Exciting times ahead peeps! This post is the first of my adventure posts outside England, and what better place to start with than Malta! Plus of course (since this is a food blog) I will be mentioning the wonderful chow the Maltese had to offer!
Something had been drawing me to this little country for years, I’m not sure if it was the ridiculously cheap deals on Groupon or the quirkiness of its location and culture, but after 5 beautiful days of much needed sun, sea and adventure, I can see why this place peaked my interests!
This holiday was also dear to me since it was my first time travelling solo. It suddenly popped into my ‘yolo’ bucket list and I’m not ashamed to say that I’m glad I did it!
Read my story below!
Sleeping in an airport, smooth flight, shaky landing and road rage, before I finally arrive at the hotel in beautiful Bugibba, where English footie fans have already made their mark for the world cup qualifier: Malta vs England (sigh). Despite somewhat feeling at home, the sensation of 33 degree heat, sea breeze and cloudless blue skies are being welcomed by every cell in my body. Then I am told that check-in is 2pm… a 2 hour wait, but no problem! I will simply explore the local area to kill time, and what a move that was, for I was very hungry at this point.
So I walk towards Bugibba square in search of genuine Maltese food refusing to eat at a McDonalds, Chinese buffet or pub (to me that’s the same as swimming in a pool when the sea is a stone throw away, yet it’s amazing how many people still choose the pool!). My first golden find is a Maltese bakery, as this shop sells all the popular Maltese street food under one roof. The most popular snacks in Malta are the pastizzi and qassatat, small pastries usually filled with ricotta cheese, peas or spinach. I bought quite a few as they only cost 30-60 cent each! The best buy however was the cheeseburger pie. The shop’s money-maker according to the seller, which brought no surprise as the name itself got me so excited (if you’ve read my post on Piebury Corner you’ll know why!)!
Saving the snacks for later, I begin my hunt for one of the main objectives on my food itinerary: rabbit. I ask friendly merchants around the area, until fortune brings me to a wandering waiter, who leads me with expert enticement to his restaurant which he claimed does amazing Maltese rabbit – to think I would find the must have meat of this country so soon!
Wide screen TVs, seafront view, spacious modern interior and friendly staff with a good sense of humour: the foundations of a good tourist restaurant. Already knowing what I want I immediately order the Maltese rabbit, the menu description stating its secret sauce (which marinates the meat overnight) along with fries and salad. This is ordered with a pint of Magners cider – perfect for a hot day. When the plate is served to me it is vivid, a deep reddish brown stew poured over dark brown chunks of succulent rabbit meat, brightened with the golden fries appearing perfectly cooked, colourful salad and an unexpected basket of sliced Maltese bread, recommended for mopping up the stew.
When tasting rabbit for the first time, the first thing that comes to mind is chicken, but with a distinctive taste that deters it from the feathered bird. The shape of the joints also hint what was once a cute fluffy bundle of joy, but this does not sway me from the enjoyment of this meat, which was very tasty. However the true beauty of this dish was the sauce, deep amalgamating flavours of what I presumed to be garlic, red wine, meat juices and bay leaves forming one of the best things I’ve ever tasted in a restaurant. Mopping it with the Maltese bread simply added to the amazing pleasure. If that wasn’t enough, the fries were as beautiful as the stew! The word ‘perfect’ being well suited here as I couldn’t find any flaw in the moreish and fairly unctuous flavour.
On the way back to my hotel, the sun was pushing me for ice-cream. I almost forgot how much Italian influence there was in Malta – reminded by the surrounding gelato shops as well as the resounding talk of the Italian tongue at every turn. So I buy a two scoop cone of cookies and cream and Kinder Bueno.
By the time I enter my room I am stuffed.
My advice to those who travel alone is to plan a flexible itinerary before arrival and fill up your time as much as possible. This was how I avoided getting bored or lonely. Talk to people. Get advice. Chill on the beach. Check out the eye-catching corner shop or eatery that peaks your interest. The sky is the limit with solo travel – you have all the time in the world!
In my plan, I explored the historical capital of Valetta and within a day took a bus tour around (technically) the whole country!
I also cruised the islands of Gozo and Comino on a boat, plus I swam and snorkelled in stunning locations, one of them being the renowned Blue Lagoon. In Gozo we took a minibus to the citadel and the Azure Window, which sadly collapsed only in recent months.
I went jet skiing for a mere fifty euros and had a blast! Caution, you may be told to go quite far out to sea so make sure you can swim and aren’t afraid of open water!
I chilled on a beach called Ghain Tuffieha, where I watched one of the best sunsets I’d ever seen in my life, scenes from Brad Pitt’s Troy was filmed here too.
On the way back I noticed a stunning looking restaurant in my local area where I had Stuffat tal-Fennek: Malta’s national dish. Unfortunately this restaurant’s stew rivalled canned food from a pound store…
It wasn’t until the last day that I realised how much of an impression Malta left on me. It wasn’t Bugibba or Valetta, it wasn’t the jet skiing and it wasn’t the luscious Maltese rabbit (so good I had it again at the same restaurant before I left). It was the overall experience of taking in a country for all its worth, while at my own tempo, to the point where I feel like I know it at a deeper level. I’m now aware of the main dishes here, and why there is an Arabic and Italian influence. I know the meaning of the Maltese cross and the history of the Knights of St John. I know why bastions are randomly placed around the country and their role in the past wars. I feel like I can come here again and travel around like it’s my backyard. After all, that’s what travelling is all about!