As you probably know, we LOVE a good food tour and take them rather frequently on vacation, especially in new cities. They are generally a fabulous way to try small samples of the local cuisine, while also giving a good bit of information about the area. Before this summer, we had never bene to Malta, much less its capital, Valletta, so we signed up for a food tour with Offbeat Malta Food Trails, one of the only (if not the only) food tour in Malta. Offbeat Malta Food Trails currently offers two tours, the one we took in Valletta and a tour of Mdina. We choose the Valletta tour because we were already visiting Mdina on our own. We booked our tour before arriving in Malta and our tour started in the heart of tourist Valletta on a hot Saturday morning.
The eating portion of our tour started right away with a first stop at Malta Pastizzi, a food stall on one of Valletta’s main pedestrian throughways selling one of the most famous Maltese foods – the pastizzi! Whether you take this tour or not, you should definitely sample a pastizzi when in Malta, which are quite easy to find and très inexpensive. Coming in various flavors, pastizzi are sizable phyllo dough pastries that were traditionally stuffed with ricotta cheese or mushy peas (yes, mushy peas.). Today, you can find various fillings, from Nutella to Corned Beef. At Malta Pastizzi, each tour participant got to try a pastizzi of his or her choosing. I went with the ricotta, while Dan tried the mushy pea pastizzi. The pastizzi was quite good and extremely filling, especially for .50 Euro Cent each (hello budget travelers). And while I did enjoy it, I would probably split one with Dan next time, possibly of the Nutella variety.
After our very filling first tasting, we strolled a short while through Valletta, stopping through the awesome Is-Suq tal-Belt covered market (highly recommended even though its not technically on this tour, reminiscent of like the TimeOut Market in Lisbon), we arrived at our next tasting, a sit down food sampling at an old-school pirate bar called Il Giffen. I really liked Il Giffen; it had similar charm to an Irish pub and while located right in the heart of Valletta, seemed off the radar of many tourists. At Il Giffen, we tasted another Maltese favorite – Ghagin Il-forn. Also terribly, terribly heavy, Ghagin Il-forn is what I would describe as a macaroni pasta pie served warm. I actually really enjoyed the taste of this dish, despite it being super heavy and the temperature approximately 32 C, and finished the entire sample. At Il Giffen, we paired the Ghagin Il-forn with the local Maltese beer, Cisk (in an anniversary can!). I also finished that.
After two heavy hitting stops, our next stop was the only non-eating stop of the tour. A few streets away from Il Giffen, we ventured into the tiny Tal Hwawar spice shop. Here, we experienced a typical Maltese shopping tradition of purchasing various spices from such a shop and even making one’s own spice mix at the shop. This was pretty interesting and completely different than how we shop for spices in the States. Since Tal-Hwawar was so tiny, our group split into two smaller groups for the spice demonstration, which allowed me to shop in the super cute store across the street – Mint Sparrow… I got some adorable handmade earrings – sorry Dan Dan!
The tour next moved on to another sit down restaurant off another of Valletta’s main pedestrian drags, Republic Street, – the King’s Own Band Club – where we learned that “band clubs” are a Maltese staple in almost every town, teaching children Maltese culture and how to play musical instruments. And, awesomely, everyone can attend for free! I really liked the idea of this club even before we started eating. Getting to the food, many band clubs in Malta open as social clubs/restaurants to raise money for the kids music lessons and instruments. How cool!!
At the King’s Own Band Club, we started our meal with our choice of red or white Maltese wine and an appetizer platter of Maltese cheese, olives, sun dried tomatoes, delicious pickled onions and an olive spread with traditional Maltese crackers. All of these are quite traditional Maltese appetizers and were very good. My personal favorites were the sun dried tomatoes and the pickled onions. Those were excellent.
Next up was probably both my and Dan’s very favorite thing we ate in Malta (well, except maybe the pizza at Sotto Pizzeria, close call)! It was some sort of sausage (I think pork?) coated and friend in a Maltese spice blend – like the spices that we saw at Tal-Hwawar! The sausage had the perfect spicy ick and it was absolutely delicious. We couldn’t find it anywhere else, so I guess were hitting up the Kings Own Band Club when we are back in Malta for this sausage alone!
We finished our tasting with rabbit, one of the most traditional Maltese dishes. This one done in a wine sauce. I don’t love rabbit, so I only had a small bite, plus I was quite full from all the sausage… In any case, Dan had a good bit and he enjoyed the rabbit. It was served with some pretty tasty mashed potatoes (I did have room for those = ) ).
Leaving the Band Club, we walked a bit and moved on to a tasty chocolate shop called the Chocolate District. At this locally owned establishment, we tried artisan chocolate and hot chocolate with Malta’s famous fig liqueur (well, we had our choice of local liqueur, fig was mine). The chocolate was excellent, as was the hot chocolate (even on such a warm day!). Dan purchased some coffee beans to bring home. This would definitely be a cute spot to purchase some gifts from friends back home.
Our tour ended with dessert and a drink at the swanky British Hotel restaurant, Panorama, overlooking Valletta harbor. After taking lots of pictures of the harbor, we enjoyed a pastry stuffed with fig paired with homemade ice cream and a drink of pink prickly pear liqueur. Even though it was served warm (again, it was HOT outside), the tart was excellent, especially when paired with the ice cream. The liquor was also quite good. It was light enough that you could sip it without flinching, ha!
In sum, this food tour was a great way to explore Valletta and try lots of tasty Maltese foods! If you are trying to recreate this tour on your own, or just planning a visit to Valletta, I would point out that a lot of restaurants and shops close early on Saturday and all day on Sundays in Valletta. Plan accordingly. Also, some smaller stands do not take credit card. Bring cash money.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Offbeat Malta Food Trails: We took the Valletta food tour at 65 Euro per person. They also offer a food tour of Mdina for 72 Euro per person. Book online in advance; the tours are capped and fill up. More than enough food for a full lunch.
Malta Pastizzi: 57 Merchants St, Valletta, Malta. Closed Sunday. Open Monday – Saturday 8h30 – 14h30. No website. No where to sit – this is a real “food stall.”
Il Giffen: 277 Triq San Pawl – , Il-Belt Valletta Malta. No website. Reservations not required.
Tal-Hwawar: 15, St John’s Street, Valletta, Malta. Closed Sunday. Generally open 9h – 12h30.
King’s Own Band Club: Republic St, Valletta, Malta. Open daily 8h – 23h. I would reach out to this restaurant via Facebook (linked) to secure a food reservation.
Chocolate District: Melita St, Valletta, Malta. Closed Sunday. Open Monday 9 – 19h, Saturday 10h – 15h. More of a shop than a restaurant.
Panorama Restaurant at the British Hotel: 267 St Ursula Street Il-Belt Valletta VLT, 1222, Malta. Open daily 1230 – 15h, 19h – 22h30. Recommend making a reservation, especially for an outdoor seat overlooking the Port of Valletta.
Is-Suq tal-Belt Covered Market: Triq il-Merkanti Valletta VLT, Malta. Open daily 7h – 22h. All sorts of modern stalls selling food and artsy goods for purchase. While not on this food tour, a must visit for foodies and artsy folks.
Mint Sparrow: 120, St John’s Street, Il-Belt Valletta VLT 1511, Malta. Closed Sunday. Open Monday – Saturday 10 – 18h,19h on Saturday. The cutest shop across the street from Tal-Hwawar. Most goods are locally made.