Food in Malta

A Brief History of Food in Malta

Situated in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, the island of Malta has a long history of settlers and invaders. When humans first set foot on the islands, Malta was still mainly a woodland and the new settlers’ diet was predominantly plant based, though they also ate game which they hunted.

Period Dates Food

Neolithic Age

5,000BC – 2500 BC

  • Agriculture, wheat, flour, chickpeas, peas, olive trees
  • Husbandry, cows, sheep, goats, pigs, deer, rabbits
  • Fish

Archaeological evidence dating from c.5000 B.C. indicates early human presence in Malta. These early Neolithic farmers were probably of a southern Sicilian origin. Research indicates the cultivation of wheat, barley and lentils supported by the domestication of animals such as goats, sheep and pigs. Evidence suggests that these natural cave dwellers also settle in sparsely populated hamlets.

The Temple period was marked by the significant stone architectural structures. Endowed with remarkable relief sculptures and interesting designs, the temples probably reflected a prosperous agrarian primitive society with deeply rooted religious beliefs. These structures, besides their religious function as centres of worship, could have been centres of redistribution of commodities. Basically, the considerable amount of saddle querns, shallow hard stone mortars and other hand mills found within these locations could have served as part of a centralised servicing system of crushing seeds, especially grain. The temple might be seen as the place where the community would present sizeable parts of their agricultural produce as offerings to the divinity. Representations of birds, fowl and quadrupeds in sculpture and pottery found in these religious structures further support the relationship of food and religion especially if associated with sacrificial rituals. Evidence suggests that this culture came to an abrupt end around 2500 B.C.

Bronze Age 2500 – 725 BC

  • More husbandry than agriculture

  • Fishing, Wheat, Barley

  • Cisterns to store wheat and water

The Bronze Age phase was mainly characterized by war-like people who employed copper and bronze tools and weapons. Some archaeological evidence indicates that late Bronze Age settlers seem to have established links with Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations. Similar to their predecessors, these settlers employed an agricultural activity based on cultivating crops and rearing animals.

Over the centuries, crop cultivation and animal husbandry were given a boost. In fact, with the arrival of the Phoenicians in Malta, and their love for olives, they initiated a large scale olive oil industry in Malta. The Romans followed up on this initiative and during their sojourn in Malta olive cultivation flourished. Remains of this olive oil industry can be found in various places around Malta. Village names like Zejtun, Zebbug and Birzebbuga reflect the connection of these localities with this crop and its oil. Remains of an olive pressing factory from the Roman period were found at San Pawl Milqi near Burmarrad. With the decline of the Roman Empire, olive oil production dwindled to a mere subsistence level.

Period Dates



725 – 218 BC

  • Husbandry, honey, cheese, eggs
  • fishing
  • cereals, bread, grapes, wine, olives, olive oil figs, dates, pomegranate, nuts, apples, pears, almonds cabbages, melons
  • Puls punica: boiled cereals with honey, cheese & eggs

Expanding its westward commercial links out of Lebanon, the Phoenicians colonised a number of Mediterranean outposts. Renowned to be a formidable community of sailors and traders, the Phoenicians reached the shores of Spain, in a commercial network that also included Cyprus, Sardinia, east Sicily and Malta.

In Malta, the Phoenicians gradually took over the island community and integrated it within their system. The Phoenicians also specialised in farming techniques. In Malta, they introduced agricultural activity further inland thus expanding the cultivation of agricultural land. The Phoenicians are also attributed with the introduction of the local cultivation of vines and olives for the production of wine and oil.

Some of the most interesting archaeological remains dating from the Phoenician period were found at the tas-Silg Sanctuary. Fragments of earthenware attributed to the Phoenician period shed light on the local practise of ritual dinners on special religious occasions such as the passing of a family member. In what was originally a megalithic temple, the Phoenicians started the cult of Astarte. Its function as a fortified place of Phoenician ritual eventually also remained a place of worship during the Roman era, then dedicated to Juno.


