Maltese cuisine presents a sizzling array of flavours, with an exotic mix of Italian, French, British and Arabic influences brought by the islands’ many historic occupiers.
There are plenty of excellent restaurants specialising in Maltese cuisine, with hearty rabbit stews and lampuki, the favourite local fish, but you can also find a much wider range of culinary delights here, from fine dining to fusion.
Celebrate with rabbit in Mosta
Malta’s quintessential main course is fenek (rabbit). Most restaurants have some take on the islanders’ favourite meat, whether fried in olive oil, roasted, stewed, served with spaghetti or baked in a pie. Rabbit is eaten to mark a special occasion, when it’s called a fenkata and dishes such as spaghetti with rabbit ragu and fried rabbit with garlic are washed down with lots of red wine.
For full authenticity, try rabbit at Ta'Marija in the central Maltese town of Mosta, where traditional dishes are served in a colourful atmosphere, accompanied by a slightly cheesy, but thoroughly enjoyable folkloric song-and-dance show.
Feast on seafood in Marsaxlokk
Unsurprisingly for an island surrounded by the Mediterranean, Malta's restaurants serve up plenty of local fish and crustaceans. The most favoured of fishes on Malta is the lampuka (dolphin fish), often eaten baked with tomatoes, onions, black olives, spinach, sultanas and walnuts as torta tal-lampuki (lampuki pie).
The classic place to eat seafood is Marsaxlokk, a picturesque port town in southeast Malta where the harbour bobs with brightly coloured fishing boats. Maltese families and tourists alike pour in on Sundays for the fish market and Sunday lunch. There’s a beguilingly lively atmosphere at this weekly celebration of seafood as everyone lingers over their long lunches outside around the waterfront. Head to restaurants such as Tartarun, which is highly rated by locals and offers sophisticated creative seafood dishes, or large and bustling Ir-Rizzu, which has simpler dishes such as grilled fish.
Locals also head to the nearby low-key resort town of Marsaskala, which is less touristy than Marsaxlokk but also famous for its seafood, with a line of restaurants side by side including Tal-Familja.
Enjoy fresh local produce on Gozo
Malta’s smaller sister island of Gozo is famous for its cuisine. The island is more rural, with farms growing vegetables and olive oil and producing cheese from sheep and goat milk, so there’s more of an emphasis on fresh local produce, and some excellent restaurants. Most renowned is Tmun Mġarr, with a jaunty nautical interior, set close to the boats at Mġarr harbour, and particularly lauded for its beautifully cooked, tender steaks.
Another fabulous waterside eating experience is offered at Rew Rew, where diners tuck into seafood at simple metal chairs and tables in a superlative setting on Mġarr ix-Xini beach, overlooked by hills and a sandstone watchtower. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt filmed By the Sea (2015) here, disguising the simple restaurant as a vintage grocery store.
Sophisticated dining in St Julian’s, Sliema and Valletta
Malta’s gastronomic epicentre is the area around St Julian’s and Sliema, the waterfront towns that merge into one another just north of the capital Valletta. They’re full of apartment blocks, hotels, restaurants and bars, and eateries for every budget line the glittering waterfront. The nighttime sparkle here is unmatched anywhere else on the islands. You can eat delicacies such as lobster at Sicilian-slanted restaurant-bar-club Electro Lobster Project or classy Italian home-cooking at understated, much-loved Wigi’s.
The food scene in the capital Valletta is going from strength to strength, with new restaurants opening all the time. Some of the best places to eat are French-inspired, such as sophisticated Black Pig and creative bistro Guze, which are both housed in 16th-century buildings. There’s also superlative seafood by the harbour at Scoglitti.
Try Malta’s national snack in Rabat
The Maltese national snack is pastizzi, little triangular filo-pastry parcels filled with a fragrant mix of peas and spices or ricotta cheese, ideal for a pit stop between meals. There are clusters of pastizzerijas, small fast-food outlets that specialise in pastizzi, in most towns.
The best pastizzerijas freshly make their pastizzi on the premises, and one of the islands' most renowned is the unprepossessing Crystal Palace in the attractive town of Rabat in central Malta. You’ll be able to spot the hole-in-the-wall cafe by the queues outside.
Flatbread sandwiches with a view in Mdina
Another signature Maltese snack is ftira, a traditional Maltese bread baked in a flat ring. It makes for delicious sandwiches, usually stuffed with a substantial, punchy mixture of olives, capers and anchovies, together with the tangy local tomato paste made from sun-dried tomatoes ground with rosemary, sugar and other secret ingredients.