Monday, November 27, 2006

Hidden Jewel

There must be a craze about local produce, lately. I remember the days when I picked up a can of processed Maltese tomatoes from a supermarket shelf and I hear my dear one cry out:"NO, don't buy the Maltese one, they are crap! Take the foreign one." Hearing that the first couple of times was by far the most confusing thing. Isn't it more logical to buy local products since it's a garantee that is by far more fresh than if it's imported from some foreign country and transported in trucks, planes and coolhouses? But after a while of "brainwashing" you start to believe that yourself and pick up the "Mueller Yoghurt" instead of the "Benna" one. With Malta's joining the European Union and with the changes and progresses that the country has been making in the past few years, things and attitudes have definately changed. Maltese products are really compatible in pricing and quality. Nowadays, I ONLY try to buy local and ONLY pick up some foreign stuff, if I really need to. Just look at the tomatoes. There are the BEST in the world. They might not be the most prettiest looking (although personally, I really fancy their looks) but you can taste that these tomatoes have been nurtured by Mediterrenean Sun. Foreign "glasshouse" tomatoes are really tasteless and watery compared to the deep red and plum Maltese ones.

Last Sunday, we made a trip down to Burmarrad to see a small exhibition of local produce. For a while now, I have been noticing a "going back to the roots" mentality. Apart from wine, local olive oil making has becoming a new trend in Malta. This was reflected at the market, every item presented was homemade and shown off with pride. There was basically everything your heart desires from sun dried tomatoes, honey, delicious Maltese hobza (bread), olive oil and handmade pottery.
A bottle of 1 liter Maltese olive oil (from hundreds of year old trees from Wardija) costs LM 7 (Euro 16). It is not cheap but quality has its price.
You taste it on bread before it will be filled and bottled up right in front of your eyes.
My tastebuds got all teased and I was looking forward to lunch. We had outsourced a very special place, far off from the Maltese Sunday's traffic (I never seen so much traffic on a Sunday as here in Malta). I loved the trip over cliffs and green land, and all the others could hear from me, was: "Wow, how beautiful, oh how nice!" I really enjoy driving around Malta's countryside. It's like taking a fresh breath of air. I could have gone on like this forever but nothing is really far off here, even if it's hidden behind rolling hills of farmland near Mtahleb. My friends told me that we were going to a place that is called Rogantino's but is been referred to as the red castle. After a couple of wrong turns, a red painted farm house peaked off from behind the small village of Landrijiet (near Rabat, Mtfara). I think it's the last building and behind it is just farmland and beautiful countryside. It looks like out of a story book and I recommend to come at daytime to see it. Not only because you will have a better view but also because it is basically impossible to find it after dark, if you are not blessed by some supernatural navigation.

The place is magical. It has a lovely flower garden with pool and until September you can dine outside. The buidling has the typical Maltese farmhouse structure, with little passageways and stairs that lead to hidden roofs and entrances.
As we arrived, we were greeted by the owner. He knocked on the small wooden door in the courtyard and someone opened to let us in, as if we are visitors to someones private home.
From first impressions, the trip alone has been already worth to see the place. Everything has been kept with its original features: high vaulted stone ceilings, simple but traditional rustic farmhouse decoration.

The main room to the right can be booked for groups. For greater events their spciality is to roast a whole pig.
The view from the windows is beautiful and they also give lovely light. We were seated in the blue room (meaning white/ blue china on the wall and rustic tableclothes). The other rooms' theme is green.
The menu is not long and a bit pricy but everyone will be pleased to find something to their likings. All food is "home made style" meaning it tastes as if you go to Mama for Sunday lunch. The soup, in fact, made me a bit homesick since it reminded me of a good german soup cooked by my sweet grandma.
This is also another place that emphasis on meat dishes (pork, beef, duck). So if you are vegetarian call them up before and they will fix something special off the menu.
The lunch was very delightful, from food to the beaujolais and the company, you feel at home. The place has nostalgic atmosphere around it, making you also feel curious to discover all the other rooms of the house but good manners somehow holded me back.

The red castle (palace) is another example how mouth-to-mouth propaganda works in Malta. I do not think the owners do any kind of advertisement, nevertheless they have a strong clientile and are completly booked for the season. The reaturant is definately not easy to find and you should give Tony and Annette Grech a ring so they can explain the way to you.
I am sure you will have a great time, especially if you book the main hall for a baquette. And when you go, let them know how you had heard of them!

Il-Palazz l-Ahmar
Wied il-Busbies (oh, how sweet!)
Tel: 21 452003
Mobile: 7904 6082

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I'm in Love!

I think it happened to me! I just have to share this one with all of you. Last weekend we went out and intended to go to a new place called Il-Kastell in Tarxien. But somehow it was impossible to book since noone answered the phone (if anyone knows the place, please forward their number to me). So our friends decided to take us to one of their best well-kept secrets, Giuseppi's, a small restaurant/ wine bar in Mellieha. To tell you the truth, I was a bit dissapointed because I was looking forward all week to check out that place in Tarxien. Hehe, although our friends were raving about this place, I just didn't know what was expecting me!
But there it was: quite low profile, a corner house painted in red. The funny thing is, I never noticed it until I was told it's very close to the HSBC bank. In retrospect, the building's facade is quite lovely but since we were already late, as in true Maltese fashion, I didn't even have time to fully appreciate it.

The first thing I noticed upon entering was the cozyness of the place, which I always find very important. We waited a bit on the bar before we were seated downstairs, which makes up a small room with only three tables! Somehow, I felt very comfortable, though. I also loved the fact that the staff is very personal and probably this is due to being a family run business with lots of repeat visitors.