Period Dates Food


218 BC – 870 AD

  • wheat, bread, bread with honey oil & cheese, salt, grapes, wine, olive oil

  • Lunch: more vegetables than meat

  • Dinner (three servings):

gustaio – olives, peanuts, salad, gardiniera, vegetables, sauces, honey, olive oil Mensae primaemeat and fish as primary ingredient. Served hot either as soup or grilled together with vegetables Mensae secunda – fruit or other sweets All this accompanied with lots of wine mixed with water since wine in those times contained more alcohol than today.

  • Romans ate using their fingers but rich people used spoons for soups.

By 218 B.C. Malta passed under the control of Rome. In general, the Roman interregnum was largely a prosperous one as indicated by the several countryside estates and artifacts found in a town house just outside Mdina. The Roman culture must have had its influences over the local island mentality.

The consumption of vegetables, honey, bread, wine and oil were considered as indicators of civilisation as opposed to the Barbarian food culture of raw and uncooked food commonly found in Northern Europe.

Following the recognition of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, food consumption and table manners experienced gradual modifications. For instance, fish [a fasting food] and meat were no longer presented on dinner table at the same time.

Malta was annexed to the Byzantine Empire around A.D. 535. Recent archaeological studies indicate Byzantine activity within the vicinity of harbour settlements.

The Romans instituted efficient regulatory systems to protect grains and their distribution within society. Grain prices were established by the state. Through the Annona considerable amounts of bread were distributed for free among the needy. Bakers were given particular attention and their service closely watched over to minimize waste and any other form of abuse.

The favourable climatic conditions indicate that grains were also cultivated in Roman Malta. This is further supported by the representation of grain on the effigy on a Roman-Malta coin. The inscription on this same coin refers to the temple of Prosperina, goddess of grain. Consumption of grain is further supported by the remains of a piece of carbonized bread found in Mqabba.

Bread, as well as wine and oil, became important symbols of the Christian congregation that was inspired by the teachings of St. Paul.

During the Byzantine rule bread was one of the foods which distinguished the behaviour and means of association for the faithful believers of three different religions that coexisted on the Maltese archipelago: Jews, pagans and Christians. .

Some things you might make to see how the Romans ate:

  • oatmeal (or barley porridge if you really want to do it right, or cream of wheat)

  • pita bread with yogurt or feta cheese

  • pita bread with falafel (ground chickpeas)

  • pizza crust with olive oil poured on it, with feta cheese, thyme, onions and/or garlic, baked (remember, no tomatoes!)

  • barley soup with onions and carrots

  • lentil soup with onions and carrots (try mixing some yogurt in)

  • split pea soup

  • onion soup

  • yogurt mixed with chopped cucumbers and garlic (tsatsiki)

  • cucumbers with oil and vinegar (actually, the Romans ate them with honey)

  • roasted leg of lamb with mint sauce

  • yogurt mixed with honey and walnuts

  • roasted chestnuts

  • apple tart, made with honey

What Mediterranean People ate in the

First Millenium AD

Poor people who lived near the Mediterranean Sea had to eat food that would grow in very dry areas, with light and not very fertile soil. Mostly they ate what archaeologists call the “Mediterranean triad” or three things: wheat and barley (made into beer or porridge or flatbread or soup), olive oil (soaked into the bread, or on vegetables), and grapes (made into wine, vinegar or raisins so they would keep).

People also grew beans and a lot of different kinds of vegetables and fruit.

Some foods that were especially common were: apples and pears and figs and plums (and prunes, which are dried plums) and raisins (made from the grapes), green peas (mostly dried like for split-pea soup), lentils, and chickpeas onions, carrots, garlic, and cabbages honey (they didn’t have sugar) herbs like dill, thyme, oregano, basil, cumin and mint nuts, especially walnuts and chestnuts and acorns cucumbers (they didn’t have tomatoes) eggs (from chickens and from geese and ducks) yogurt and cheese, mostly from goats and sheep mutton (goat meat), sheep meat, pork and ham and bacon, chicken, goose and duck, and fish, especially tuna.

Snails – people raised them in special snail gardens, with little box hedges for them to crawl on.

One item that was very popular was a fermented fish sauce.

