The Maltese really love their food, and we felt this as we explored the restaurants of Rabat. While Rabat, and neighbouring Medina, rely heavily on tourism, its restaurants are filled with both tourists and locals alike. Locals here love dining out and keep the restaurants in business during the off season. The food of Malta is, like its language, very strongly influenced by Italy, France and the Middle East. It’s rich, flavourful and seasonal. Also, a little trivia – in Maltese, a fork is called furketta, from the Italian, forchetta, and a knife is called sikkina, the same as in certain Arabic dialects.
Be aware though, the portions in Malta are always epic!
Fork and Cork
Fork and Cork servers traditional Maltese food with a modern twist. On top of the food being excellent – a combination of that feeling of satisfaction after a home cooked meal, combined with a bit of novelty, the portions here are absolutely huge!
Between you and me, I was done in after the starters. We ordered tripe and beans stew, octopus salad and some croquettes and sausages.
The tripe and beans, if you like that sort of thing, was really good. Not very offaly. Ironically, this was the lightest thing of the entire meal. The Maltese really love their beans, and if you want tradition, this is the dish to go for.
Maltese sausages comes highly recommended. The Maltese love their pork, and they make several “traditional” types. Or was it one traditional one with variations? Regardless, they are rich, fatty, more firm than crumbly – the texture is a bit more like Chinese sausages than the sort you’d get in England or Germany.
I opted for the “lighter” option, which was the seafood one, of course. There was nothing light about the rich, aromatic seafood bisque. I love cream and seafood though, who doesn’t? The combination was perfect.
The roasted pork main was a door stopper cooked to perfection. I swear the thing was half the size and weight of my forearm. The skin arrived hot and crackling, it was absolutely to die for. It could have been served in any fancy pants restaurant in Paris, only you’d get a quarter of the portion! This was perfect.
The octopus salad was mostly octopus, with a light garnishing of vegetables. The Maltese, like most people living on the Mediterranean, really know how to cook their octopus – this one was perfectly tender. I loved the accompaniment with the radish dressing.
To end it off, we had a slice of a sort of a cheesecake, accompanied with crumble and fruit. It was wonderful, fruity, crunchy and creamy all at once. We barely made it through though! Next time we visit Fork and Cork, we will have to plan to arrive really, really hungry.
Another lovely restaurant in the Rabat, The Grotto Tavern was probably my favourite place. The location is very special – there is a bar inside located in an ancient cavern that dates back to Roman times, if not before. The food here was delicate, complex and so fresh. I really like seafood, and they had some great options.
There’s something about the giant prawns you get in Malta. They are so sweet. I think one of my favourite things to eat on Malta is the seafood pasta. They do pasta the Italian way – al dente, with very few ingredients, each perfectly chosen and cooked at their freshest. The prawns caught in the waters here are something else. I think one of my favourite dishes in the world is the seafood pasta at Da Pippo’s in Valetta. The prawn pasta served up at the Grotto was equally amazing, especially if you love prawns, which I do.
One of the smaller and lighter mains we had during our stay – sea bream with olives. Not sure what the green cream is – pea mash with mint, perhaps. The fish was sous vide to perfection, the flesh sweet and delicate.
The Crystal Palace
Absolutely my favourite place for food in Malta is the Crystal Palace. It’s tasty, cheap and always fresh. The lady we rented the apartment from told us a funny story about a sister-in-law who was visiting and was told they were to have a welcome meal at the Crystal Palace. Because of the name of the dive, her poor sis-in-law thought it was a fancy place and got all dressed up for it. Little did she know it was basically a snack kiosk.
The pastizzi is a traditional Maltese snack, something like the Argentinian empanada or the South East Asian curry puff. If you’re feeling a bit more imaginative, it’s really a big, baked ravioli stuffed with peas. It’s baked but there’s so much butter in the crust it basically tastes like it has been deep fried. I love the savory-sweetness of the pea filling. People come from all around the area for the pastizzi here. The owner of our AirBnB, whoes husband is a famous Maltese artist, even brought a suitcase full of these thing for an exhibition opening in London! I wish I could have brought back some myself.
There’s a great place to go for breakfast/brunch on a Sunday, just outside the church on the main square of Rabat. They serve ftira topped with lots of wonderful local ingredients. The portions are epic (as is usual for the Maltese islands) and the ingredients wholesome and fresh.
If you want a tip for when to go, I’d say somewhere between opening time and before the end of mass! We finished our ftira just as the first service concluded, and the queue for them quickly filled up and spilled onto the street. We absolutely loved the idea – the ftira were topped with a variety of ingredients local to the Mediterranean and baked. Simple, healthy and tasty!