Certain scents can take you back to times and places you might not have been in years. They can ignite feelings of happiness and nostalgia, and remind you of fond memories. Malta has a few of it’s own unique scents which always manage to make us smile. Here’s a list of fourteen Maltese smells we think deserve to be appreciated.
You’ve just got off the bus at Triton Fountain and come into contact with what can only be described as the “Valletta Bus Station Smell”, that distinct combination of dried urine, horses and exhaust fumes. Then it hits you. The timeless smell of hot deep fried sugary pastry and sticky fig filling coming from the Imqaret stand that’s been your sensory queue for “Now entering Valletta” since you were a small child.
2. Sea Spray
We’re surrounded by the jewel-coloured Mediterranean Sea and the salty smell of sea spray is bound to be on here somewhere. There’s nothing quite like the smell of an early morning trip on the deck of the Gozo Ferry. If mental calmness has a smell it would be the smell of the mist that comes from the choppy waves crashing against the shore as you stare out into the distance.
3. Church Incense
Whether you’re religious or not, there’s no getting around the fact that our churches are truly beautiful and can be spiritual and humbling places for Catholics and non-believers alike. Standing there as grown adult, you can be transported to the Christmas Eve midnight masses of your childhood as soon as you smell the imposing aroma of incense wafting through the teak pews.
4. The First Rain on Concrete
After a long, hot summer. The air is thick with moisture and the sky looks moody, you know the heavens are about to open and grace us with three months’ worth of rainfall and it doesn’t dissapoint. The first heavy drops hit our dry, tarmaced streets, and in no time at all the rain is power washing away the dirt through rivers by the side of the pavement. There’s nothing quite like it.
5. Nanna’s House
Every nanna’s house has a particular smell that welcomes you in as you walk through the door. It’s more of a blend of scents rather than just the one, and often involves the vague aroma of air freshener and traditional cooking. A hearty brodu simmering on the stove, the family recipe Timpana hot out of the oven… It’s the smell of mixed generations of kin, huddled around tea and ottijiet.
6. Maltese Barbeques
The sharp smell of peppered ġbejniet and heady red wine as you chat away whilst the zalzett tal-Malti sizzles on the grill next to a loaf of pungent garlic bread in foil. It’s the smell of food made for sharing combined with the scent of firelighters, charcoal, and the unmistakable smell of cool, wet sand after sundown.
7. Heritage Buildings
This shouldn’t work but it does. The smell of an old stone cellar or kantina, the sweet but musty aroma of waterlogged limestone as you step down into the darkness could be described as the smell of time travel. It ignites the imagination and gets you wondering who could have been there before.
8. Fresh Flowers
There’s nothing more joyous than the smell of fresh flowers. It’s revitalising to smell poppies and snap-dragons whilst walking through the countryside in the spring when it comes alive, or oleanders in the hot summer sun. Then there’s the unmistakable aroma of freesias you get when you pass the local florist’s van around Easter-time. It really puts a spring in your step, as does the smell of geraniums whilst walking through Upper Barrakka Gardens on a fresh, sunny day.
Malta’s village feasts make for an overload of the senses like no other. The smell of burnt off fireworks perfectly contrasts with the sickly sweet scent of freshly spun pink candyfloss. The smell of spilt Cisk and deep-fried frozen chips with vinegary ketchup all just screams of a good time.
Whether your daily ritual starts with the clinking of teaspoons and a shot of espresso in Caffe Cordina or a milky instant coffee “fit-tazza” at your local snack bar, the smell of coffee is an old favourite, preferably to be enjoyed with a sweet ricotta-filled kannol or a hot and flaky pastizz for maximum sensory effect.
11. Fresh Fish
People don’t often shout about how much they like the smell of dead fish but there’s something pretty special about it. Icy lampuki out of a van in a village square or the catch of the day pulled straight from the sea on a Sunday morning in Marsaxlokk harbour before you make your way to an al fresco seafood restaurant. It smells good to support our local fishermen.
12. Village Grocers
There’s a certain “Malta Grocery Smell” that is familiarly comforting and found in small groceries all over the island. It smells of damp cardboard boxes and local produce still sprinkled with soil, of onion peel, spices, cold milk cartons and detergent. The Malta grocery smell is the equivalent of a neighbourly pat on the back.
13. Boat Fuel
A guilty pleasure for many, the smell of petrol that gets you right at the back of your throat as an old boat engine starts up. We know it’s bad but it stimulates our seafaring instincts, and what form of transportation is more magical than a traditional dgħajsa to make the magnificent trip from Birgu waterfront towards the Grand Harbour?
14. Ħobż tal-Malti
This should come with no explanation. There is nothing, nothing quite like the smell of our traditional Maltese bread. The overwhelming experience is heightened dramatically if you’re queuing in a local village bakery in the early hours of the morning, to see it emerge straight from the wood fired forn. Out of this world!