Under Arab rule, Malta experienced new agriculture-linked innovations. The Maltese were introduced to new crops, like carob, figs and citrus. The Arabs also introduced the technique of dry-stone wall construction, which led to a stepped terrace agricultural landscape still evident today. These new rulers had a good understanding of how to conserve and manage scarce water supplies. They are accredited for introducing new irrigation methods to the islands. Water harvesting machines like the norija or waterwheel, locally called is-sienja were also introduced. During this period, agriculture in Malta flourished. Woodlands were being cut down to make way for agricultural land space with the wood used for ship building.

Period Dates Food


870 – 1090 AD

  • Husbandry especially sheep and goats; milk products
  • New Agricultural methods especially for extracting ground water and irrigation.
  • honey, olive oil, melons, water melons, peaches, citrus fruit, grapes, figs, dates, pomegranate, nuts, apples, pears, almonds, cabbages
  • fishing
  • pasta was imported from Calabria by families

The importance of bread during the Arab domination probably remained unchallenged. The ‘Arabisation’ of Malta permeated all aspects of local culture and outlived the Arab political control.

Medieval Islamic Food Around the Mediterranean, people continued in the Islamic period to rely on the three main foods from antiquity: wheat, olive oil, and wine. Islam did not allow alcoholic drinking, but after the 12th Century a lot of people did drink wine. During the Arab Rule people who didn’t drink wine began to drink milk. On the other hand, Islam forbade people to eat pig meat (pork and ham and bacon), and people really did stop keeping pigs. Throughout the Islamic empire there is a big change from the Roman to the Islamic period where people stop keeping pigs and start keeping more goats and sheep instead. This unfortunately had a bad effect on the environment, because pigs do not destroy a forest when they live in it, but sheep and goats do. As a result of there being more sheep and goats, the landscape of Malta was stripped of a lot of trees, and a lot of what had been forest turned into bare hills with just little scrubby bushes on them. Without the trees to hold the soil, a lot of dirt washed off the hills into the sea, and the farmland was no longer as good as it had been before. That is why the Arabs started building rubble walls to hold the little soil left unwashed.Another important change in food in the Islamic period was that people began growing and eating more citrus fruits like oranges and lemons, which had mainly been grown in India and China before this time. This may have helped a lot with getting enough Vitamin C, which before people had gotten mainly from wine, vinegar and cabbages. The Arabs knew the art of preserving food in hot climates, which is why candied peel is a key ingredient in Malta’s sweets. The Arabs are thought to have introduced sorbets and semi-freddo (semi-frozen deserts of light sponge, ice cream and candied peel shaped in a domed mould) to Malta and Sicily. Their sharbat, made using mountain snow, probably evolved into what we know as sorbet today. They also brought sugar cane to the islands. Which is why most Maltese deserts and pastries are strictly for those with a sweet tooth.

With the fall of the Arab rule and Malta’s feudal period, life for the Maltese was difficult. The population was subjected to constant pirate raids that made life precarious. The inhabitants deserted coastal areas and moved closer to the walled town of Mdina (in Malta) and Rabat (in Gozo).

Those who lived on farms with no wall protection were often carried off into slavery, and so cultivation of crops became virtually impossible. Grain and other food importation became necessary.

Medieval Food In the Middle Ages in Malta, what people ate depended a lot on how rich they were. Poor people (which was almost everybody) ate mainly barley. Sometimes they made their barley into bread, and sometimes into pancakes or pizza, and sometimes into barley porridge (like oatmeal) and sometimes into barley soup. But every day, breakfast, lunch and dinner, most of every meal was barley. As much as they could, the poor people found other things to eat with their barley to make it less boring. They grew carrots and onions and cabbages and garlic to put in their soup, and they made cheese to eat with their bread and melt on their pizza, and they gathered apples and pears and mushrooms as well, so they could make apple pies or baked apples. And they used honey to sweeten their treats, though sugar cane was already introduced by the Arabs. They grew herbs like parsley, chives, basil and rosemary to flavour their food. They flavoured their food also with wild cumin and thyme. Mostly poor people drank wine.

