Its prime location right in the middle of the Mediterranean means that Malta has an abundance of fish and seafood available. Fishing used to be a primary source of income and food supply for centuries so much so that in the past, fishermen used to sell their fare in the fish market located in Valletta. Today, the local fish culture has transformed, with the country importing and exporting various types of fish overseas.
Versatile enough to be prepared and consumed in a variety of ways, it is an excellent and delicious source of nutrition, high in protein, vitamins and minerals such as zinc, iodine, iron, selenium and essential fatty acids such as omega 3 oils, which are all beneficial to our development. As a result, what was once an inexpensive meal has nowadays become a highly recommended staple both at restaurants and in household kitchens.
Where Should You Get Your Fish From?
The Marsaxlokk fish market is probably the island's most famous destination for fresh fish, however, if venturing to the south early on a Sunday morning is not your thing, then you can visit one of the many fish shops situated in practically every town and city. Local fishmongers have strong links to the sea with many being in the industry for generations. In fact, some stores have transformed from small fish shops to large businesses with numerous stores offering a wide selection of fish and seafood all year round. From families to restaurants and yachtsmen, fishmongers act as both wholesalers and retailers, selling their products to all sorts of customers.
The Most Popular Fish in Malta & Gozo
The Maltese Islands boast a wide variety of local fish. Amongst the most popular ones you'll find the gilthead bream (awrata) which is successfully farmed locally, the dusky grouper (cerna), a flaky fish with a distinctive mild flavour, the dolphin fish (lampuka), one of the island's favourite fish and the swordfish (pixxispad). A migratory predatory fish, a swordfish can grow to around 3 metres in length, while its snout or ‘sword' is used to slash at its prey or to injure it rather than to spear with it. Other options include the mackerel (kavall), a highly nutritious yet inexpensive fish that is an excellent source of Vitamin D, the seabream (kahli) and the bogue (vopi). These fish are also a good choice since they are low in mercury.
How to Choose Fresh Fish
If you're not used to purchasing fish from your nearest fishmonger or market, then you might be concerned whether the fare you're about to take home is truly fresh. Don't fret. There are a number of things you need to look out for when inspecting the fish that is on display and doing so is important not only to determine its freshness but in order to recognise whether it was pre-frozen and is now being sold as a fresh staple.
One of the easiest tricks is to check the fish's eyes. These should be clear with dark pupils and they must look as life-like as possible. Next, have a good sniff and pay attention to any foul smells. Remember that fresh fish should smell like the sea and not like fish, while the same applies to shellfish. Avoid anything that has an overpowering smell. Another option is to have a look at the gills which should be red in colour. Stay away from anything close to brown or even black.
Other Products Found at Fishmongers
From fresh to frozen, local fishmongers have a wide variety of fish and seafood, both local and imported, as well as wild and farmed. Amongst the most popular types of seafood one finds scallops, mussels, razor clams and clams which are also known as vongole, calamari, prawns and shrimps. Seasonality affects what is available, just as much as things like weather conditions, most especially if the shop also operates boats and catches its own fish.
On the other hand, frozen alternatives that are either local or imported consist of cod, salmon, swordfish, dogfish or dusky grouper steaks, lobsters and an assortment of breaded fish products which normally feature white fish such as cod, haddock or pollock. Other alternatives include smoked variations like smoked swordfish and salmon, to name a few. Typically, fresh fish is bought by the kilo or by piece, although some stores may have prepackaged fresh fish in portions. Pricing is usually displayed either on tags alongside the fish or on the wall as a chart. On the other hand, frozen fish is generally prepackaged, with pricing still being per kilo.
In addition, if you're buying fresh fish, you may request to have it cleaned and descaled, while if you have opted for a large piece, this can be filleted for you to make things easier for cooking. In fact, equipped with a number of tools, fishmongers can do a number of things such as remove scales with a fish scaler, pull out pin bones, fillet fish, while with a curved knife they can gut fish and remove roe.
What's more, depending on the store, some may also prepare a range of fresh, ready-made seafood meals like salmon en croute, fishcakes, fish pâtés and seafood kebabs, while others may also stock condiments, sauces and other related products.
Fish is one of the most popular superfoods, however, if you're interested in adding more superfoods to your diet we have a great round-up of the top superfoods here.