We set off to Malta, knowing very little about our destination and really just wanting to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. While the weather was a slight dampener (London was warmer!) the food more than made up for it. Seafood was abundant and surprisingly cheap, portions were hugely satisfying and we got a chance to take our stomachs on a bit of an adventure.
Ftira - Maltese bread topped with tuna, onions, olives and cheese. What really set this simple dish apart is the olives. We got our very first taste of Maltese olives at a little cafe we picked for lunch a couple of hours after we set foot in Malta. I'd never had olives quite like these before - larger, juicier and with just the right flavour.
We had been on the look out for some traditional Maltese dishes and thought that a little restaurant hidden in the corner of an apartment complex (because the best places always seem to be the ones tucked away in a little nook aren't they?) with a sign that said "Fried rabbit and other Maltese dishes" would be a good place to start. We went for the most interesting dishes on the menu - rabbit fried in garlic and white wine, fried octopus, red scorpion fish with tomatoes and olives and horse stew. We were first timers when it came to horse and we were assured that it would be tender - they didn't lie. How an animal so strong and muscular can be that tender is beyond me.
"Ooh..octopus tentacles!" - our semi-vegetarian taking a break from the red scorpion fish to give octopus a shot.
Rabbit was a popular feature in most of the restaurants so we just had to try the rabbit stew. Rabbit tastes very much like a slightly rougher version of chicken and this stew, with much of its flavour coming from the sweetness of the carrots and onions, really reminded me of the chicken stew mum makes at home.
Being so close to Sicily, it's no surprise that the Italian influence is strong when it comes to food. Pastas and pizzas were on most menus and on a particularly rainy day in Gozo, we ducked out of the gloom into the warmth of a little restaurant to tuck into a hearty Italian meal. Pictured here is the three cheese Ravioli in creamy mushroom sauce. We were slightly apprehensive at first as previous experience with three cheese dishes (especially when blue cheese is involved) have not been pleasant. However, the flavours were not overbearing this time and the cheeses, instead of dominating the dish, really complemented it.
And of course, there's nothing like a serving of hot chocolate to go with some comfort food to make even the rainiest of days seem a bit better.
The seafood lovers (that made three out of four of us) were in for a real treat when we discovered a little place overlooking the beautiful Blue Grotto where the sea was breathtaking shade of blue.
A tomato-based pasta and octopus dish. I really appreciated the subtle tomato flavour that only fresh tomatoes (and not the purees that come in cans) can lend to a dish.
Pasta marinara. Again, instead of the drowning in thick, creamy sauce it was almost like the seafood and pasta were just tossed together with some garlic and white wine which really brought out those wonderful seafood flavours.
The star of the meal - garlic octopus. It seems like such a waste to musk the delightful flavours of fresh seafood and that afternoon, as we sat out in the sun with the sound of the waves in the background, it was back to basics with the natural flavours really shining through.
Ask any one of us now how our trip to Malta was and the conversation would almost immediately turn to food with each of us fondly remembering our personal favourites (though it really is difficult to pick a favourite when we were spoilt to bits). Every meal was something to look forward to - from the different kinds of bread with peppered cheese in the mornings to the huge lunches (that left us vowing never to eat again) and the suppers of pastries and cakes.
Who would have thought (well, certainly not us) that we would be in for such a gastronomical escapade on that tiny island.
Don't you just love holidays?