Malta Diary; Mnarja and Timpana Time – not for weight-watchers!
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Malta has no less than FIVE (yes, five!) national holidays, all commemorating various memorable events in history, (Independence Day, Freedom Day, the Great Siege etc).
Add to these a number of religious feasts, Christmas (now more commercial than religious) and New Year’s Day and one can rest assured the Maltese certainly know how and when to take their breaks – and enjoy them.
The feast of Saints Peter and Paul comes up this Friday, on 29th June and in Maltese is known as “Mnarja” (pronounced “Mnarya” because in Maltese “j” is pronounced as a “y”). It is one of the most traditional and among those that are most expected because the main emphasis is on Maltese food and drinks and all the in-betweens.
This year’s event was pre-empted for me by my cousin Michele who was born in and lives in England, daughter of a Maltese mother (my aunt) and a Welsh father who was in the Commandos and met my aunt while stationed in Malta, now sadly both passed on.
Last week Michele posted on her Facebook page that now she has heard all because the Maltese “timpana” was mentioned on Eastenders! Some of her British friends were nonplussed and wanted to know what that actually is? One thought it was a musical group based on “timpani” instruments!
It is actually a traditional Maltese dish of pasta baked in a dough crust. Some classify it to be Malta’s answer to pasta pie. The origins are probably Sicilian but the dish has taken its own format in Malta. Various versions are found throughout Italy, most commonly known as “timballo” with variations throughout regions as is very much the wont in Italy and Sicily.
A simplified explanation is that it is a macaroni pasta mix in pastry casing, oven-baked. This may be a number of round timpana pies, about ten centimetres in diameter or a massive timpana dish to be divided and served.
The pasta mix is that of macaroni boiled “al dente” tossed in a mixture of chopped tomatoes rendered a paste-puree to which various fried or stewed meats have been added. The meats vary regionally but the Maltese version is highly elaborate with a mixture of pork and beef mince, bacon and chicken livers. Lashings of onions and garlic fried in olive oil are added for flavour together with a pinch of grated nutmeg, bay leaves, grated parmesan cheese, three to six beaten eggs (depending on the quantity required) and a dash of fresh lemon juice.
The sauce is prepared in the traditional manner and then tossed together and placed in the pastry casing and then baked.
The end product is rich and filling and certainly not recommended for weight-watchers (well, not too often anyway).
That really sums Mnarja up – a time for pasta, baked macaroni, followed by fresh fried rabbit with all its trimmings (onions, garlic, lemon rind) and lashings of fresh fried chips and also naturally lashings of fresh-baked, crusty bread. If after all that you still have stomach space for more, fresh goat-milk cheeselettes and then a slice of sweet ricotta pie.
As I said, not for the faint-hearted and not for weight watchers!
Thousands flock to Buskett Gardens near Rabat (which celebrates the religious, church feast) on the eve (this Thursday evening) packed with food stalls offering all this and more. The background is of Maltese musical “ghana” which in recent years has been highly-revived.
Festivities continue on the day with cash-jingling food stalls and an agrarian festival of fresh farm produce, cheeselettes, jams, purees and prize competitions for domestic animals – and of course, horse races.
Foreign males intending to take a Maltese bride should be aware that traditionally in the past every groom had to promise their intended spouse that annually they will take her to the Mnarja Feast at Buskett!
“A donkey I was and 100 donkeys I have remained”
I was left in the dark with no information and now I have even less information and am even more in the dark.