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Maltese pastizzi – morsels of happiness

By Lara Camilleri

Even if you know very little about Maltese cuisine, chances are you are aware of one of its mainstays – the humble pastizz. It is difficult to explain the idea behind this common Maltese delicacy to someone who has never tried it. For starters, its English translation – cheesecake – only leads to confusion.

Suffice to say that this savoury snack has nothing at all to do with the sweet cheesecake that non-Maltesers are familiar with. How to describe it in words that convey all this morsel’s exquisite flavours, from the crispy exterior to the delightfully gooey filling?

Put simply, the Maltese pastizz is a pastry that is traditionally filled with ricotta (sheep’s) cheese or with a pea and mince concoction. Served in a paper bag, and so delightfully affordable, it has kept entire families sated and nourished in difficult times. Nowadays it is considered a treat enjoyed by locals and tourists alike, and you will find that pretty much every coffee-shop, every corner takeout and even some restaurants will serve a version of the famous pastizz.

Nowadays, the varieties on offer have expanded considerably from the very basic pea or ricotta fillings – the hip places are experimenting with fancy ingredients such as truffles and pork, or even a sweet variety involving chocolate and strawberries, and vegans and vegetarians are likely to find pastizz options as well.

But if it’s the traditional Maltese pastizz you’re after, then we suggest heading to one of the island’s iconic eateries to sample the real deal. Serkin, in Rabat, is one such place and you’re likely to manage to get your hands on ‘tużżana rkotta u sitta piżelli’ – literally at any time of day or night. In case you’re wondering, this translates to a dozen ricotta and half a dozen pea pastizzi – because buying just one pastizz is impossible! Moreish is an understatement.

The downside to this divine invention? With a pastry that’s high in fat and fillings that are equally decadent, this is not the healthiest snack around, but enjoyed as a treat it is really unmisseable. Moreover, you are guaranteed to have your tastebuds satisfied for a cheaply as 1 Euro. What other delicacy can stake this claim?

Finally, if you prefer some fancy nosh, do check out the modernised – sometimes deconstructed –versions  that some fine restaurants serve. They may not be the traditional pastizz, but they certainly taste just as amazing!