It’s a well-known fact that the Maltese love their food. Every single family gathering on the island we confirm this, to say nothing of the portion sizes of the average Maltese restaurant.
However, certain food-based conveniences we now take for granted were not always readily available.
Here’s a reminder of some of the stuff we can’t remember living without… with a hint of what, perhaps, is to come.
Believe it or not, there was a time when calling up a restaurant to bring over your meal wasn’t a thing. Can you imagine sleepovers without Pizza from Rokna, or your Chinese restaurant of choice? Of course, online ordering has made things even easier, and there’s even talk of food delivery via drone.
But while you’d think delivery would be a no-brainer for places like Malta, certain establishments still limit their geographical range to just a couple of towns nearby.
2. The fast food revolution
While Malta’s home-grown variety of fast food remains evergreen with locals and visitors alike – pastizzi continue to be a tourist reference point – the introduction of American fast food giants into the mix brought the island in line with the bulk of the developed world… at least when it comes to suspect and mass-produced but popular consumables.
Pizza Hut first opened in St Julian’s in 1993, and was followed by McDonald’s (the Republic Street, Valletta branch) two years later. KFC joined the party soon after that – elbowing the UK-owned burger joint Wimpy’s from its Gzira perch. Talk about a neo-colonial overthrow via fast food.
Honourable mention: Gourmet burgers and drive-thrus
In line with a trend you’ll see repeated in this list, burgers have also gone upmarket, with a variety of ‘gourmet burger’ places sprouting up in various locations around the island. They are joined by another venerable American tradition: the drive-thru, which is a logical marriage between Malta’s crazy car culture and portion-happy food consumption.
3. Costa Coffee
Consider this the caffeinated equivalent of the McDonald’s effect. The introduction of Costa Coffee chains in Malta brought in a similarly gentrified approach to coffee consumption and all that it entails.
Namely, elaborate and sugary (and not exactly cheap) variants of classic coffees, and a cushy, Wi-Fi enabled space often populated by aspiring novelists and even – perhaps – content writers for your favourite listsicle and lifestyle websites. Ahem.
4. The conveyor belt
Going for a similar blend of the chic-but-affordable, the rise of the sushi bar and its corresponding cousin – the ‘Asian fusion’ joint ala Wagamama – strives to marry the convenience of fast food while doing away with the social stigma associated with it.
Gimmicks such as sushi arriving on a conveyor belt helped create an extra ‘wow’ factor, while the ‘throw it all in there’ approach of Asian fusion means there’s something in there for everyone. A multi-cultural mix that is evident elsewhere, namely…
5. The ‘fusion everything’
While the craze for Chinese seems to have died down, and Indian cuisine enjoys a steady popularity, other restaurants have taken the ‘more is more’ approach and melded a bunch of them together, including other national cuisines along the way. Some do it better than others, with La Mere in Valletta and Nargile in Marsascala being two notable examples.
6. The Revenge of the Healthy
Inevitably, the blowback from culinary excess had to hit portion-happy Malta at some point too. Places like The Grassy Hopper are obvious indicators of this, but more telling is the fact that even pastizzi are fair game for a healthy (and more refined) shake-up now.
A case of a country growing health-conscious in one fell swoop? Or is it down to the fact that we’re travelling more, with a higher chance of local gourmands importing trends from abroad?
7. Food trucks
If a pastizzeria chain can upgrade itself to a tea room, then it’s only fair that the food truck – previously a fixture on beaches and village festas, where quality isn’t really a priority – gets to have its own trendy moment. With their primary hub being Ta’ Xbiex, food trucks have firmly established themselves as Malta’s latest culinary trend.
BONUS: A future for ‘healthy’ desserts?
With The Grassy Hopper’s dessert-based offshoot Theobroma appearing on the Valletta scene – offering vegan, gluten free dessert made entirely from ‘raw’ ingredients – could we be on the cusp of a new dessert revolution?
Featured image by Lars Ploughmann