So I only had two things planned for the weekend: a food tour on Saturday from 10-1 and an early morning trip to the Marsaloxx (Mar sa schlock) Sunday Market. The rest of the weekend, I wanted to try and watch the Ryder Cup (one of my favourite sporting events).
Anyway, first up Saturday morning was the food tour courtesy of Off Beat Malta Food Trails. All of the foods on the tour were going to be traditional Maltese foods/drinks so I was quite looking forward to seeing what they had in store for us.
At 9:45, thirteen of us met our guide “Nick” on the steps of the St. John’s Cathedral where Nick provided us with a brief history of the Cathedral (Knights of St. John built it in the late 1500s) before setting off up to Market Street and then down the hill to tiny restaurant no bigger than a walk in closet.
First up was a traditional Maltese dish known as a “patisserie”. This is a traditional breakfast pastry beloved by the locals. The pastry is savory (as opposed to sweet), is usually filled with either ricotta cheese or curried peas (really), and is served with tea and milk. Now I am not a pea fan, but I always try whatever I am given on these food tours and damn if that curried pea patisserie was not really, really good. In fact, the curried pea patisserie was head and shoulders over the ricotta cheese patisserie. Who would have guessed?
After the traditional breakfast, we hiked back up the hill to Market Street and the very quirky Galeas that doubles as a restaurant and hair salon. I kid you not. Check out the sign.
Anyway, here we had a Poor Man’s Sunday Dinner made of macaroni, bits of meat and cheese baked until the top was brown. Now it was called a Poor Man’s Sunday Dinner because wealthy people would have a roast on Sundays in Malta, but the poor folk could not afford a full roast so they took bits of meat and combined it with macaroni and cheese and hence the name Poor Man’s Sunday Dinner.
Now the beverage accompanying this rather heavy dish was a bottled drink known as Kinnie, a carbonated brown beverage made from bitter oranges and extracts of wormwood. I had actually already had the drink mixed with vodka and lemonade. I had ordered a drink at a outdoor cafe (vodka, lemonade and Kinnie) and had no idea what Kinnie was when I ordered the drink. The drink turned out to be really good and and the straight Kinnie without alcohol was equally tasty. The drink kind of tastes like a cross between ginger ale, coke and orange juice. I know that probably sounds awful, but it actually quite good. The drink is incredibly popular here, and I have seen folks downing it everywhere.
We moved on from the restaurant/hair salon past the Grandmaster’s Palace and at one point we stopped so Nick could tell us the history of those quirky Maltese balconies, which adorned the palace. (I had one in my room at the first hotel and one in my room now.) Apparently, during the Arab rule of Malta, the Grandmaster had the first balcony constructed on the side of the palace so the women in his harem could see out onto the street without truly being seen). The balcony remains where it was first built and is a block long massive wrap around structure. Quite impressive.
Anyway, we moved on from the palace and reached another unique restaurant known as the King’s Own Band Club. Now, as it turns out, the restaurant was also the location for the practice sessions for the King’s Own Band philharmonic, a band dating back to 1874. (Hence the obvious tie to the name of the restaurant.) However, the band was not always by its current name. Apparently, the band name went through various iterations, before King Edward VII granted permission to use the name “King”. As they say, it’s good to be king.
Anyway, as we were being seated, the band began to play upstairs. Seriously. Apparently, they practice on Saturday mornings and we were lucky to catch the tale end of practice. The sound of the orchestra filled the restaurant as we were served a meal of Maltese salad (greens, tomatoes, Maltese bean dip, sundried tomatoes, olives and crackers), Maltese potatoes and … rabbit.
Now rabbit is a traditional meal in Malta primarily because there is not enough land to raise cows. This was my first foray into rabbit, and quite frankly, I will never look at Bugs the same again. That “wascally wabbit” was delicious. I mean really, really good. I can’t describe the flavor except to say it was mild (not gamy) and was incredibly tender. YUM.
We sadly left the music behind and moved on to the desert portion of the food tour. Turns out … not so sad. First up was the Chocolate District. Now this place was rather unusual in that the store sold all things chocolate, but also had a small cafe side where you could purchase a coffee, tea or chocolate in liquid form in a shot glass. We were there for the chocolate. And we had our choice of five flavours: honey, carob, fig, date, or chocolate chocolate. I opted for the fig and it was delicious. I plan to go back and buy some of their chocolate bars for the trip home.
Our final stop was the Embassy Hotel and its rooftop bar where we had tiramisu and tea. The portion size was huge and by this time, I was so full, I barely ate three spoonfuls.
So with the food tour done, I said goodby to the folks who had joined me and walked back to my hotel to make some phone calls to see who might be showing the Ryder Cup.
Well … it was not only strike 1, but 2 and 3. Turns out that golf is not of particular interest here as none of the bars I contacted were broadcasting the event. Fortunately, though, through the power of Xfinty (my cable provider) and a VPN that registered my location as U.S., I was able to enjoy the matches on my iPad while hanging out on the rooftop deck of my hotel. Not a bad way to spend a few hours. (Unfortunately, with the 7 hour time zone difference between Malta and Wisconsin, I was only able to catch the morning session and a bit of the afternoon session. But still, better than nothing.
Anyway, on Sunday morning I got up especially early so that I could catch the 8:30 bus to Marsaxlokk where a large Sunday market takes place. Now, I was a bit on the fence about going. Most of the reviews said it was a waste of time with only a few local artisan crafts and primarily junky Chinese chachkies. I decided I was going to go anyway as it was only a half hour bus ride and figured, I could turn around and come right back if it sucked. And … it sucked.
Yes, the fish market (which is how the market started) was interesting and there was some local goods I was able to buy (honey and some candy), but the rest of it was … well Chinese chachkies.
I ended up wandering the entire length of the market and it was only as I neared the end that I ran into the fish market and local produce. I did manage to find a lady selling locally made ceramic Christmas bell ornaments so … SCORE … the Christmas ornament streak continues. However, after the hour long trek from one end of the market to the other, I was ready to leave.
By now the market was exceedingly crowded and the din of every language known to man was overwhelming. I decided to forgo the shade of the market canopy and cross the street to the sidewalk and make my way up the hill (of course a hill is involved) to the bus stop. Fortunately, the wait was no more than 10 minutes before the #85 showed up.
I was back at my hotel by 11:30. I ended up hanging around the roof top pool deck hoping that they would open the bar, but no one ever showed up. So I went back downstairs, changed and found a cute little cafe where I enjoyed a couple afternoon drinks, some bruschetta and grilled octopus. And as luck would have it, I need up being seated beside a couple (Peter and Louise from Manchester) who were on me food tour. We chatted for about an hour before the heat became unbearable.
We said our good-byes and I ended up back at my hotel chilling on the deck (still no bar service) with a drink I made from some beverages I bought at the corner market.
I plan to spend the evening watching the Ryder Cup and hopefully can stay awake until the end. Tomorrow is the first of four tour days and am looking forward to learning more about the sites I have passed by for the past week.