|Well I've been very busy of late, what with the new HQ to get sorted and the deadlines approaching on NiceCupOfTeaAndASitDown the book, so the biscuit reviews and sit downs for that matter have been a bit thin on the ground. So, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to take a look at some interesting biscuits that you might encounter when heading to the Mediterranean this summer, thanks to the expansion of the European Union. All baked in Malta by Regal biscuits there are some old favourites, some new twists on old themes and regional specialties. This week we'll look at three of their range, Imqaret, Muesli Digestives and Fig Rolls.
My source of information on Malta comes from Nanny Nicey who has been there twice. She says that most people travel round the island on a fleet on ancient yellow buses that date back to the 1930s, many of which have holes where you would normally expect to find floors, windows or doors. In the capital Valletta the buses congregate around the fountains near the city gate, which is where you can buy from a cake stall the local speciality of Imqaret, date filled and deep fried pastries. They are very frequently seen at the village Fiestas which take place through out the summer months. It is as much part of the summer/fiesta scene as are our toffee apples and candy floss are when you hit the seaside in the UK.
Apparently all the old buses are now going to be replaced, not because they have finally stopped working after seventy years, but because Malta joined the European Union on Saturday, May 1 2004 (BTW my 40th birthday) and no doubt will suddenly find it has laws against buses with holes in them.
So lets begin with Regal's Imqaret biscuit. The pack straight away mentions that they are 'Baked not Fried', which for any one used to the local pastries could be important. Looking like a long skinny fig roll the Imqaret feels familiar however the taste is most definitely North African influenced with date, orange and honey. I think most people will find these quite a tricky biscuit to get to grips with and again its one of those ones that works well with a gentle heating say in a microwave, as it helps release the exotic aromas, and emulates the freshly cooked street bought Imqaret. With only 12% fat and salt free you can experiment on these quite happily.
Rimus Riley, who now sell their biscuits under the Regal Brand name, is a family owned and run company. It has been producing biscuits and snacks since 1975 mainly for the local Maltese market, and has had some dealings with the export market, but not in a consistent manner. It employs over 60 people and is currently expanding its export business following a great deal of interest in its products.
Lets turn now to their Muesli Digestive. Now Muesli can be tricky old stuff and eating some of the more rustic versions can be like devouring a lightly shredded wickerwork chair. I always remember the wholefood shop in town when I was a student selling big sacks of 'community muesli' which looked like the sort of stuff they sweep up in a sawmill, presumably the community sawmill. There would always be a strategically placed single dried apricot pressed up against the side of the pillow sized bag to catch your eye. It would also serve to detract you from the chair leg bits of old raffia matting and other assorted kindling that was in there. My skinny Czech house mate used to take roughly two to three hours to eat a bowl of the stuff, during which he would complain about a possible reoccurring jaw dislocation injury. We had to ban Muesli when it was clear our plumbing wasn't designed to take the consequences.
So I expected a fairly rustic biscuit and wasn't too disappointed, still I didn't find anything woody so they must be using a domestic grade of muesli rather than the wattle and daub grade of my student memories. The biscuits were quite hard a brittle, with almost a vanilla note to their flavour. Not really like a conventional digestive, but certainly good fun to munch, down with a mug of tea.
Finally we tried the Fig Rolls. Like the Imqaret they were cut before baking. The crust was no shrinking violet, but a good amount of fig helped make this a well balanced biscuit. I thought the fig paste tasted very authentic, possibly because the Maltese are very comfortable with the fig. However, for some, the graphic representation of a fig on the pack might be too vivid if they don't want to make that association (a bit like people who only eat meat from animals that aren't cute).
Regal sent us some other biscuits to try including Yoghurt Creams, Jaffa Rounds and Apple Strudel Rolls. Of these the Yogurt Creams were very interesting definitely tasting of yoghurt, and the Apple Strudels were very much like the fig rolls only filled with some spiced apple. The jaffa rounds were probably the least impressive, but all in all we enjoyed much of what was on offer here so that bodes well for Mediterranean biscuit munching.
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