Rabbit Stew – A Timeless National Dish Passed Down Through Generations
In the Maltese islands, rabbit stew has a long history of cultural significance. Wild rabbits quickly gained popularity in Malta when the Phoenicians introduced them as a dependable source of fresh meat. Because of their availability and affordability, they rapidly became a staple of regional cuisine. The popularity of rabbits soared after the Knights of St. John received Malta from Charles V of Spain in the 16th century. After the Knights issued edicts outlawing rabbit hunting in an effort to rescue them from extinction, eating rabbit came to represent defiance against the Order’s restrictions and a statement of Maltese identity.
After the lifting of the ban on rabbit hunting, the Maltese began domesticating local rabbits and raising them alongside other livestock. Rabbits are still used in traditional Maltese dishes, both domestically farmed and imported.
Fenkati, lavish feasts focusing on delicacies made from rabbit, are organised across the whole island all year round. Often, the main course is superb rabbit meat served with liver or heart as a garnish, while the starter is pasta with rabbit ragu. Side dishes can include British-style chips or the traditional Maltese patata fil-forn, roasted potatoes seasoned with fennel seeds and rosemary. Maltese rabbit stew is traditionally prepared by marinating rabbit joints in a combination of red wine, vinegar, bay leaves, and thyme. This meal has countless variations, and every family has a well-kept secret recipe.
Ultimately, Rabbit stew has an enduring appeal that draws attention to Malta’s rich cultural heritage and culinary traditions, making it a valued dish that documents the island’s past.