When I travel I love to learn about cultures, check out historical sites, and admire architecture. But I also really really love to eat and drink. A lot. Love to try the local food, and make sure to sample all the local wines. I am lucky to live in such a rich area of the US in terms of food and wine, which is likely why it’s something I love to do when I traveling abroad. You can imagine my excitement when my best friend R said that a full day food and wine tour was on the agenda during our week in Malta
You know I love to eat…
Merrill Eco Tours does group and individualized food and wine tours. But this isn’t your usual stingy food and wine tour where everyone gets a small bit of food at each stop. No, this was a feast for all five senses at every stop. Our guides took us on a culinary adventure.
Our host was a hit with everyone, especially baby D
When we were picked up from the apartment, we were whisked away to the medieval city of Rabat. There we walked to a low-key shop that had the very descriptive name of “Bakery”. (Seriously, its name was just Bakery). Inside we were hit with the heat of the ovens and the scent of freshly baked bread. The owners told us of the process of making Maltese bread, and showed that it was baked in both wood burning and more modern industrialized ovens. But they still made bread everyday and it was delivered to the neighbors. While we were there, we saw an interesting exchange. A neighbor came in with a dish covered in aluminum foil and gave it to one of the bakers. He then took it to the back. The tour guide explained that the neighbors often will bring their food to be cooked in the industrial ovens because they don’t have enough oven space at home when hosting big events. I loved that the small town feel still existed, with everyone helping each other out.
Rabat is an old town, steeped in old time traditions and local favorites like this bakery, that are hundred of years old.
Next we went down the street to a pastizzi shop, where the “retired” owner was making pastizzis. (He’s retired like my Dad is, still can’t stop working). He showed us how he made the dough, rolling it out until it was extremely fine, and then rolling it up and cutting off pieces, which is what made the flaky crusts. We were allowed to wash our hands and try our hand at pastizzi making, trying to make the perfect shape to scoop in the pea mixture. Let’s just say, we could all use a little practice…. After that lesson, we were given our pastizzis on a tray to take with us to the next stop.
After eating so many pastizzis, it was nice to learn to make them, and learn enough to know I am not a good enough baker to actually make them. But the birthday girl got the hang of it, maybe I’ll get some at the next gathering…
Right down the street was King’s Arms, where we entered for coffee and pastizzis. The bar was originally a male club, that was trying to change with the times, but we were the only women in there. Our tour guide gave our tray to the owner to go into the oven in the back (again with the neighborly help). Then we ordered some more pastizzis, both pea and ricotta variety. We also had coffee, tea or hot chocolate for all who wished to have some. There was enough pastizzis for all, and we ordered more and more coffee, just to be sure. After a bit, we needed to head out, so we all rolled out of our seats and waddled to the bus, ready for our next stop
The bar was old and quirky, but the food was fresh and fantastic
From Rabat, we rode up into the center of the island and the vineyards. Here we came to Mar Casar Natural Winery, where we met Marco, a lovable winemaker and conspiracy theorist. He walked us through the vineyards talking about the growth of organic and sustainable wine making in Malta, and showed us the amazing view he had from the hill. Then we went in to see how he aged the pressed wine in terra-cotta vats underground. Then we got to the good part, the wine tasting. He opened two bottles, a white and a red. But you can’t taste wine without snacks. And the table was not lacking for snacks. We had olives, nuts, a bean hummus, a regular hummus, cheese, salami, etc. We made a meal of the snack while drinking glasses and glasses of wine. Yes, this wasn’t the standard 2 oz pours. Every time we got close to finishing a bottle, Marco just opened a new one and poured us more. Suddenly, he was talking about how wine doesn’t make you drunk because it doesn’t pass through the liver, just the stomach, how there was no present or future only past, and possibly about aliens but honestly I was a few glasses in at this point. We were all happy and laughing, and maybe a little concerned about his theories. We gave the cue to our tour guide, wrapped up our visit, bought a few bottle, and headed back to the van.
Mar Casar Winery – fantastic views, fantastic wine, and fun (if not a bit quirky) conversation
From the winery we went down a windy small road and ended up at a local sheep and goat farm. Here we were given covers for our shoes, and got to go into the goat and sheep pen. The tour guide talked about how the goats and sheep were milked daily and the process they used to make and age the cheese. But the best part was getting to see the little baby goats. We got to even pick them up and pet them. My nursing friend noticed how the mamas were protecting the babies, and she started to feel the familiar stirring any nursing mom knows. That was when we thought we should get out.
All the cute goats and sheep! We all wanted to take a few animals home…
Once we got out of the goat house, we went into the people house to taste aged sheep’s cheese (yum) and fresh sheep’s cheese with preserves (extra yum). We again spent money buying more cheese than we could ever finish before leaving Malta, and headed back to the van to go to our last stop.
We ate so much of this cheese, it was the right balance of creamy and light, with a soft taste. I wanted to eat it all. (Dry cheeses photographed by @chefmckean)
Our final stop was lunch – yes lunch after all this food. We went to Tan-Nixxiegha Olive Grove where we got to walk along the olive groves and learn a bit about olive making. But that part was short. The real star was the lunch.
We were brought to a pavilion were we started with some olive oil tasting. I’ve never done it before. Apparently there is a whole process around warming up your oil, and swirling in your mouth like wine. But it was best drizzled over some of that amazing Maltese bread we got from Bakery. Then they brought out the homemade tomato paste (mixed with the amazing olive oil of course), and tons of fresh vegetables, capers, bean and hummus dips, etc. We were told to put what we wanted on the bread and eat it open- faced. We smothered the bread with tomato paste, stacked it high with the scrumptious veggies, capers, and diced tomatoes all around. Having no shame, we ate and ate and ate.
Olive oil tasting. Similar to wine tasting, but you drink less of it and don’t get drunk
But that’s not all! Afterward we were given Maltese coffee and honey rings for dessert. As the clouds came in and the sun came down, the warm coffee and sweet rings were a perfect ending. Except…that’s not all! Just when we thought we were done, they brought out local honey for us to taste on the wonderful bread from the morning. There was also all the pastizzis we made, but we brought those home in a bag to eat later. There is, it turns out, a limit to my stomach.
There was so much food on the table. And believe it or not, we were stuffed and hadn’t finished 1/2 of it…
We all napped or stared out the window as we took the drive home to our AirBnB. We all agreed that this was by-far our favorite and best tour in Malta. We knew we were leaving the island and this paradise soon and return to normal life. And none of us wanted to go. But it was a wonderful way to spend time with friends, to truly experience the country, and to ground ourselves in local culture. This tour will be the one I compare all other tours.
- Website: http://www.merillecotours.com
- Instagram: @merillmalta
- Costs: Shared tours are €35 – €120 a person. Private tours start at €200
This was a stop during my Girls Trip to Malta
You can see more of @chefmckean photos at www.instagram.com/chefmckean