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Notes from Malta: A horse is a course

Written By Scott Joseph On January 9, 2023

Malta Ext

I was strolling around Valletta, the capital of Malta, as one does, and came across Is-Suq Tal-Belt, an indoor food market off Merchants Street and decided to go in. It’s a sizable place – three floors – and similar to food halls you’d find in the states, with a variety of stalls selling all manner of food and drink.

But I was drawn to the Merkanti, which bills itself as selling Maltese street food (yes, street foods not sold on the street is a thing in Europe, too). It had a variety of grilled meats and stews in steam trays on display behind the glass panel. I was intrigued by the laham taz-ziemel, which is a traditional Matese preparation of horse meat.

Southeast Black November

Malta merkanti

Horse meat is regularly consumed in many European and Asian countries (Italy is one of the largest consumers), and it was even quite common in the U.S. not so very long ago. According to the AGDaily website, horse meat was on the menu at the Harvard Faculty Club as late as 1985, and you can still find “The Horsemeat Cookbook,” cheekily subtitled “Braising Saddles,” on Amazon. Some have taken to calling it chevaline, taking a cue from the Patagonian toothfish/Chilean seabass marketers.

Malta horse sign

So, standing there looking the horse meat in the mouth, as it were, I figured, “When in Rome…,” even though I had left Rome four days earlier and was now in Malta. You get my drift.

So I ordered it and I was totally unprepared for what the young man behind the counter asked next.

No, it wasn’t, “Do you want fries with that?” He asked, “Do you have high blood pressure?” I stood stunned for a moment, a bit gobsmacked by the question. I felt as though I might have to produce a doctor’s note before I could obtain my lunch. I told him I was healthy as a horse, though I think something may have been lost in the translation, but I was cleared to receive my order.

I’m not sure why he asked the question. According to an article in Philadelphia magazine, horse meat is decidedly better for you than beef. 

Malta horse dish

The meat was in small chunks and had been marinated in red wine and cooked with onions and garlic with marjoram and paprika thrown in. Kunserva, a tomato paste popular in Malta, was used to give it a tomatoey note.

However, the overriding flavor was vinegar, which remained dominant even when I spooned some over the rice that came with it. Easy to push away. Which is what I did, then I hoofed it back to my ship.

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