Gozo has some of the best restaurants in Malta, many of them serving delicious Gozitan, Maltese and Mediterranean dishes – both tradtional and with a modern twist.
Maltese cuisine is an eclectic mix of flavours culled from the cooking of the many different peoples who have occupied the islands. It is full-flavoured and Mediterranean, appropriate to a country that lies between Sicily and North Africa.
Tradition seasons the food and drink of Gozo. But tradition here is alive and vital, not staid and trapped in the past – however rich a past that is, with first Phoenician, Roman and Arab visitors leaving their trace, then more recently, Italian, French and British colonial. Today, Gozitan cuisine promotes the small and local, where once producers and restaurants tried to pander to ‘international’ taste. They’ve worked out that sticking close to the island’s roots is not only sustainable and responsible but also increasingly what visitors want to experience.
Gozo is particularly strong on traditional foods. Gozitan cheese, usually made from sheeps’ milk, is delicious, and served as ġbejniet (small, round, mini-cheeses) either fresh, dried, or marinated and peppered. The cheese is also used to fill home-made ravioli and pastizzi. Pastizzi are Malta’s favourite savoury snack – miniature pastries filled with cheese or peas. A glass of local wine in a village bar comes with a dish of olives and maybe zalzett (coriander-flavoured Maltese sausage), bigilla (broad bean paste) and galletti or crusty Maltese bread and olive oil. All these are often served as complimentary starters in restaurants.
A handful of wood fired oven bakeries still adorn village streets with aromas – typically of the Gozo traditional ftira. Indeed, you cannot visit Gozo without tasting this ftira, a kind of traditional pizza made from unleavened dough and which in a way resembles a pie. Whether you like a salty one with anchovies, or one with fresh cheeslets, or any of the other varieties, there are few things that can compare to a freshly-baked ftira just out of the traditional fire furnace.
A summer’s day at the beach means ħobż biż-żejt, a popular snack made from a thick slice of crusty Maltese bread, rubbed with juicy, red tomatoes and topped with mint, a little onion, sheep’s cheese and anchovies all soaked in delicious green olive oil; a taste of sunshine, a taste of Malta.
Winter nights bring bowls of golden minestra, a very thick vegetable soup, or aljotta, a delicious garlicky fish soup. Fish, fresh from the surrounding Mediterranean Sea, is a consistent feature of Maltese cuisine, simply grilled or cooked with flavourful Mediterranean tomatoes and local capers.
Village festas feature sweet street foods like imqaret (date pastries) and qubbajt (nougat) to enjoy along with the fireworks and processions. Special occasions merit serious dishes like ross fil-forn, (baked rice), imqarrun (baked macaroni) or timpana(a very special rich pasta baked in a pastry case) often followed by rabbit or meat dishes served with Maltese potatoes and vegetables.
Desserts depend on the occasion; there are Easter figolli (almond stuffed pastry figures), Christmas qagħaq tal-għasel (honey rings), cassata, (ricotta filled sponge with marzipan) or aknnoli, (Ricotta-filled fried pastries). Sweet biscuits are popular too, perfect with a cup of strong coffee.
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