There are a number of items that are only made in Malta and are difficult to find elsewhere or online for sale. For the most of it’s products, Malta needs to import things from abroad, which is not so surprising seeing Malta is a small archipelago in the Mediterranean. There is definitely sufficient choice when it comes to shopping in Malta, with a lot of well-known brands for clothes, shoes, make up and more available in stores. Most brands available in Malta are to be found in Sliema, Valletta and Victoria (Gozo). Brands that come to mind would be Next, Zara (with a Zara home department), Mango, Desigual, Bata, Nike, Adidas, the Mac store, Inglot, Debenhams, Tommy Hilfiger, Mothercare, Pimkie, Promod and so on. These outlets usually have a good selection of items available on hand in store, but a good tip would be to check online as well as items may be either cheaper or more choice may be available on the web.
Maybe below list will give you something to look out for on your next trip to Malta. I will try to round up a list of Only in Malta items below, and if I know where to buy them, I will try to include the shops or links for you so it’s easier to find.
Hand blown glass – here Mdina Glass, Phoenician Glassblowers, Valletta Glass, Gozo Glass and probably some others that I do not know about that come to mind. Mdina Glass is based at the Ta’Qali Crafts village in, you guessed it, Ta’Qali, and you can see demonstrations of workers carefully crafting and blowing glass. Not cheap but every piece is unique and they offer a myriad of choice in sizes, colours and shapes that I am sure you don’t want to miss.
Filigree silverware – pretty much any jeweller in Malta will have a selection of items of filigree. These ornate pieces of jewellery are made by hand of delicately thin gold or silver wires. It is a speciality of Malta and its quality is second to none. The best ones to look out for are those made bearing the eight-pointed Maltese cross.
Ganutell – The technique itself is said to have been perfected several hundred years ago to please knights of Malta’s and priests’ tastes for adornment. It is a traditional skill passed down over generations and consists basically the creation of intricate flowers using fine wires. It is as interesting to watch as it is to see the finished product. A revival of the skill is underway with the Education Division offered evening courses.
Hand-made Lace – The Maltese lace is very beautiful but also very expensive. It comes in various patterns, shapes and sizes from doilies to full blown table cloths and Maltese crosses. Also known as bizzilla, it is a form of lace-making using techniques dating back to the time of the Knights of St John, when this type of ornamental lace was much sought-after. Fascinating to watch being made, crafters will be sitting in their doorways, throwing wooden bobbins around at an astounding speed, to create patterns that seemingly just appear out of various thickness of twisted threads. Malta’s sister island Gozo is trying to regenerate the industry and the university there runs a diploma in lace-making studies.
Hand-knitted woollen garments – Although shopping for woollen garments might not exactly be what you would be thinking of in the middle of our hot, humid summers, you can buy these sweaters and blankets pretty much all year round either at crafts fairs or one of the Craft’s Villages. Might come in handy in winter though!
Brass door knockers – Pretty much everyone that has visited Malta has at least a couple of photos of the different door knockers Maltese homes all seem to have. The largest, most lovingly polished examples can be found in either Valletta or in Mdina, where there is rumoured to be a shop that sells the most popular designs as well (I have not found it though!) – dolphins, lions and Bacchus heads. If you are tempted to get one, keep in mind that the Maltese knocker might not look quite right in other countries on other styles of front door (unless you just don’t care about that!).
Ruġġata – On a hot day (like we have many in Malta), there is nothing better than a cool refreshing drink. Instead of reverting to the more internationally known soft drinks or water, why not try one of the local drinks instead? One of them is called Ruġġata. It is similar to the Italian Latte di Mandorla (almond milk) and consists of a blend of almonds, vanilla, and on rare occasions, clove. While not to everyone’s liking, it can be incredibly refreshing and delicious, provided you stay away from the ready-made just-add-water syrups.
Beer – Alternatively you can grab a cool Cisk, which is an easy summer locally brewed lager. It is a golden-coloured low-fermented beer with a distinctive and well-balanced character. Its rich hop aroma and pleasant bitterness has made it a very popular drink all year round. The original recipe dates back to 1929 but Simonds Farsons’ has developed several versions of it, so I am sure there is one you like.
Soft drinks – If your tastebuds are tickled by bitter flavours, why not try a Kinnie instead though? It’s ingredients would probably not look wrong on an old medicine label as it is made out of aromatic herbs, anise and ginseng… but its main ingredient is the bitter Maltese orange which is responsible for giving it a refreshing kick. I have to warn you though, either you love it or hate, there is no in between!
