09 MAY 2017: When my cousin Clare invited me out for lunch on my visit to Malta, she said we were going to a place in the country. When I asked what kind of restaurant it was; she paused and said it wasn’t exactly a restaurant. It didn’t exactly have a license. It wasn’t technically legal. I moved closer along the bench “I’m listening,” I said.

She had made a reservation for lunch at place that was essentially a stand-alone building in the countryside where a family would prepare lunch on request basis only.

Clare called our outing a fenkata. “Is that Maltese for felony?” I asked with a wink. “No, it was Maltese for feast of rabbit,” she said as she winked back.

The invitation to a fenkata came on my third full day on the island, having seen people driving cars in the bus lanes and parking in unauthorized yellow lines. I was becoming acclimatized to municipal infractions. “Bring it!” I said. My eyes were wide open.

I can tell you that our fenkata was taking place in farmers’ fields, but that is the only navigational information that I can share. We were a group of ten. Let’s leave it at that.

Our convoy drove on meandering roads (first to honk gets right of way) passing through simple villages with extraordinary churches.

We arrived at a structure among artichoke fields and sat at tables on a patio. Our appetizer was hobz-biz zejt, Malta’s favourite food, made with Maltese bread (crusty sour dough baked in wooden ovens) olive oil, tomatoes, olives, capers salt and pepper.

The combination of the bright Mediterranean sun, Maltese wine (that Jamie Oliver describes as blessed by ancient gods) and warm laughter was an amenable introduction to criminality. I was starting to look at lawlessness with a new set of eyes.

We went inside for a succession of dishes that included spaghetti with rabbit in a tomato sauce and baked rabbit with coleslaw and French fries. I debated about stealing a salt packet but decided to pace myself. After all, it was my first act of delinquency.

Our meal ended with a fragrant coffee and cake for dessert and just as we were finishing up, a man walked by with a dog on a leash.

“They are going shopping” Clare said, and when I looked at her quizzically she explained “in the field, shopping for the next fenkata”.

I closed my eyes.

 

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Pam Stellini

Pam Stellini delivers her original spin on alternate Tuesdays in her column Without Reservations. (Formerly titled, Notes from A Broad)

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