- The Island
The Maltese cuisine is very much influenced by Mediterranean and North African flavours, reflecting the island’s rich history over the centuries. A local speciality dish is the fried rabbit with garlic and herbs (‘fenkata’), which is considered to be Malta’s national dish. The islands’ location makes the fish industry a very popular one. The tuna, grouper (‘cerna’), dentex (‘denci’), dolphin fish (‘lampuka’) and octopus and other seafood specialties such as prawns, mussels and sea dates or limpets (‘imhar’) are Maltese favourites. Unique Maltese specialities are the pea- or cheese-cake (‘pastizz’) which are small savoury pastries, filled with peas or ricotta cheese, that are normally consumed as snacks and can be bought from practically any kiosk around Malta and Gozo.
The Maltese are particularly known in foreign and distant countries for three major exports, namely:
Kinnie, which is a typical bitter-sweet, non-alcoholic fizzy drink of a Maltese origin, made from bitter oranges and aromatic herbs, having a slight reminiscent of Martini;
Cisk, a very famous local lager beer, that is uniquely sweeter than most of European lagers. Cisk is not only highly consumed in Malta, but is a major export for the Maltese islands, enjoyed across Europe and farther destinations including Australia;
Twistees is a very popular local savoury snack, which is rice-based and produced with cheese, chicken and smokey BBQ flavours. Tastees is a bacon-flavoured variation of Twistees.
The Maltese love their food. Since ancient times, they have been producing a number of local specialities that are popularly consumed locally and are a must-taste for tourists who want to live the full Maltese experience:
· Bigilla, a dip crafted from beans, herbs and plenty of garlic that goes brilliantly with water biscuits, particularly the Maltese water-crackers (‘galletti’);
· The cheeselet, known as ‘gbejna’, a traditional small Maltese cheese made from goat’s or sheep’s milk, either served plain or coated in cracked black pepper;
· The traditional Maltese bread, which is always found during a family lunch or dinner to accompany a traditional Maltese baked dish; or simply rubbed with tomatoes, spread with olive oil and a mix of tuna, olives, onions and cheeselets (known as ‘Ħobż biż-żejt’) which is a Maltese popular during summer and very much enjoyed by the beach;
· The Maltese sausage (‘zalzett Malti’), which is a salty, yet tasty, sausage made using minced pork, salt, pepper, coriander, garlic, parsley and rosemary, and enjoyed grilled, smoked or as part of a rich stew, pasta or rice dish;
· Strawberries (‘frawli’) are very popular in Malta, normally cropped in February. Other popular Maltese crops, which are very much suited to the Maltese climate, are citrus, carobs, figs, onions, potatoes, capers and pears, the latter of which are popular exports to the UK;
· The Maltese bee honey, produced by a sub-species of the Western honey bee.
Away from the busy Maltese lifestyle, Gozo is an agricultural and fishing haven. Blessed with the sun, the fertile soil and the fresh groundwater agricultural products, the Gozitan harvest is well renowned for its superior taste and quality. In olden times, getting a job in Gozo required individuals to learn a trade or a craft, hence the fact that farming and fishing are the most important industries associated with Gozo, with all other small crafts revolving around these two.
Needless to say, Gozitan crafts have a Gozitan flavour. For instance, the traditional cheeselets of Gozo taste especially delicious, most of which are made out of goat’s milk. Back in the days, and still in current times, the Gozitan cheeselet is popular amongst the locals, consumed on a pancake (‘ftira’), crushed to make ordinary cheese-cakes (‘pastizzi’) or round cheese-cakes (‘qassatat’) or used as a filling in ravioli (‘ravjul’). Today, the artisan Gozo cheeselet can be found peppered, by air-drying the cheeselet in ventilated boxes (‘qannic’), which are later processed in spiced wine vinegar and topped with crushed pepper.
Apart from the cheeselet, the Gozitans are well known for a range of preserved foods, using natural preservatives. They are mostly renowned for their:
Tomatoes – Gozo’s main summer crop. Apart from being sold and consumed fresh, the Gozitan tomatoes are used to produce a range of canned items. The Gozitans are very popular for their ‘Mayor’ and ‘Three Hills’ brands from Magro Brothers, producing a range of canned tomatoe pastes (‘kunserva’), purees, tomatoe chunks and ketchup. Sundried tomatoes are also very popularly consumed by locals, which are prepared using the finest tomatoes and are left to dry in the summer sun, after being sprinkled with sea-salt.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil – uniquely fresh and fruity as a result of the sun, fertile soil and a meticulous pressing process. The Olive Oil is produced using carefully selected and hand-picked Gozo-grown olives.
Sea Salt – made from the natural evaporation of sea water, the Gozo sea salt is collected from man-made pools that date back to Roman times, located at Xwejni Bay.
Wild Capers in Vinegar – using the wild growing capers plant, a distinctive characteristic of the Gozitan countryside. Fully mature capers are hand-picked and carefully prepared using a traditional recipe.
Gozo Honey – an unmistakable taste as a result of the natural blend of wild thyme, clover, citrus and carob blossoms. The Gozo honey is mostly produced in the north-east part of the island, characterised by unspoiled locations where wild herbs, like thyme, and trees are abundant.
Carob Syrup – made from the carob fruit, a tree that is very popular in Malta and Gozo. Carob fruits mature during the mid-summer season, from which the syrup is produced and used as a natural remedy to treat colds and sore throat.
Bambinella Jam – appreciated for the unique taste and sweet aroma of the local pears. The jam is made from carefully selected pears, picked at the right maturity and processed on the same day that they are harvested.
Other Fruit Jams and Marmalades – prepared using a bounty of the local fruit produce, namely pomegranates, figs, tangerines, oranges, melons, apples, strawberries, lemons or plums.
Traditional Sweets and Biscuits – including the traditional ‘bankoncini’ which are sweet biscuits consisting of egg whites, sugar and ground parboiled peanuts, the traditional Gozitan nougat or other biscuits made from carobs, figs or almonds.
Gozo is also very popular for its local alcoholic beverage produce, which include:
· Fruity Liquers – mostly popular for their prickly pear, tangerine, orange, pomegranate and bitter-sweet (‘morr’) flavours
· Limuncell – made from the lemon harvest of Gozo, prominently grown in centuries-old orchards in the north eastern valleys of the island. A prominent feature of these valleys are the natural water springs that nourish the lemon trees with crystal clear water and characterise the valleys with a lemon blossom scent.
· Beer – Gozo has its own artisanal brewery in Xewkija, Lord Chambray, producing a range of top-quality ales, utilising local quality ingredients, including a touch of fruits and spices. In its third month of operations, Lord Chambray received an honourable mention for its San Blas ale in the Brussels Beer Challenge 2014
· Wine – growing their own grapes, the Gozitans produce great wines with a particular Gozitan character. A reflection of the sunny Mediterranean climate, the Gozitan wines are typically fruity and full-bodied. Prickly pear and pomegranate flavoured wines are amongst the most popular dessert wines found on locals’ dining tables. The taste of the wine is highly influenced by its source: the vineyard. The Gozitan vineyards are highly calcareous (alkaline) hence composed mostly of chalk, and are thin and dry, resembling dessert soils that are very fertile when an adequate moisture for crops is applied.
Gozo has it all – from delicious agricultural harvests to be consumed fresh or preserved, to award-winning beer producers. A small island with a big love for its food and beverages, Gozo features all the Maltese traditions, with a unique-Gozitan twist!
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