Prickly Pear products – Malta is home to a lot of prickly pear cacti. You can basically find them everywhere you go, in gardens, on farmland and along the roadsides. These fruits are apparently best picked early in the morning or at dusk when the spikes are said to retract on their skin. Once peeled, the prickly pears have a distinct taste with a melon like scent to them. You can best enjoy these summer fruits in the form of liquors, jams or conserves, or make popsicles out of them!
Gozo Cheese – or Gbejniet are small round cheese made from unpasteurised sheep’s or goat’s milk. You will find them plain or for sale with Basil, chives and onions, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and chilli pepper added on as local flavours. Ġbejniet are prepared and served either fresh (friski or tal-ilma), sundried (moxxa, bajda or t’Għawdex), salt cured (maħsula) or peppered (tal-bżar). The fresh variety have a smooth texture and a milky flavour and are kept in their own whey in a similar manner to mozzarella. The sundried variety have a more definite, nutty taste and are fairly hard. The peppered ones are covered in crushed black pepper and cured with a sharp taste that becomes more intense the more they age. These popular cheese lets are eaten as is, deep-fried, drizzled with olive oil in salads or added to soups or as a pizza topping.
Irkotta – Irkotta is a mild, creamy, fresh cheese with a delicate flavour. Not to be confused with the Italian ricotta, which is made from whey (basically a leftover from making other cheeses), irkotta is produced by heating fresh milk before adding a type of salt to form the curd. Irkotta is a favourite cheese and is used in e.g. pastizzi, qassatat, irkotta pies, ravioli, lasagna, kannoli, Cassata Siciliana, cannelloni and soppa tal-armla.
Twistees – As with Cisk, Kinnie, Gbejniet and more, you cannot visit Malta without at least having a taste of Twistees. Although these snack packets are now widely exported, you will only find the full range of flavours in Malta. Twistees are a savoury crisp snack, have been around for at least 40 years and were one of the first types of crisps to be baked. Options are Twistees Lite, Tastees, bacon flavoured, chilli cheese, caramel cheese (oh Malta why???), roast beef, vanilla, squeezable Twistees and more.
Maltese Nougat – or Qubbajt is probably one of the most popular sweets sold locally, especially when festa season (read all of summer) comes around. As you may or may not know there are two types of Maltese Nougat. There is the brittle nougat which is extremely sweet but hard and the soft nougat. The brittle caramel nougat is generally combined with other ingredients such as nuts or sesame seeds. The soft nougat is usually very popular with children and the elderly as it is easy to chew and filled with different . Nougat also comes in a number of flavours, e.g. strawberry, vanilla, peppermint and more but for a first round, try the traditional one.
Maltese miniatures – Should you fall in love with Maltese architecture, cathedrals, pretty little chapels and farmhouses, then you really need to keep an eye out for small models of your favourite buildings. These miniature replicas are the perfect mementos to remind you of your holiday in Malta. Each single one is hand-made, following an intensive process of precise measuring and modelling and, of course, painting.
Pottery and ceramics – Maltese pottery is mostly hand-made and customised by local artists. Decorated with bright Mediterranean colours, designs and patterns, these plates, tabletops (yes you can have them shipped worldwide), bowls, jars and much more, really do brighten up your home with their vibrant Mediterranean colours.
Malta merchandise – There’s nothing that quite screams tourist as running around with an ‘I Love Malta’ beach bag or towel or finding some of the other ashtrays, lighters, t-shirts, aprons, hats and so on that you will typically find in souvenirs shops pretty much, well, everywhere in the world. A good tip is Souvenirs that don’t suck (yes the store is called that way) in Sliema. They have souvenirs that well, do not suck and are not embarrassing to have in your home or run around with when you are back home. From baby grows, t-shirts, key hangers or a hoodie, nothing says Malta as much as a reusable fabric bags with the names of every city you have visited during your trip or a mug that tells your mum ‘Bongu’ (good morning in Maltese) in the morning.
Karamelli tal- Harrub or Gulepp tal-Harrub– or Carob syrup is a syrup that is locally known for it’s health benefits (lots of vitamins and good for a horrible cough or a sore throat!) and is said to rival a great honey. It can also be used as an alternative to sugar in your morning coffee or just have some on a strong cheeses like blue cheese and sharp cheddar. The carob pods are also processed into sweets, which traditionally are sold on stalls around Easter.
There are probably more things that I missed out on, but you can always discover these on your next visit to our Islands!!