30 January 2013
What a tough call! Of all the difficult decisions I’ve had to make in my life: stay in England or move to Malta, an honest career or a life of crime (OK, the last one was a no-brainer – I can’t even sneak a biscuit into bed without leaving a trail of crumbs); this one’s by far the toughest. Where do I even start?
First, for the uninitiated, I’ll explain what these lovely gems of Maltese cuisine are.
Imagine if you will, a parcel, nay, a purse of the most delicate, flaky, and crisp pastry you’ve ever tasted. It’s the kind of pastry that packs crunch when you bite into it, and then melts in your mouth as you chew. Much has been written about this legendary pastry, comparing it to the Greek staple filo, or the delicate French puff, but a good pastizzi’s pastry is like neither, and like both at the same time. OK, it’s a bit like filo pastry, but much crunchier and richer.
Inside the pastizzi, one finds fillings of either minced, dried peas or ricotta cheese. The filling needs to be hot – so hot that your tongue involuntarily recoils back into your throat in sheer agony, and then retreats to its rightful place to continue the delicious torture.
Being the cheap (30 cents each!) and delicious snack that they are, pastizzi are eaten at any time of the day, and for any occasion. Need a quick breakfast? Pastizzi and tea. Elevenses? Pastizzi. Lunchtime? Supper Time? Pastizzi. It’s as much a part of being Maltese as church-going and voting in the general elections. And so, there’s a pastizzerija (pastizzi shop) at every street corner, much to the delight of my taste-buds and the dismay of my waistline.
Therefore, in the name of research, I have arduously eaten my way through the vast majority of pastizzerijas in Malta and present to you my scientifically derived ranking of Maltese pastizzi (I’m waiting for this research to be published but the University of Malta refuses to return my calls).
The Gold Medal: Crystal Palace, just outside Mdina. This is my favourite haunt. It’s a typical Maltese bar serving the local version of tea (served in a glass with lots of milk) to a clientele almost entirely of men – lucky men I say, as they chomp their way through these delicious specimens while reading the local papers. Crystal Palace’s pastizzi are crispy rather than crunchy, and the filling is quite generous. The pea variety is delicious and rich, but I’m a pea-man myself, so slightly biased in that regard. Get them while they’re hot – it’s crucial because there’s nothing worse than cold or reheated pastizzi; but at this place, that’s not a problem because the pastizzi here are either piping hot or gone.
The Silver Medal: Maxim’s Gzira. Unlike Crystal Palace above, this is a pastizzi shop not a bar, and so, has much more on offer. You can get pizza by the slice (delicious), sausage rolls (delicious), meat pies (delicious…sensing the pattern yet?), and all manner of greasy goodness. But it’s pastizzi we’re on about here and this place does them well, and in enormous quantities too.
Is your appetite sufficiently whetted? No? Then you’re a better man or woman than I – it’s off to Maxim’s for a late night snack – the drool on my keyboard is short-circuiting my laptop. It’s now officially a safety issue.