Rich people also ate a lot of bread, but they made their bread out of wheat so it tasted better. And they had more choices of other things to eat with their bread. Rich people ate meat – pork and roast beef and stew and lamb chops and deer and rabbit. And they had spices to put on their food, expensive spices that had to come all the way from India like pepper and cinnamon. People continued growing and eating citrus fruits. The popularity of pork and its presence in various dishes could be attributed to Malta being on the edge of the Christian world. Consuming a food which is taboo in the Muslim culinary culture could have been a way of self-identification by distinguishing oneself from the other. In addition to pork dishes (such as grilled pork cuts or stuffed flank) and the exclusive predominance of pork in indigenous Maltese sausages, adding some pork to dishes such as kawlata (a vegetable soup) and ross il-forn (baked rice) have been common practice in the Maltese vernacular cuisine for centuries.The Maltese Medieval period is mainly characterised by two important broad occupations. Between 870 AD to 1090 AD the Arabs controlled the Islands of Malta. In 1164, the islands were annexed to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies until 1530 following Emperor Charles’ V donation of the islands of Malta and Gozo to the Knights of St. John.

Several historians agree that following the eleventh century, cereals made up a considerable proportion of the popular diet with a shift in the perceived status of certain foods such as meat. Bread, more than a staple food, became a precious resource which moulded the popular culture of Europe and especially the Mediterranean in the following centuries.

The Maltese Late Medieval period also witnessed a growing dependency on Sicily. As in other small island societies within the Mediterranean basin food production often fell short of the local demand even in normal times. The praising description of fertile and abundant pastures by King Roger II’s illustrious geographer al-Idrisi coupled with the cultivation of cotton as a cash crop generated enough income to balance the local expenditure on grain imports for long periods of time especially since it is now widely accepted that until the closing decades of the fourteenth century Malta produced enough grain to supply the local population. Thereafter, regular and massive imports of grain from Sicily started to become a normal occurrence. This condition ushered one of the most important roles of the local Universita`, a municipal government shaped on the same principles found in the neighbouring island of Sicily.The elevated status of bread in the life of Mediterranean societies was shown by its value in the market as a product that could be exchanged as a means of payment or social support. During the late medieval period imported grain was more expensive than the local product. Thus in 1487, Johannes Gambinu preferred to be paid in Sicilian grain while Antonius Gatt Desguanes reached an agreement to lend an amount of local grain without any interest to four men from Birgu. The latter, however, had to repay Gatt Desguanes in Sicilian grain. The unchallenged importance of bread among the locals is evident even in nineteenth century business transactions were several field workers preferred to be paid with two tumoli of mahlut (mainly barley bread). Mahlut, infact was bread of an inferior quality, often associated with the peasant and the worker, also known to be ‘heavy and hard to digest’.

During the rule of the Knights of St. John, often referred to as the Golden Age for Malta, various advances in overall health, education and wealth of the Maltese took place. Many Maltese learnt trades that were necessary during this period, whilst others were fully employed by the Order. In this period Malta used to export various food items, including oranges, orange-blossom water, lemons, preserved apricots, pomegranates, honey and cumin. Meat and poultry were also being consumed in large quantities, particularly by the Knights and their guests. Wild rabbit and game hunting are also mentioned as a common source of food in historical documents. Ice was imported from Etna in Sicily to make sorbet-like sweets.

Knights of St John

1530- 1798 AD

The traditional Maltese fenkata (eating stewed rabbit), often identified as the national dish, quite possibly started off as a form of symbolic resistance to the hunting restrictions imposed by the Knights of St John. The dish was to become popular after the lifting of restrictions in the late 18th century (and by which time the indigenous breed had multiplied and prices dropped) and the domestication of rabbits, a technique which could have been imported from France thanks to the French Knights.

In the early 17th century people began eating food with forks for the first time.

During the 17th century new foods were introduced (for the rich) such as bananas and pineapples. New drinks were introduced, chocolate, tea and coffee. In the late 17th century the rich began eating ice cream. The ice was covered in straw to preserve it. However for the poor food remained plain and monotonous. They subsisted on food like bread, cheese and vegetables. Poor people continued eating as they did in Mediaeval times.

There was little change in food in the 18th century. Despite the improvements in farming food for ordinary people remained plain and monotonous. For them meat was a luxury. A poor person’s food was mainly bread. In the 18th century drinking tea became common even among ordinary people.

