What do the Maltese love to eat in summer? Because of the heat we claim that we avoid eating ‘wintry’ foods such as broth or soup, and try to avoid switching on our ovens. But,this does not mean we stop short of enjoying our food and we settle ourselves to sweat it out when the inclination is right. There are summer foods we hanker for all year round, and although we could, technically speaking, eat some of them even in winter, it is all about the ‘atmosphere’ associated with summer living, which makes these dishes taste even better in the heat.
The perfect beach snack
credit: Meike Peters
You must understand that part of the culinary culture comes strongly into play every time a group of Maltese people approaches the beach. The strong sea air, the fragrance of salt on the breeze, the exertions in the water…. all get together to work up a pretty healthy appetite. One of the most delicious and mouth-watering temptations of Maltese food which is best enjoyed at the seashore is traditional 'ħobż biż-żejt' - crusty, crunchy fresh Maltese bread or alternatively the flat Maltese ‘ftira’. To make it just perfect, it must be filled to brimming with tuna, lettuce, olives and capers, slices of tomatoes, slices of Maltese goat cheese and shards of onion. They all must be lying on a bed of tomato paste, drenched with a drizzle of olive oil and the perfunctory embellishment of basil leaves, salt and pepper. Just sit at the water's edge and bite your way through. Do not feel uneasy if tomato paste smears your face and if the oil drizzles down your bare hands.....licking your fingers clean is totally acceptable.
Give a maltese a fish and they'll eat for a day
As summer progresses, there are other foods to look forward to. After mid-August, you can head to the nearest fish restaurant and ask for ‘lampuki’. This is dolphin fish, a summer staple in the fish department on the island, which becomes available in mid to late summer. When fishermen catch this fish aplenty, you can see fishmonger vans stopping on street corners and people flocking to buy this exceptionally humble but tasteful fish. Simply fried ‘lampuki’ are divine, but so is ‘lampuki’ pie. You really should try both.
If fish is still on the menu, summer fish soup promises to delight you too. This is both a winter warmer and a summer delicacy. Called ‘aljotta’, it vaguely resembles chowder minus the milky consistency and minus the spice, but your taste buds will be utterly enjoying it. It is virtually a concentration of all good things Mediterranean.
A year-round classic
Strictly speaking, the ‘timpana’ is a year- round belle of the ball and not a summer dish. Large macaroni pasta is dished into the oven, mixed with cheese, sauce Bolognese, hard boiled eggs and covered all round in a package of thinly spread dough, pretty much like a brown paper package. Good enough to eat cold, the ‘timpana’ is an example of bountiful wholesome home cooking the way Maltese mums like it best. And yes, we also eat it in summer.
There is always room for desert
And for dessert? Although in Malta, dessert menus include a vast array of European sweets ranging from the very French ‘crème caramel’ to the Sicilian ‘casatella’ and back to the English apple pie, you really should strive to seek out something only the Maltese do well. It should be either the Maltese trifle or the traditional Maltese ice cream. The important thing is that both are served cold and refreshing. The ice cream presents itself as a triangular wedge of vanilla/strawberry/chocolate ice cream, drizzled with hazelnut crumbs and enclosed between two slices of thin wafer. The trifle is a concoction including blancmange, custard, jelly, cake, canned fruit and candied cherries.
Doesn’t this all sound delicious? Indeed, it is!