Malta doesn’t often get touted as a vegan-friendly destination. In fact, vegan visitors are sometimes dismayed to find out how few vegetarian or vegan restaurants Malta has to offer.
It’s true that the Malta vegan movement is still in its infancy, and meat and seafood features heavily on most menus at Maltese restaurants. But don’t despair. There are a number of traditional Maltese dishes that are completely free of animal products!
The truth is, there’s plenty of vegan food in Malta to enjoy. In addition to the ubiquitous pizza and pasta dishes, there are also a number of traditional Maltese dishes that happen to be vegan.
And there are several more that can easily be veganized by leaving off one or two ingredients.
Mezze platters are popular as a first course in Maltese restaurants. These are often vegetarian and can be veganized by swapping out a couple of items on the platter.
It’s a great way to try many different dishes all at once, and they are perfect to share with dining companions.
You may notice that several photos of the dishes below are of small, ramekin-sized portions. Now you know why; they were part of a traditional Maltese platter!
Here are 14 traditional dishes from Maltese cuisine that are already completely vegan or can easily be veganized. Plus, I also give you my top recommendation on where to try each dish in Malta.
There are two types of ftira: the first is a type of bread that is used to make sandwiches (see Ħobż biż-żejt below), and the second is similar to a pizza, but with a Maltese touch. Right now, I’m talking about the second kind.
This ftira looks a lot like pizza, so how is it different? Well, potatoes are often a main topping on ftira, whereas cheese is often left off. The dough is also different from Italian pizza dough and has a crispy texture.
Ftira is famous as a specialty of Gozo, which is a separate, smaller island next to Malta but is still part of Malta the country. The ftira in Gozo is one of the best things I ate while in Malta. Don’t miss it!
Where to Eat It: Mekren’s Bakery on Gozo. If you can’t make it to Gozo, try Nenu the Artisan Baker in Valletta instead. Their Ta’ Karmnu l-Bidija ftira is vegan, but a bit plain. A better option is to order the Karmni s-Sultana ftira without the anchovies.
2. Soppa tal-Armla (Widow’s Soup)
This is a hearty, tasty soup made with potatoes, carrots, garlic, peas and cauliflower, among other ingredients. It normally comes with egg and ġbejniet (Maltese cheese), but these are totally optional.
The name “widow’s soup” refers to the simplicity of the dish, which is made with ingredients even a poor widow could afford.
Where to Eat It: Nenu the Artisan Baker in Valletta. Ask them to leave off the ġbejniet and egg.
Bigilla is a dip made from broad beans (fava beans) and is often served as a starter, either on its own with crusty bread and olive oil, or as part of a larger mezze platter. Technically, the beans used are not exactly broad beans, but a very similar bean that has a darker and harder skin and is known as ful ta' Ġirba in Maltese.
While bigilla is usually enjoyed as a spread on bread, it can also be a tasty accompaniment to many dishes.
Where to Eat It: Nenu the Artisan Baker
Kunserva may look like a simple tomato sauce, but it is much more than that. To create the thick paste, sweet sun-dried tomatoes are simmered for hours with other ingredients. Each cook has their own secret recipe, but rosemary is often included.
It’s a type of preserve, so it will last for months. Typically, kunserva is spread on freshly baked Maltese bread, called Ħobż tal-Malti.
Where to Eat It: Nenu the Artisan Baker, where it’s served as a starter with bigilla and bread.
5. Ħelwa Tat-Tork
This is a rather dense, block-style version of halwa, the tahini-based confection that is popular throughout the Middle East and beyond. The Maltese name for this dessert can be translated as “Turk’s sweet”, and it is quite similar to the halwa you’ll find in Turkey.
In addition to tahini (sesame seed paste), the Maltese version often contains almonds or pistachios. It was probably originally introduced by the Arabs, but it has since become a Maltese specialty.
Where to Eat It: I found the halwa pictured here at the Valletta airport, just as I was leaving Malta. You can probably find it in souvenir shops, but be aware that some brands contain gelatin.
6. Kusksu Bil-Ful
The main ingredients in this soup are fava beans and Israeli couscous, which is similar to normal couscous but much larger. Vegetables such as peas, potatoes and carrots are also sometimes added.
It’s a warming, comforting soup that is most often eaten in the winter, though you can enjoy it at any time of year. Maltese cheese and eggs are sometimes added, but these are totally optional.
Where to Eat It: Diar Il-Bniet in Dingli. Just ask them to leave off the gbejniet (Maltese cheese).
7. Ħobż biż-żejt
This is essentially a sandwich, either open-faced or closed, that is made with the crusty, sourdough bread that is eaten throughout Malta. The name of the dish literally means “bread with oil”, but there’s generally more to it than that.
