Gozo’s local food – keeping it small but just right in Gozo
Tradition seasons the food and drink of Gozo. Here you can enjoy an eclectic mix of cuisines inherited throughout Gozo’s rich historical past including Phoenician, Roman and Arab visitors and more recently, Italian, French and British colonial rules. 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.
The Slow Food movement pioneered in Italy, in Gozo has its roots in the first village restaurants of the 70s and 80s and the wood fired oven bakeries that till this day adorn village streets with incredible aromas. Other locals have taken up the baton of promoting responsible tourism using food as a means to promote key principles around boosting understanding of the role of agriculture in the ecological and social well-being of rural locals and visitors alike. Tourist initiatives revolve around experiental days of rural culture offered by finger-on-the-pulse Gozitan operators – mixing with local farmers and learning traditional production skills, for example.
‘Small is beautiful’ is a watchword for some of Gozo’s most distinctive foods. Round mini-cheeses known as ġbejniet are a local favourite, usually made from unpasteurised sheeps’ milk and served either fresh like a ricotta, marinated and peppered – or traditionally dried outdoors on the flat roofs of Gozitan houses under its 300 days of annual sunshine.
The cheese is a key part of pastizzi – miniature pasties ideal for snacking as you marvel at hideaway harbours, soaring coastal arches and 5500-year-old ruined temples, or potter along walking trails where giant churches visible from all over the island’s gently undulating landscape provide striking waymarkers that mean you’re as unlikely to get lost as ever go hungry!
For meal breaks, rather than touristy restaurants seek out village bars serving Gozitan tapas. Try zalzett (coriander-flavoured sausage) and bigilla (broad bean paste) with crusty Gozitan hobż sourdough bread. It’s great to just dip in local organic olive oils famed for light acidity and a hint of saltiness from sea breezes. Time your visit for a village festival (festa) and they’ll also be sweet treats like imqaret (date pastries) to help fuel the fun.
Distinctive Gozitan wines and beers add local liquid pleasure to your days here. For the most traditional experience, look for bars serving jugs of wine rather than bottles – filled with fruits of a terroir whose strong sun and cooling sea breezes creates round-bodied, fruity wines with good structure and – some say – a hint of briny tang. Tal-Massar Winery has popular tours and tastings. Beer lovers, meanwhile, can sup Gozo’s very own artisan brews courtesy of the Lord Chambray microbrewery, opened in Xewkija in 2014 – they have tasting visits too.
The island’s characterful small producers also come up trumps for souvenirs. Visit the famous saltpans near Qbajjar Bay and look for veteran Manuel Cini, often perched on a wall here to sell his wonderful sea salt – a timeless tradition reborn in the 21st century. Or look out for Carmen Muscat and her pure honey in the idyllic Wied Rihan Valley. (Responsible Travel ezine feature – Gozo (March 2015))