7 roundabouts away from the busy touristy town of Sliema lies the quiet town of Mġarr.
Mġarr is, to be honest, a rather nondescript Maltese town. A limestone church towers over the village houses, around it are local bars and clubs — the band club, always practicing for their village’s Festa, the football club and the two political party clubs (kazin) who sit glaring at each from across the square. These are the pillars of every Maltese square. But this town is different.
Walk into one of the lively crowded and poorly lit restaurants of Mġarr, with sounds of satisfaction, as the warm summer wind carries the sounds of laughter and contentment from its open windows onto the quite and inviting village street, and you will know why. If Qormi is the birthplace of Maltese bread, and the best Ħobż biż-żejt is found in la Mosta, then Mġarr is where the best Fenkata (Rabbit), Żiemel (Horse), and Snails can be found.
In the last 6 years I have spent 3.5 of them abroad. Still, I am not a traveler. A traveler comes, observes, and leaves. He glimpses a culture, he develops a vague understanding of the country’s past and then, as quickly as he came, he is gone.
In Sliema, I was a foreigner in a sea of foreigners. Mġarr was different. And so we went back twice. First to the Farmer’s Coop and then to Tal-Ingliz the two best restaurants I ate at in Malta.
Malta is a small country and it easier to define it by comparing it to its neighboring countries. Maltese cuisine is Italian with a twist. The Maltese language is some kind of Italianized Arabic. Their traditions are English, but at the same time Mediterranean, and, of course, like so many other Mediterraneans they yearn for the past when Calypso, seducer of Odysseus, ruled the Island. I have to admit, I did the exact same thing. However, above all else, Malta is Malta. It was only when visiting places like Mġarr I managed to leave my own prejudices and pre-conceived notions behind and begin to embrace Malta for all that it is.
At The Farmer’s Coop and then Tal-Ingliz we were the only tourists in the bar and perhaps even in the entire village/town. Here we ate REAL Maltese food. It was heavy, it was oily, and VERY meaty. The brungiel mimli (stuffed eggplant) was stuffed with nothing but minced meat and soaked in olive oil and broth and it was served with nothing but bread and potatoes. No green, just heavy rustic meals.
I have learned that people everywhere, whether they live in a village or are considered the happiest country in the world, love their country and they want to share their knowledge with you. And so in Mġarr I learned that the Maltese love rabbit so much that it has to be imported to the island, that the wine they serve in many of the bars is called only “Friend Wine” (tal-hbieb) because the wine is so embarrassingly bad (it’s not) that you can only serve it to friends but never to a stranger, that village beer is 1,50 EUR, and that fenkata involves not only rabbit, but peanuts, nougat and many, many side dishes. Oh and did I mention the head and eyes are served as well?
If nothing else that I have written has convinced you to leave the beaten path when you go to a foreign country. Know that it was only leaving Mġarr that I sat back with a full belly and a happy heart and said “Today I am completely and totally satisfied”
If you do ever make it to Malta, and then even farther to Mġarr. Taste some of these dishes:
Laħam taż-Żiemel (Horse meat stewed in tomato paste and wine with peas)
Summien (quail fried in garlic served with a white wine sauce)
Galletti (water biscuits)
bigilla (bean spread)
helwa tat-tork (almond sweet)
And on that satisfied note, our trip to Malta has finally ended and we move on to Germany a very fitting place to be in the middle of winter.