A highlight of culinary marvels to look out for at Valletta's newly restored indoor food market, Is-Suq tal-Belt.
The completion of the huge renovation of Is-Suq tal Belt (Valletta Indoor Market) was one of the first big things to happen in Valletta this year; the beginning of a succession of events in celebration of Valletta's year as European Capital of Culture. The traditional 19th century market had badly declined since the 1980s, but now, the gleaming overhauled food hall has been unveiled and is thriving with bustling life.
Before the very first market was built during the Order of St John, the square (named Piazza del Malcantone) was used as part of the gallows to parade guilty persons before being hanged in Floriana.
The first Valletta Market was completed in 1861, with 153 stalls plus 65 cellars, and flourished until it was bombed during WWII. Even though the damaged parts were repaired, the roof's symmetry was lost, and in 1966, the market was overhauled. A few years later, two new floors were built and a pair of escalators were installed. The result was a prosperous market, ehich flourished until its decline in the mid-1970s.
In 1982, the food market was transferred to Floriana, and a year later, the Valletta Market was re-branded as a shopping arcade called Ixtri Malti (Buy Maltese). The relocation was highly unsuccessful, and despite moving back to Valletta in 1989, the food market continued to decline.
As part of the Valletta regeneration master plan following Valletta's nomination for the European Capital of Culture 2018, Government issued restoration of the food market structure. The restoration included the dismantling of 1980s additions, while the original elements of the structure were preserved. With an art nouveau slant, the design of the Valletta Market was inspired by Covent Garden in London and Halles Centrales in Paris.
Now, the stalls within the building have been leased to a wide variety of catering establishments, offering visitors an immense choice of different food types, while a common area around a 360° bar allows for seating.
Downstairs, an elegantly designed supermarket by Arkadia makes food shopping all the more chic.
There's really something for everyone at Is-Suq tal Belt, but here are a few highlights not to be missed.
Zest's first street food
Zest is an award-winning restaurant in St Julian's that offers an encounter between Continental and Asian cuisine. Now visitors are able to experience a more casual version of the restaurant at the Zest Asian Street Food Stall, which presents signature sushi, steamed bao buns, healthy poke bowls, authentic noodles and curries.
The mozzarella bar
Seriously impressive mozzarella delights with all kinds of toppings - from sun dried tomatoes to arugula.
Vecchia Napoli's forte is its Neapolitan pizzas, made by pizzaoili who have been trained by famed pizzaoili in Naples. It's all made right there at the stall, using an enticing forno a legna (wood-burning oven).
For pasta lovers, the pasta stall offers all kinds of freshly made pasta with a myriad of sauce options.
Choose your fish, then cook it
T'Anna Mari has a sign outside that reads, 'Choose your fish and we cook it for you!' Perfect if you're looking for fresh fish and a say in how it's cooked. There's a wide variety on display - from lovely langoustines and oysters to local freshly caught fish.
Gelato made on the premises
Venchi offers proper Italian gelato, which Is made right there and then. Choose from original and focused flavours or go for a mix of gorgeous chocolate and candies from inside.
Platters & wine
To get away from the maddening indoor crowd, GINGER Eatery offers its own outdoor seating at the entrance of the market. Get a taste of Malta, Italy or Greece with a wide selection of gorgeous platters, like the Da Fonesca (marinated Maltese sausage, oven dried tomato, bigilla, white beans, peppered goat gbejna, anchovies, grissini and galletti). The wine list is a lot more robust than the indoor bar, so definitely the spot to park if you're looking for a good glass of wine and a bite.
One of Malta's best steakhouses in a stall
Xiwi live grill is the offshoot of Chophouse - one of Malta's preferred steakhouses. This meat-lover's stall offers everything from succulent burgers to heartier meat grills, such as rib-eye steak, BBQ pork ribs and spatchcock chicken.
If you're in the mood for something Spanish, Picoloco offers a broad range of tapas-style eats: Gambas al 'Ajillo', Tortilla Espanola, Calamares a la Romana con Ali Oli, Pulpo 'A Feira'... the menu goes on and on!
OPENING HOURS: 7am-10pm
Merchants Street, Valletta VLT 1175