In addition to extra virgin olive oil, the thick slices of Ħobż tal-Malti (Maltese bread) are spread with kunserva or bigilla and then topped with capers, olives, garlic, parsley and black pepper. Some people add tuna or anchovies, but this is completely optional.
Ħobż biż-żejt is very versatile and is a popular snack or light meal, especially in the summer.
Where to Eat It: the small kiosks near the seafront in Valletta.
8. Kapunata Maltija
Sicilian caponata is one of my favorite dishes, so I was excited to discover that Malta has its own version of this cooked vegetable dish. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since Italy, and nearby Sicily in particular, has had a strong influence on Maltese cuisine.
I’ll be honest, the Maltese kapunata that I tried as part of a mezze platter at Diar Il-Bniet was a bit of a letdown. It tasted much more bitter than the balsamic-vinegar-sweetened version I was used to.
But I’ve since looked up several recipes for kapunata maltija, and they all seem pretty similar to the Sicilian version. Most contain eggplant, tomatoes, bell peppers and typically Mediterranean flavors like capers, olives and garlic.
All of which I love, so I’m not sure what happened. I’d definitely be willing to give it another try, though.
Where to Eat It: as part of the mezze platter at Diar Il-Bniet or at Nenu The Artisan Baker
9. Ful bit-Tewm
The name of this dish means “broad beans with garlic”, and that’s exactly what it is. The beans are cooked with lots of fresh garlic until they are soft and tender.
Whereas in bigilla the beans are mashed into a dip, in this dish they are left whole and sprinkled with parsley. They are still typically served with bread, though, either hot or cold.
Another variation is Fażola bit-Tewm, which is a similar dish made with white beans instead of broad beans.
Where to Eat It: as part of the mezze platter at Diar Il-Bniet
10. Galletti Biscuits
These puffy little crackers are sometimes known as “ship biscuits”, because they were eaten by sailors while at sea. Traditionally, they would be baked at home, but nowadays most people in Malta just buy the store-bought ones, which are sold everywhere.
Tal-Furnar is a popular brand that offers a variety of flavors. The more traditional varieties, like these with sea salt and black pepper, are vegan friendly. If branching out to more exotic flavors, check the ingredients first.
You’ll often find galletti served alongside Maltese bread as part of a mezze platter. They’re perfect for scooping up all those lovely dips and spreads.
Where to Eat It: any supermarket or convenience store will sell them
Pastizzi are an incredibly popular street food snack in Malta. This flaky, savory pastry comes stuffed with a variety of fillings, but one of the most popular is mushy peas. Sounds gross, but I promise it’s delicious.
Pastizzi tal-Piżelli (pastizzi filled with mushy peas) is one of those foods that should always be vegan, but you need to watch out for a few hidden animal products that sometimes sneak their way in.
Butter or lard in the pastry crust, egg wash on top, corned beef mixed into the peas … you get the idea.
The one pictured here is from the Crystal Palace in Rabat, which is generally considered to make the best pastizzi in all of Malta. The staff assured me there was no egg, dairy, meat or lard in their pea pastizzi, so you should be good.
But if you want to be doubly safe, you can buy frozen pastizzi from one of the confirmed vegan sources listed below and bake them yourself.
Where to Eat It: The pea pastizzi at the Crystal Palace are vegan as far as I can tell, but there is lots of conflicting information about vegan pastizzi in vegan Maltese circles. Two vendors that definitely do sell vegan ones are LivWell Health Shop in Naxxar and Pastizzi Gourmet in Siġġiewi. Theirs are frozen, though, so you’ll need to bake them yourself.
12. Qassatat tal Pizelli
Qassatat is a traditional Maltese pastry that comes with a variety of fillings. Including … you guessed it … mushy peas! They are similar to pastizzi, except that they are made with short crust pastry rather than the flakier phyllo dough.
The shape is also different; it reminds me of the “money bags” dumplings that are popular in parts of China. Along with pastizzi, this is another very popular street food in Malta.
Where to Eat It: the same pastizzerias that sell pastizzi will often sell qassatat too. Mekren’s Bakery on Gozo has qassatat that are vegan apart from the egg wash. The staff are very friendly, so if you contact them in advance on Facebook they may put one aside for you without the egg wash.
Vegan Restaurant Malta Guide
This part of the guide will be short and sweet, as there are currently only two fully vegan restaurants on the island of Malta and a couple more on Gozo. But that’s OK, because you don’t need a vegan restaurant to enjoy vegan food in Malta. Instead, look for some of the vegan Malta specialty dishes listed above!
