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Malta - Eating and sleeping
The Maltese love to eat almost as much as they hate to exercise. This unfortunate combination makes Malta a European record-breaker for both obesity and diabetes. Yet their love of food has a positive effect – Malta has a substantial number of very good restaurants, almost all serving locals and visitors alike.
Maltese food is heavily influenced by Italy. Pasta – usually fresh – is omnipresent, usually as a starter or ‘light’ lunch. Mains are mostly meat or fish. Few people in Malta understand vegetarianism – and that goes for most of the chefs as well. Malta’s cuisine is Mediterranean so it is no good being shy of olive oil or garlic, unless you are eating the excellent and copious fresh fish, in which case you can ask for it simply grilled or steamed. Meat is mostly pork, beef and rabbit (the national favourite).
Homemade cakes and puddings are very popular, often delicious and rarely sickly sweet. There is excellent local ice cream (try fig or passion fruit), which is widely available.
Many Maltese cannot get through the morning without a pastizza (confusingly translated as ‘cheesecake’), traditional mini pasties filled with local cheese (or ricotta) or mushy peas. These are sold in almost all cafés and tiny shopfronts known as pastizzeria.
(Photo: Imqaret or date pastries © www.viewingmalta.com)
The drinking age in Malta has recently been raised from 16 to 17, but nobody takes much notice of it, particularly in Paceville.
Malta produces its own wine and beer – most popularly Cisk lager (pronounced chisk). There is also a national soft drink, Kinnie (pronounced Keeny), which is a little like Coke but less sickly sweet (more like the traditional English dandelion and burdock). A new ‘Zest’ version has an edge of orange. Kinnie is drunk by kids and adults alike and is sometimes used as a mixer with spirits. Malta’s favourite local liqueurs are limoncello – lemon zest, alcohol, water and sugar – and Bajtra, a very sweet liqueur made from prickly pears.
Malta has nearly 200 hotels and other forms of accommodation and over 38,000 guest beds. More than half of these beds are in hotels rated four- and five-star. Several of the five-star hotels would match provision anywhere in the world; the four-stars are more variable and some would be classed as three-star in the UK.
Many of the ‘top’ accommodation options are modern chain hotels. If you are looking for this level of comfort, but would like something with a bit more character, look at the Xara Palace, a historic boutique hotel and the only hotel inside the walls of the ancient capital Mdina. For something a bit less expensive and with gardens and swimming pool, try the Corinthia Palace, which is tucked right away from the tourist crowds in a traditional residential area near the home of Malta’s president in San Anton Gardens. Or if you are in Malta primarily to sightsee, take a look at the Phoenicia, built in the 1930s and right next to the main gate of Valletta and the island’s main bus station.
Less expensive and equally historic are a few recent conversions of traditional houses and palazzi into bed and breakfasts (particularly on Gozo) and self-catering accommodation (particularly in Valletta) – very welcome additions to the accommodation options.
Self-catering options are quite plentiful around the country – ranging from modern apartments to Gozitan farmhouses. For the tightest budgets, there are a few inexpensive guesthouses and a couple of hostels. The Asti in Valletta is excellent value and exceptionally well located, as is the NSTS Hostel in Sliema. There is little provision for camping: just one campsite in the far north of Malta, and a small patch of land for pitching tents on Comino.