Just about two blocks from the main street that cuts through Valletta, I came across a sandwich board positioned outside a quiet and unassuming restaurant, Legligin Wine Bar, named for the Maltese onomatopoeic word for glugging down a drink, with the frames around its door and sign painted a vibrant red. Written in chalk, the tasting menu promised a full range of Maltese foods at a very reasonable price. I figured that would be a great way to initiate myself into a totally unfamiliar cuisine. I took a table in the bi-level restaurant and listened to the low-key music as I noticed the mismatched dishes on the tables and the cubbyholes in the wall for wine bottles.
The owner and two waitresses were eager to share their realm with a neophyte. Forthcoming with explanations of the selections they were serving me and kindly accommodating my shellfish allergies, they introduced me to a world of delectable food over a nine-course meal that spanned nearly three hours, arousing in me a newfound passion for this fantastic fare.
Try This: The tasting menu will commence with Maltese bread and some Sicilian olive oil, but if you ask for Maltese olive oil, produced in Gozo and a little lighter than its Italian neighbor’s, the wait staff will be more than happy to bring it to you. Choose the rewarding Melqart, a ruby-red Maltese Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot named for a Phoenician god that bears an aroma of ripe berries with a blackberry flavor coming to the fore. Then settle in for a seemingly endless parade of some of the most flavorful food you’re likely to taste in all of Europe: vegetable soup with carrots, mushrooms, and potatoes; a duo of tapenades: olive and cheese with almonds and garlic, and bell pepper with olives; rabbit pate and red, yellow, and green bell peppers with eggplant and onions; Maltese sausage in tomato sauce; octopus with garlic and herbs, and poached sea bream with garlic butter; mozzarella, tomatoes, eggplant, and herbs, alongside pork sausage with vegetables; pork stew with potatoes, cauliflower, and beans; braised rabbit; and, finally, for dessert, three types of chocolate truffles: chili, ginger, and white chocolate with orange. And just when you think you couldn’t consume another morsel, you’ll be served—and will happily legligin—a complementary limoncello from Gozo that could void your sinuses for a month.