When I visited Malta, the Grassy Hopper was a vegetarian restaurant that offered mostly vegan options, with just a few dishes that included dairy products made from cow’s milk. It’s now listed on HappyCow as being fully vegan, so I guess they finally made the switch!
The Grassy Hopper used to be located in Valletta, the capital, but it has since moved to a small city called Gżira. It's just a short bus ride away from Valletta, though, or you could even walk it in about 45 minutes. Malta is so small and compact that often you don’t even realize when you travel from one city to another.
The space is small, so it can be hard to get a table, but if worse comes to worst they also do takeaway. It’s open only for dinner, though, and only Wednesday to Saturday, so you’ll have to look elsewhere for lunch.
Everything I tried there was delicious, including the peanut noodles and the sweet potato and black bean burger. The side order of roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes and carrots is huge and very good value.
The desserts come from Theobroma Raw Cacao Collective, their sister company. There are plenty of gluten free options available too.
This new place had not yet opened when I was in Malta, so I didn’t have the chance to check it out. But since it opened it has received nothing but rave reviews, so I really hope to be able to try it one day!
The Balance Bowl offers homemade, healthy, affordable vegan meals, including wraps, burgers, smoothies and seasonal salad. They also have something called an “Unlimited Nutrition Bar”, which is an all-you-can-eat buffet of salads, grains and pasta for 12.55 euros.
They are open daily from 10am to 10pm, which makes Balance Bowl a good option at dinnertime, when The Grassy Hopper is closed.
Vegan Friendly Restaurants in Malta
In addition to the two vegan restaurants in Malta listed above, here is a list of vegan-friendly restaurants in various spots throughout the country.
Vegan Friendly Restaurant Valletta
An atmospheric Maltese food restaurant that is housed inside an old bakery. The amazing Maltese platter is meant to be shared as an appetizer but could also be a meal in itself. In addition to the yummy food, they also serve beer, wine and artisinal liqueurs. This is one of the best restaurants in Malta to try traditional Maltese food.
Soul Food Malta
Very centrally located, Italian-run eatery with a number of vegan options that are clearly marked. The Buddha bowl is a refreshing and healthy option.
Vegan Friendly Restaurants in Mdina/Rabat
Good for focaccia and bruschetta (ask for no cheese). Beautiful sweeping views from the walls of Mdina.
Beautiful building, nice atmosphere, but perhaps a bit overpriced. Serves Italian food from the Piedmont region. Vegan options are marked on the menu.
Small, family-run local hangout next to the Roman Villa in Rabat. Reputedly makes the best pastizzi in all of Malta. Staff assured me that the pea pastizzi do not contain any animal products, though you may want to double check.
Vegan Friendly Restaurants in St. Paul’s Bay
Serves Mediterranean, mostly Italian food, in a nice location with sea views. Vegetarian options are marked on the menu. Vegan options are penne alla norma and spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino, and perhaps the soup of the day.
Vegan Friendly Restaurants in Dingli
Farm to table restaurant serving Maltese food. It’s in Dingli town, about a 20-minute walk from the Dingli cliffs. Offers a vegetarian platter that can be made vegan. Other options include Kusksu Bil-Ful — a soup of fava beans and Israeli couscous — and a spaghetti dish with tomatoes, eggplant, fava beans and garlic.
Vegan Friendly Restaurants in Gozo
When visiting Gozo, I found that the food options there were generally not that good. The stand-out exception was Mekren’s Bakery, which makes the most amazing ftira. It’s a must!
I’ve listed a couple more options below, in case you’re stuck. HappyCow does now list two vegan restaurants on the island, Green Mood and Pane e Marmellata, so hopefully the vegan food scene on Gozo is improving!
Famous bakery in Nadur, known along with Maxokk (also in Nadur) as making the best ftira on Gozo, and therefore the best in Malta. It’s take-away only, but there’s a bench at a nearby overlook with great views. The vegetarian ftira is already vegan and includes potatoes, tomatoes, onions, capers, olives and bell peppers. Very filling for just 5.50 euros!
On Georgio Borg Olivier Street in Victoria. Mostly meat-heavy Maltese food, and also some Asian dishes. We had pizza, which was small and nothing like Italian pizza, but still tasted good. We also had spring rolls as a starter, and there were veggie samosas too.
This Sicilian restaurant in Victoria is run by an Italian family, but unfortunately the food is just so-so. But they do know what vegan means and have several vegan options, mostly pasta dishes. There’s also an appetizer platter, but it’s nowhere near as good as the one at Nenu the Artisan Baker in Valletta.
For more recommendations of vegan-friendly restaurants on Malta and Gozo, check out this useful Vegan Malta Map.
Photos by Wendy Werneth and Nick Leonard, all rights reserved.