Visit Malta and you will discover a variety of truly unique traditions that have emerged from its exquisite and rich history. From crafts, to food and music, many Maltese traditions are still very much alive today and are ready to be experienced and enjoyed by all. Here, we have showcased some of the traditions that are a must-see for every visitor to Malta.
Hand-Made Crafts in Malta
Emerging from the pre-historic age, pottery making is the most ancient craft tradition in Malta. Pottery has long been an important form of expression for the Maltese, as can be seen from some of the fine Tarxien Temple figurines. Pottery crafts are still evident today, with one of the most popular being Pasturi. Early imported Italian Pasturi was very expensive, so locals began using clay and plaster to make their own and the tradition has lived on ever since. The craft became increasingly popular in Malta and today many exhibitions of beautiful hand-made cribs and Pasturi can be found around the islands.
Around 3000 years ago during the Phoenician period, the ancient technique of glass-blowing found its way to Malta. Much of Malta’s glassware uses strong Mediterranean colours and is a type of original Maltese glass that is still entirely mouth-blown as it has been for generations. The process starts with multi-coloured beads which are formed into shape. Clear glass is then placed around the coloured glass to create the design.
The craft of gold and silverware flourished in Malta at the time of the Knights of St. John. Still a thriving tradition today, cities such as Valletta are home to many jewellers that offer a wide range of wonderful traditional and modern Maltese creations. Much of the work is also often exported for sale in major cities abroad.
Life was harsh for the people of Gozo and the rural areas of Malta during the period of the Knights of St. John, and craft industries such as lace-making, embroidery and weaving became a popular source of income. Bizzilla, a traditional lace, was introduced to Malta by the Knights of St. John and was commonly used for ruffs and collars in the 16th and 17th centuries. Maltese bobbin lace is made by winding a number of threads around an elongated wooden spool, and a special cushion called a Trajbu is used as a base for the creation.
Visit the craft villages of Ta’Qali and Ta’Dbiegi to understand and explore Maltese hand-made crafts, and watch some of the many fascinating live demonstrations that take place.
Malta’s Traditional Entertainment
As in many Mediterranean countries, folk music is a strong tradition in Malta. Dating back to 1792, the Għana(meaning “song”) is the traditional music of Malta and is a cross between a Sicilian ballad and rhythmic Arabian wailing. This music is a very popular form of entertainment in Malta, with romance and Spirtu Pront (“on the spur of the moment”) being the common themes. Spirtu Pront involves two or more singers performing a duet, quite often a rhyming war of words, in typical Mediterranean style.
As with folk music, Maltese food is heavily influenced by the Sicilian and North African neighbours of Malta. Maltese platters consist of olives, capers, sheep cheeselets (Gbejniet), Maltese sausage, sun-dried tomatoes, broad bean pate and traditional Maltese crackers known as Galletti, and are best enjoyed with a glass of wine. Malta’s towns offer a choice of eateries such as Pastizzeriji, which serve traditional Maltese Pastizzi (savoury ricotta filled filo-pastries) as well as other delicious pastry dishes. For a quick snack, try Hobz Biz-Zejt, the national dish of Malta, which is crusty slices of bread spread with red tomatoes and topped with onion, Gbejniet and anchovies or tuna, and soaked in olive oil.
Malta offers a fine dining experience for all. Look out for other typical Maltese cuisine such as Minestra, a thick vegetable soup served with Maltese bread and oil; a wide assortment of fresh fish, complete with Alijotta, a fish soup; rabbit stew; Imqarrun, baked macaroni, or Timpana, a baked macaroni in a pastry; Soppa Ta’ L-Armla (“Widow’s Soup”), a delicious blend of vegetables, left over cuts and cheeses; or Bebbux, which are snails cooked in a hot stew.
Traditional Maltese sweets include deep-fried Imqaret (date pastries) and Quabbajt (nougat); Easter Figolli (almond-filled pastries in shapes such as cars, hearts and rabbits decorated with icing sugar); Kannoli (ricotta-stuffed fried pastry rolls); and Christmas Qaghaq Tal-Ghasel (honey rings).
Sunday Markets in Malta
The silence of Sunday mornings in many villages in Malta is broken by the hustle and bustle of buyers and sellers at traditional Maltese Sunday markets. Everything from household items to vegetables and traditional crafts to souvenirs are available from various sellers. Aside from a place to buy daily necessities, the markets are place to socialise and to catch-up with the latest village news.