Well, I always write about wine bars and I haven't even mentioned yet what kind of wine we'd recommend. As I said before, I am not an expert on the subject and I rely heavely on the judgement of our good friend Mark. At least I made a try to memorize the names of the wines. This time we had two different white wines, a Chardonnay from South Australia called Yalumba and a Chardonnay from Chile called Casillero del Diablo (what a nice name, to think about it!).

What really made me fall in love though, was the FOOD! OMG, it is so delicious!!!! As a starter, I had an aubergine with parma ham, rock salad and topped with parmesan and pesto. I nearly died eating it... I was yearning for so much more! I could only console myself because I knew I had another 2 courses coming.
The guys had some weird fish thing, but they said it was very good. Anyway, my main course was very thinly sliced beef in olive oil and rock salad... WOW!!!! Everything tasted to original and fresh and I just love how they blend food and herbs. The only dissapointment you will find is if you are vegetarian. There isn't a huge choice between the risotto and risotto. But you can always order a dish without some ingredients. On the other hand, this place's speciality is on sea food.

For my final highlight, I ordered a lemon cheese cake. The waitress said it is one of their famous desserts... well if that's not reason enough to try it out!
I expected a normal cheese cake but this wasn't the case. It was more like an ice cream in disguise of a cheese cake! The base was so good...

At the end of the evening, I took the freedom to roam around the place. Upstairs encompasses two other rooms and is a bit spacier than downstairs. It also runs on the same decoration theme.
All in all, we had a great night out. I am still dreaming about the food at Guiseppi's and I can't wait to go back there... it is that good! Highly recommended, but be carefull, you might fall in love!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Revelation about the Maltese language

As a few of you know, I have lately taken up evening classes to learn Maltese. Now that I made the final move to come here for good I thought it's about time I learned it! For years I have been trying to catch some few phrases but I guess it's just hopeless when you live in a country where everybody speaks English as his second language. It's just too tempting to keep a conversation going in English instead of trying to reply in broken Maltese, which would also demand a lot of patience on both sides. On the other hand, while everyone is socializing and cracking up about jokes, I have to try to figure out what has been said. Thank God, the Maltese are so friendly and will translate everything for you. Usually a conversation goes like this: "Jessica, wait a second, I will say it first in Maltese and then I translate it to you!" Then everybody is laughing their behinds off until my questioning eyes will draw the attention back to me and someone will make the neccessary translation. Which is actually not so bad because like this I managed to catch up a bit and I always make a point to ask what certain words mean. To be honest though, the Maltese language has been tough on me. Not only because it's a complete mesh of different kinds of languages mixed up together but because I am missing the basics that I can only get in school. So this year I've gotten serious on this matter and signed up with the Education Department. The Maltese government offers its citizens a very inexpensive way to further studies and there are hundreds of interesting courses to choose from. I think i will be quite busy for the next few years taking courses such as "How to set up your own business", "graphic design", and several Art classes. If you like more information on this CLICK HERE.

The other great part about evening classes is that you get to know other people. Especially if you are a foreigner deciding to reside in Malta it will help you building up a network and it is also very reassuring to talk to people who have made similar experiences as yourself (as in the case of learning Maltese). Sometimes, we all crack up in class by our different accents and bad pronounciation.. but hey it's fun! I really admire Grego, who has just recently moved to Malta and is actually practicing his Maltese daily without having taken classes (I guess, its due to him being multi-linguism). By the way, his blog is a great read, very informative (check out the section about the Maltese language) and so funny at the same time!!!
Anyway, yesterday in class I had the weirdest revelation. In fact we are not all foreigners learning Maltese but we also a Maltese person in class. Yep, I know. What is a Maltese doing in a Maltese language beginners course? I was wondering the same thing. As I have found out not all Maltese people speak their mother tongue since they have grown up speaking English at home, at school and with friends. I know it sounds quite weird not to know your mother tongue but Maltese people were and still are very much influenced from the times when their country was an English colony. There are also many marriages that are between a Maltese person and a foreign person. So I guess at home the family will communicate in English rather than in Maltese.
I learned as well that there are quite a few number of "pure" Maltese people that were raised in this sort of English-speaking environment and today hold very high government positions. I guess it really boils down to the fact that Malta is very small nation compared to other countries, was an Englsh colony for ages, and English just sipped through. Not to forget that it is actually the second official language of the country. Due to its tiny size, many Maltese also call Italian their third language. I think it's so great to grow up with more than one language but then again it is quite strange, especially for people who don't know Malta, to imagine that they are people that do not know how to speak their own language properly.
I guess, it also depends in what part of Malta you live... yep that's right! Yeah I know, I just said Malta is tiny. But still it makes a difference in which part of the island you were raised or in what town you live. For example, the area around Sliema is known for its "snobbish" English speaking Maltese people. Yep, there you will find people that prefer English as their language and only mix in a few Maltese words from time to time. More in the South, in the harbour area people mainly speak Maltese and know sometimes little English (especially the older generation). The people on Gozo then again have their own specific dialect that make them sound so different from the rest of the nation. Don't get me wrong though, I am generalzing here and more and more of the Maltese population gets all mixed up together and you wouldn't tell where someone is from. What is striking though and you'll notice it when reading the newspaper or talking to people, is that lately there has been a strong Maltese sentiment going on. Like a "going back to the roots" and people are starting to actually appreciate and find pride in their own language. That comes as no surprise to me, since your language is your identity and that is exactly what the Maltese, as a tiny nation, want to keep alive for themselves and for their cultural survival!