MALTESE SPECIAL OCCASIONS
Together with special family occasions such as weddings, christenings, birthdays, and funerals, the Maltese calendar includes Roman Catholic festivals, national holidays, and many local festas. It would be difficult to spot a time of year when nothing exciting is happening.
Special occasions are the time for sweet treats more than special main dishes. They are made extra-special because they are served or prepared only for specific festivals. Some of these include the following:
Christmas: Roast stuffed turkey and steamed plum puddings are the Christmas specialties. The Christmas pudding is usually made near the beginning of November then soaked with rum each following Sunday till the festive day. Hot chestnut soup (mbuljuta), flavored with cocoa and tangerine peel, and specially baked treacle rings (qaghaq talghasel) are also made. The latter is a white pastry filled with a rich treacle and semolina filling and shaped to form a round “sausage.” Small slits in the white pastry reveal the rich filling beneath.
Carnival: Loud bands, winding parades, and costumed figures mark the three-to-seven-day celebrations preceding Lent. Prinjolata, a rich pine nut cake, almond chunks, and qubbajt (nougat) are the special sweets.
Lent: Lenten restrictions have been considerably relaxed. Usually no meat is eaten, but dairy products and fats are now allowed. Kwarezimal, a Lenten cake containing no eggs or fat but made from minced almonds and flour, sugar and citrus zest, is still a tradition.
Easter: It wouldn’t be Easter without figolli, which are human and animal shapes cut from sugar-cookie dough filled with almond paste and brightly decorated with colored icing. Too good to save only for Easter and often made at other times are the tiny Rikotta-filled tartlets called qassatat.
Birthdays, Christenings: Biskuttini tal-maghmudija or christening biscuits are rich cookies shaped into rounds or oblongs. Biskuttini tal-lewz are delicately crisp almond meringues. Both are specialties of all christenings and most family gatherings and festas. But no Maltese birthday would be complete without xkunvat, fried twisted strips of rich pastry scented with orange-flower water and served in a golden crispy pile drizzled with Maltese honey (thyme-flavored) and colored “shot” (tiny pinheads of colored candies used for cake decoration).