Pastizzi are a staple morning snack for the Maltese © Papanikos, Shutterstock
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 are vegetarian, although understanding of the idea of vegetarianism and veganism has spread rapidly in the last few years and restaurants are beginning to get it.
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. Meals are generally accompanied by fresh Maltese bread (ħobż Malti), a crusty loaf rather like a French pain de campagne or an Italian ciabatta.
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.
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). 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 well over 200 hotels and other forms of accommodation ranging from large five-star resort hotels to 4-room B&Bs, luxury designer boutiques to hostel dorms. The options have expanded dramatically over the last few years, especially In Valletta, with the opening of a multitude of small hotels and b&bs, many with contemporary interiors and all mod cons inside restored historic buildings. Each with its own individual style, these are a welcome addition to the more conventional hotels. Star ratings can be a little unreliable. There are three-star hotels that could be four stars and fives that should be four. For standard hotels ratings are perhaps a little more generous than in the UK and may not be updated when a hotel becomes a bit tired. The stars don’t always work for the new breed of boutique hotels either; some are certainly luxury but may not qualify for five stars because they lack some specific facility.
Malta has a couple of hotels embedded in its history. The Phoenicia, just outside City Gate, was the nation’s first luxury hotel built by the British in the 1930s. It retains Its thirties charm – and its place in Maltese government and British Royal favour. The Xara Palace is a classic luxury 17th-century Mdina palazzo and the only hotel inside the walls of the old capital.
Self-catering options for all budgets are available around the country – ranging from modern apartments to Gozitan farmhouses. For the shallowest pockets there are a few inexpensive guesthouses and b&bs and a couple of excellent hostels like Inhawi in St Julian’s which even has its own swimming pool.