The coming of the Knights was like an exogenous shock, a strong and sudden impact that transformed every aspect of life. The spatial redistribution of administrative functions, demographic increase, centres of influence, economic growth and infrastructural changes left an indelible mark on Malta. The artistic heritage inherited from this period of history bears witness to the grandeur of this monastic order. Such developments, nevertheless, took place against a difficult backdrop. The sterility of the land was a danger that worried the government of the knights throughout their rule. In fact the dependency on Sicily as Malta’s granary was the only means of sustenance to a constantly growing population which was only temporarily checked by major epidemics. For the early modern inhabitant famine became a prevalent condition. In order to avoid the culmination of any possible unrest the Grand Master employed several emergency measures in times of general hunger. When grain supplies dwindled the Knights Hospitaller distributed rice and barely as a temporary alternative. It was neither unheard of that rural towns were assigned officers to ensure that all the grain given to the bakers was entirely baked into bread to avoid having people from rural areas congesting the urban towns. Several visitors to the islands described the local diet as frugal and monotonous. At the same time, this period witnessed great culinary innovations imported from the discovery of the Americas. Tomatoes, potatoes, chocolate, corn, and turkeys, just to mention a few, became new foods in Europe. Nevertheless, the consumption of such foods was also met with a lot of resistance within the Mediterranean region. The closing decades of the eighteenth century were ones of economic austerity.

The two-year French rule in Malta hardly had any influence on the Maltese food system, but radical changes were experienced under the British rule,from 1800 to 1964. The addition of Malta to the British Empire was a voluntary request made by the Maltese people in an attempt to rid the Maltese islands of the French. It was soon evident that therewas a willingness by the locals to succumb to the lifestyle of the new colonisers. Moreover, Malta’s strategic location in the centre of the Mediterraneanmade it an excellent station for British Armed Forces and many army and naval officers posted here brought along their families. As a result, a lot of food was imported and many Maltese were employed as housekeepers and cooks. The dietary habits of these British families were quickly adopted and adapted by the Maltese. Foods such as fry-ups, roast meat meals, custard, sponge cakes and puddings became staplesin many local households.

During World War II food was scarce. Many staples were rationed and the British government also organised the Victory Kitchens for the Maltese who were is a dire state of poverty. The Victory Kitchens and the immediate post-war period brought the introduction of new food like corned beef, cheddar cheese andbutter which were unheard of before in Malta.

WWII Maltese Food Due to it’s position in the Mediterranean, Malta played a key role during WWII and the island’s stragic position meant that the British Navy and Air Force could attack Axis convoys trying to supply German and Italian forces in North Africa. Malta paid a very heavy price as a British base and it endured the heaviest bombing in the world at that time. During WWII there was a great shortage of food on the island and rationing was introduced by the Government. Ration cards were issued to everybody for basic food supplies such as lard, margarine, oil, tea, coffee, corned beef, tinned sardines, kerosene etc. Fresh food and vegetables were scarce and meat was as rare as caviare and there was a thriving black market for the most basic supplies, especially kerosene,at very high prices. The health of the Maltese population suffered greatly and scabies were endemic on the island, as were diseases such as typhoid and tuberculosis. Milk was only available for babies and young children, hospitals and pregnant women. As the siege continued, conditions worsened and there was insufficient food available for the population who were on the verge of starvation and surrender by August 1942. Starvation was probably the biggest threat to Malta since as an island with very limited resources she was dependent on imported supplies and these were dwindling fast. Malta was desperate for food and supplies and on the verge of surrender and had it not been for the arrival of the supplies that reached Malta on the eight remaining ships of Operation Pedestal that arrived on the Feast of Santa Marija 1942,the island would have had no other choice but to surrender on the planned date of 31 August 1942. Rationing… Families of five or less were entitled to four boxes of matches, larger families were allowed six. Soap and coffee rations were more complicated: a single person was entitled to one bar of soap (rations were issued on the 6th and 21st of each month); a family of four or less got two bars, families of five to eight persons got three bars. Families of three or less had a ration of ¼ rotolo of coffee. In August 1941 lard, margarine and edible oil were also put on the ration card. The tapering scale also applied to these items. Kerosene, used for cooking and lighting, was rationed on a weekly basis from May 1941. The kerosene carts which supplied the towns and villages were horse drawn, the distribution being under the supervision of the police. The rationing of kerosene caused more disputes than almost any other item, being particularly susceptible to bribery and black market operations. Tinned tuna fish and sardines, a daily fare of the working men, became increasingly scarce and again were bought up by the unscrupulous and sold at black market prices.

