Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What's Cooking? A Mention of Malta


Malta is a small island nation off the southwestern coast of Sicily; one I probably would never have known existed except for the Maltese embassy's open house every year in DC. Also, one I probably never would have visited, and yet here I am, just back from a weekend excursion. The country is an interesting one, with an assortment of Mediterranean influences as well as a remnant British flavor.

The country is known for its ancient ruins and dynamic history, so it probably won't surprise you to learn that agriculture has also been a dominant feature on the landscape for millennia. Fruit and vegetables are grown across the semi-arid island, at the whim of quite variable boughts of rain and drought. It wasn't until British rule during the 19th century that this situation began to change, progressing to the current state of affairs. Importance shifted from the inland farm-centred villages and the former capital city, Mdina (above photo taken there) to coastal urban centres and the modern capital, Valetta. Farm size has fallen over the years, and the country as a whole has transitioned from self-sufficiency to an importer of food products (just as it has imported food cultures).

Surrounded by traditional Italian fare, kabab houses, and English pubs, it was a little tricky teasing out what was distinctly Maltese. For me, this ended up being the very economical pastizzi, a pastry filled with either ricotta or mashed split peas and a favourite snack or light meal. When it came down to it, though, just enjoying fresh produce was enough. It may not have the agricultural prowress it once did, but Malta was a nice change of pace from the dark winter in northern Europe.

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