Puff pastry, brittle as brik, which sheds all over your palms and sleeves like a storm of Autumn leaves. A crisp outside sheltering a bump of pliant filling.
Really, what’s not to like?
Pastizzi, or Maltese pastry snacks were frequently present in our freezer back in Sydney; an excellent emergency entertaining option. We’d tumble them out of their sack onto a baking sheet and straight into a hand-searingly hot oven. When they came out they were excellent with beer and bubbles- though mind, the centres were often scorching.
If you found yourself in Malta it would be wrong not try and search out the best version.
On our most recent excursion we looked in Valletta and we looked in St Julian’s.
We uncovered plenty frozen in the supermarkets there too.
But the best versions of all were to be found in Rabat, adjacent to the fortified old capital of Mdina.
It makes sense to be seeking out these snacks next to an ancient city. It’s reputed that recovered merchant ledgers from Malta list pastizzi- even before the knights of St John built the secondary capital of Valletta.
Crystal Palace Bar is tucked away on Triq San Pawl (Street Saint Paul). It’s royal blue awning is dwarfed by advertising for Kinnie- a local soft drink flavoured with orange and aromatic herbs.
It’s the sort of place where local workers come at the end of a shift and taxi drivers park themselves at 2 am. You’ll probably come across a few local seniors perched outside, drinking sweet tea, smoking and shooting the breeze.
Crystal Palace is one of the few spots in Malta which still has home made pastizzi for sale- many other bars and delis will buy frozen in bulk. Crystal Palace has been in the same family for more than 40 years. The name was crafted to help conjure some familiarity for the English sailors who were frequent visitors after they’d been out carousing.
Unlike some Australian Maltese cafes where the stuffing types stretch into scores, in the islands you’ll only find two. There are the pastizzi ta’ l-irkotta – filled with a fluffy ricotta and pastizzi tal pizelli, which are stuffed with a lightly spiced mushy split pea mix. I’m sure the pea were partly designed to placate the brits.
Fresh from the oven, the pastry flakes and peels open in sheaves. It’s circular layers is similar to the base of a Portuguese Pasteis de Nata (custard tarts) and in fact, the pastry is rolled and cut in a similar way. From a stretched flat base it’s coiled up like a fat cigar and then cut into the coins which are filled and pressed together into a diamond, before baking in a roaringly hot oven.
This is not health food. The oil of the pastry leaves a sheen on both the paper bag and your hands. But it’s a riot of texture and the most comforting of flavours. If you were making these at home you might be tempted to throw in some other classic tastes of Malta, perhaps some thyme honey over the top, or a little rabbit confit inside (rabbit became popular in Malta as a way of flaunting the hunting bans imposed by the ruling Knights).
But really, this is a snack that’s about simplicity- and thrift. A few pastizzi are the perfect thing to soak up the booze taint of a few of the local Blue Label largers before you explore ancient cities and craggy coasts. And at 30 Euro cents each at Crystal Palace, you can afford to scoff a few.
I later discovered that the singular word for pastizzi is actually pastizz. Though I hazard that like me, you’ll probably have very scant need to use it.
Crystal Palace Bar
Triq San-Pawl, Rabat, Malta
Nb, if you’re getting the open top bus tour around Malta (which isn’t a bad way to see quite a lot as everything is quite spread out), be sure to tell your driver that you want to get off at Rabat. Many will just blend the Rabat stop in with Mdina. Alternatively, get off at Mdina, explore the old city and then walk the five minutes to Crystal Palace.