While British rule ended in 1964, its traces and influences on Maltese culture are still visible. This is particularly reflected in food consumption patterns for both everydayand special occasion meals. Yet the high fat, high sugar and salt-laden food that the Maltese grew accustomed to thanks to the British settlers, have had a negative impact on the health status of the Maltese population.

During the mid-1970s and 1980s, Malta experienced a period of restricted food importation. These restrictions led to the promotion of local products. New local products were produced for the local market and for exportation, and this enhanced the local economy. New agricultural crops were also cultivated for local and foreign markets. One example is Maltese potatoes, still highly regarded to date in the Netherlands. Onions and capers also started being exported.

In the late 1980s, the importation market was liberalised. This meant new food products were available on the market. Maltese consumers had freedom to choose from both local and foreign products. In fact, importation of new foodstuffs ran rampant. Local products had a lot of competition and in the long run their production had to be stopped due to price and quality competition.

The tourism industry in the 1970s and 1980s also had an impact on the food system in Malta. Locals had to be trained to prepare foreign food cuisines so as to gratify the gastronomic needs of the visiting tourists. This availability of different dishes in restaurants and hotels also led to the introduction of new foods and food preparation methods in Maltese households.

Modernisation also brought with it the introduction to the island of fast food chain outlets. These were sprouting rapidly in the late 1990s taking over the local pastizzeria outlets. Nowadays, both modern and traditional snack food outlets coexist, although this fast food craze seems to have contributed to a deterioration in the Maltese health status with increased incidences of diet-related diseases, particularly obesity amongst the younger generation. Recently, there has been a growing interest in the rediscovery of traditional Maltese food. This may have been partly spurred by a similar international movement to safeguard local traditional foods, as well as by demand by tourists who are also seeking the local fare when visiting the islands.

Farmers’ co-operatives are forming to develop and package products made from local crops. New recipe books provide an insightful and practical introduction to traditional Maltese food. The Ministry of Tourism is also promoting local produce by organising food festivals liken ‘The Mediterranean Food Festival’, the ‘Wine festival’ or the Festa tat-Tonn (tuna feast). Similarly, Local Councils in towns and villages are organising special theme days or weekends such as Il-Festa tal-Hobz (bread feast) inQormi. A movement called Fondazzjoni Fulkar was founded to create awareness about Maltese food culture by disseminating information through the organisation of courses about Maltese and Mediterranean food aimed at the general public and specialists alike.

Even local stamps have been minted with traditional food images (e.g. the fenkata – rabbit stew, which is known as the national dish, and the b ar mimli – stuffed peppers, a common dish in Malta).

These recent initiatives could be considered a step in the right direction to a more sustainable food system, where local produce is given a boost, and healthier food isconsumed for the benefit of the island’s economy and Maltese society in general.

Hopefully, our children who are presently eating less traditional foods and opting for a more Westernised diet, as their Mediterranean counterparts, will see light and begin to appreciate their ancestors’ gastronomy and realise its nutritive and sustainable benefits.

Cuisine of Malta today

The English and the Italian cuisine are the most common. Most of Maltese food is typically Mediterranean. Steak and seafood are prepared as in other Mediterranean countries, with a strong Italian/Greek influence. The Most famous Maltese dish is ‘Fenek’ (rabbit) which is considered by many to be a national dish. One can either have rabbit in tomato sauce, preceeded by a plate of spaghetti, or one can have rabbit in garlic sauce. Most fish which inhabit the surrounding waters are a favourite with the Maltese. Fish are usually fresh. Restaurants serve tuna, swordfish, lobsters, octopus and the famous “lampuki” (known in English as Dorado). During the ‘lampuki’ season they also make the ‘lampuki’ pie. The Maltese love pasta and pasta dishes feature as many types of appetizing sauces. There are many Maltese who wake up with a bowl of cereal or for a typical English breakfast but usually a cup of tea or coffee is enough to keep you going till ten. At that time many opt for a coffee and the renowned cheese-cakes called “pastizzi” or the “hobz biz-zejt”. There are two types of ‘pastizzi’; the ones made of ricotta and the others made of pea stew. Both have a soft puff pastry cover which blends perfectly with the two different tastes.

