A Mediterranean Fish Market: The Marsaxlokk Market in Malta

On a Sunday morning in Malta, colors, sounds, and smells all fought for my attention. Walking through the traditional fish market in Marsaxlokk, a basket of rich, purple eggplants caught my eye, but soon I was distracted by a fisherman slicing off salmon steaks.

Remarking on huge heads of broccoli, a crate of fish fresh from the boat was piled for display. Local ladies rushed for the just-off-the-boat catch to make the first selections.

There are many beautiful places in Malta, but one of the most fascinating is certainly this traditional market in Marsaxlokk. Beyond the spectacle of the fish and produce, there are also souvenirs such as honey and local wine you can bring home. Over the course of my entire trip to Malta, this was also the only time I heard the local Maltese language being spoken all around me.

Welcome to Marsaxlokk

Another striking feature at the market is all the traditional Maltese boats, called Luzzu, bobbing in the water. If I hadn’t already made plans for lunch, I would have grabbed some of the strawberries marked ‘6 pots for 3 euros’ and sat down on one of the docks to sample the berries and watch the boats come and go in the harbor.

These traditional fishing boats are painted bright shades of blue, yellow, red, and green. Upon taking a closer look, I realized that each boat also has an eye painted on its side. I learned from a guide that this tradition survived from the times of the Phoenicians, and that the eye is a symbol of power, protection, and good health.

A Walk Through the Marsaxlokk Market

I stood at the perimeter of the market and thought: this is why Maltese restaurants are so outstanding. The evening prior, I savored every morsel of a meal at de Mondion, the restaurant of a boutique hotel called Xara Palace in the ancient town of Mdina. This Sunday morning, encountering all of the produce and fish, I thought how lovely it would be to work as a chef in Malta with this bounty of ingredients.

The market isn’t particularly large, but it will take some time to walk through. Half the fun is slowing down, watching the transactions between the local people, and listening to the descriptions of the fish (when some English is spoken). The fishermen were hacking up all sorts of Mediterranean fish to order, for both restaurants and locals. The fresh food would certainly be on the table within hours.

More Fascinating Market Sights

Beyond the fish and the produce, there were many more intriguing sights at the Marsalokk market. A group of local children were crowded around a display of baby chicks and exotic birds being sold as pets. The fuzzy little creatures seemed to be trying to get some sleep despite the constant tapping on the glass from toddlers.

Local lace was seen in every possible form, including tablecloths, napkins, skirts and headbands. Chocolate, honey, wine, and jams were all available for sale. My guide suggested that I keep my eyes open for one certain thing: the prices locals were being offered. If I had just seen a local pay a certain price for an item, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to request the same price. Visitors, however, are often quoted prices that are higher – although not outrageously so.

Beyond the Market

Of my entire visit to Malta, wandering through this market was the best immersion into local culture I experienced. The combination of the spoken Maltese language, families out for their weekly shop, children running around with playful excitment, and the fish being handed from the boat directly to the stall, are all rich memories that form the foundation of my impression of Malta.

Beyond the market, other highlights of my trip to Malta included seeing paintings by Caravaggio, strolling the silent streets of Mdina at sunset, and gazing down into the harbor of Valletta from the Upper Barrakka Gardens.

If you happen to be in Malta on a Sunday morning, be sure to treat yourself to an early stroll through the Marsaxlokk market. You’ll be glad you did.

Written by and photos by  Jessica Colley for EuropeUpClose.com

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