Meatless in Malta
We went to Malta for a bit of spring warmth a couple of weeks ago.
I had been many years ago so it was interesting to see how the cuisine had changed. We were able to get a surprisingly good vegetarian lunch on arrival at the airport. My husband Tom had a quinoa burger and I had a Mediterranean salad with lemon and mint dressing. There were actually around four different veggie burgers that he could have had.
Sadly the hotel, the Corinthia St Georges' Bay, seemed to have less of a clue. The main restaurant had three choices for the evening meal, none of which were suitable for vegetarians. Their subsidiary, Henry J Bean, appeared to have just one veggie burger, so no choice there. Although they had another restaurant, it served lobster, so we would not eat there on principle. As a result we walked into the local area and found an Italian restaurant for our evening meal. This formed a pattern for the week because at least two of every three cafes and restaurants throughout Malta seemed to be Italian or Sicilian. Pasta and pizza were plentiful – not much use for my other half because he generally avoids cheese. The pasta sauces were a bit more interesting than some in the UK but it did get a bit boring after a week.
The hotel redeemed itself a little because breakfast was very good all week: a large range of buffet items including cereals, cheeses, salads (fruit and vegetable), fruit, home-made yoghurt, pancakes with cream, fruit and maple syrup, a range of breads (delicious local bread, ftira) and cupcakes/apple cake. The cooked section was more limited for us as vegetarians: there was only scrambled egg with beans – no potatoes or hash brown, and certainly no veggie sausages. You could get an omelette cooked to order, though. Very difficult for vegans as there only seemed to be butter around. I could not see any evidence of soya milk though it may have been available on request.
The first day we got the courtesy bus to Valletta from the hotel and spent the day wandering around the museums, cathedral and delightful streets of the capital. Valletta has undergone a programme of restoration and has only limited delivery traffic so it really is a pleasure to walk around the shops, cafes and museums of this little gem – not a bit spoilt fortunately. We even managed to find a semi-vegetarian cafe for our meal, Soul Food, which was excellent, and generally we found prices to be okay due to the high pound against the euro at present. Here I had an excellent gnocchi caprese with a light tomato sauce. Tom had a Piadina – similar to pitta, filled with a tasty lentil mixture.
We liked this cafe and returned later in the week when I had a lovely tagliatelle with a vegan fennel pesto and Tom had a green salad with seed dressing. It is on the same street as the Tourist Information in Valletta, Merchant St. Of course, like most continental areas, there were also plenty of gorgeous cake shops and gelataria so anyone with a sweet tooth was well catered for.
In the evening we again went out locally but did not fancy a pizza. Thank heavens then for St Michael – Marks and Spencer have stores in Valletta, in St Julians and in Sliema and prices are less than they are in the UK so you can get goodies to eat in the hotel room. They sell frozen food so fine for self-catering apartments but no chilled food.
The next day we decided to have a quieter day so just got the bus to Sliema. This is rather built-up but has a lovely promenade and lots of boat trips available. A huge choice also of restaurants and cafes, though many sell the same meals: pasta, pasta and more pasta! It is however possible to find the occasional Indian or Chinese restaurant in places such as Sliema or St Julians because eateries are the main industry.
We decided to try the cafe in Marks and Spencer for lunch – what a find! For a start off I could have a baked potato (potatoes other than chips seem rare on menus in Malta) and my other half had the best salad he has had for years with beetroot and walnut – and all in a wonderful balcony cafe overlooking the picturesque harbour. The best M&S cafe I have ever been in.
Vegetarian visitors to Malta will find that meat substitutes such as veggie sausages are just not to be found. I thought with the British influence there they may have been but no chance – it seems only the UK and the USA serve them. My other half also expected more bean-based dishes, which he enjoys (as we have had in Turkey and Greece) but again they were not common. We did manage to obtain one in Rabat – this was a variation on a traditional Maltese dish which is stuffed ftira or bread. Ours was open with a mix of butter beans and artichokes and herbs on top (warm) but the beans were undercooked so it was somewhat disappointing.
In general, traditional Maltese cuisine is very meat-based including a lot of rabbit, which is surprising as they have no land for grazing animals. It is virtually all built on and the arable land that remains is used for vegetable and grain crops. A few savoury pastries are also available – pea- or cheese-based but not very common.
I would suggest no vegetarian would starve on Malta but self-catering accommodation would widen the choice of food available considerably.