Some of the most lovable dishes of Malta are:

• Fenek(rabbit)

• Lampuki (served in a number of ways)

• Bragioli (beef simmered in red wine and stuffed with boiled eggs and bacon)

• Timpana (pasta, eggs, meat and cheese stuffed in a flaky pastry)

• Pastizzi (flaky pastry stuffed with cheese or anchovies).

• Mqaret (fried pastry filled with dates)

• Figolli (a traditional Easter cake filled with almond paste)

• Qubbajt (almond nougat)

• Seasonal fruit includes oranges, strawberries, mulberries, tangerines, prickly pears, peaches, melons, grapes


c 1,200 BC People in Malta eat bread. They also eat sheep, pigs, cows and goats as well as ducks, geese and fish. They grow marrows, beans, lentils, leeks, radishes and lettuces
c 400 BC Ordinary people eat a great deal of bread. They also eat cheese and fish and meat. They also eat beans, onions, garlic and olives. They drink wine and water.
c 70 AD The Romans introduce new foods, celery, cabbages, radishes, carrots, cucumbers, broad beans and walnuts.
c 870 AD The Arabs introduce Citrus foods. They stop keeping pigs and start keeping more goats and sheep instead. They drink milk instead of wine. They are attributed with the introduction of lemon sorbets to Malta.
1300 The wealthy mainly eat meat. Poor people live on bread and cheese and vegetables and if they could afford it some meat or fish.
c 1585 Maltese diet remains very much the same as in the Middle Ages.
c 1600 The well to do eat pineapples and ice cream. Coffee and tea are popular drinks with the rich. Otherwise little changes. Poor people still live on bread and vegetables.
c 1820 Eating potatoes and drinking tea has become common among ordinary people. Bread is still a very important part of peoples diet.
1861 Garibaldi biscuits are introduced.
1885 The cream cracker is invented
1892 Digestive biscuits are introduced
1900 The diet of ordinary people has greatly improved since 1900. Meat and sugar have become cheaper. People eat less bread and a more varied diet.
1941 Food rationing begins due to World War II
1950 The diet of ordinary people has improved since 1900. Food has become much cheaper.
1952 Farsons developed Kinnie, a unique, bittersweet soft drink, as an alternative to the innumerable colas that had proliferated in Europe since the Second World War.
1970s Rationing remains a characteristic of post Second World War Malta. Flour, pasta, sugar, vegetable oil and bread was exchanged against the presentation of coupons.
1977 A bakers’ industrial action highlights the recurrent dependency of the local diet on bread as a staple food.
1980 The parastatal company Medigrain was setup as the exclusive importer of milling wheat (hard and soft) intended to keep stable the selling prices of bread to the consumer.
1992 A monument was erected to commemorate the untiring service of the bakers of Malta especially those of Qormi.
1993 First Pizza Hut opened in Malta.
1994 Federated Mills plc was incorporated in 1994 following the merger of five milling companies whose independent owners became shareholders of the new company.
1995 McDonalds and Burger King open in Malta
1996 KFC opens in Malta
2008 Discussions were held between Government officials and the Bakers’ association regarding a proposed increase in the price of bread.
2010 Over 40% of Maltese bakeries are based in Qormi.

Reference: Nenu Artisan Baker Website

Food Timeline


4 thoughts on “Food in Malta”

  1. Hello,

    My name is Charlene, I live in Australia and I am studying the history of Maltese food for one of my subjects at University. At the moment I am researching the evolution of maltese dishes over time. You have a lot of useful information on your site however I can not use it for my assignments as the source of your information is not listed. It would help me greatly if you could email me with references for your research as it is very difficult in Australia to find the information I need. Thank you very much.

  2. Thank you so much for a well researched website. Some photos in this article would be appreciated. This would make it more interesting especially for school children and students doing research. Keep up the good work!

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