a pretty standard price for a dish like this wherever we went.
We hate to say it, but it kind of tastes like chicken, although it does have an incredibly gamy smell. Along with the warming stew sauce and delicious vegetables, another plus point is that it’s generally considered one of the healthiest meat options. Low in calories, low in fat and higher in protein than chicken.
La Pira was excellent – we were sat outside neighbours to the patio heater and the pistachio sundae dessert topped things off perfectly.
Cook Like a Local (AirBnb Experience) – Sliema, Malta
Something slightly different now and as you’ll probably know, we always try and do a food tour when we go somewhere new with a strong food background. But when browsing through AirBnb for accommodation, we stumbled across one of their Experiences which we couldn’t say no to.
Cook like a local, in somebody’s traditional Maltese flat alongside 4 others had memorable evening slapped all over it, and it certainly was just that. Joined by Australian newlyweds and another Malaysian couple, we made from scratch three traditional Maltese dishes that were largely not even to be found in the restaurants we visited.
Starter: Bigilla (Maltese bean dip) – starting with this dip made of mashed ‘tic’ beans, it’s similar to broad beans but smaller and with a harder and darker skin. Spread across crackers with some soft cheese was a mouthwatering way to start the evening off.
We were hosted here by a couple who aside from their university studies, use this as a money maker and a way of putting their culinary skills to the test. They always ensured we had a good part to play in the cooking, had full glasses of wine and had conversation flowing freely all night long.
Main course: Quassatat (traditional pie) – a simple pastry full of ricotta cheese which came out of the oven piping hot. The slightest of touches to it released the dreamy cheese and was nicely paired with a basic salad.
Dessert: Kwarezimal (lent special) – it’s easy to see that Malta is dedicated to its Catholic religion. Visiting during Lent meant that many were refraining from their usual guilty pleasures, but to compensate they often have this to fill their cravings for dessert food. Kwarezimal is made from flour, sugar, orange rind and almonds. They’re completely dairy free so none of the usual milk and eggs that might normally go into this type of food. Perhaps not the most Instagrammable, but they tasted amazing and went down so well with a short coffee.
The Undercroft – Valletta, Malta
We’ll round things off with a quick mention of the first meal we had when we arrived in Malta. Looking for something quick and healthy we spotted The Undercroft which was luckily around the corner from our AirBnb. An extension of St Paul’s cathedral is this beautifully calming restaurant space which doesn’t have a menu. They change their offering every single day to suit the freshest ingredients they can find and keep the locals coming back time and time again. We were greeted, served and cooked for by the same incredibly kind gent.
Ordering one seafood salad and one Maltese salad which included ricotta cheese, sundried tomatoes, olives and that bigilla bean dip that we made at Cook Like a Local, it was outstanding.
If you’re still reading… thank you! That was a lot to get through. We’ve got a travel focussed Malta post coming very soon so do check back for that.
Have you ever been to Malta? Tried rabbit or any of the other local specialities before? Let us know down in the comments.