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30 April 2019

Maltese Center


After some travels to Malta in late summer last year, I briefly did a search for the Maltese community and events in New York City and was pleasantly surprised to find the Maltese Center in Astoria. Sitting just south of I-278, the center has views of traffic on and off the Triborough Bridge and sits conveniently close to the Astoria Blvd station on the N line.

This group was created in 1979, the building opened in 1982, and is the only one in town nowadays. Decades ago, the Maltese community was a bit more prominent and there were a few centers around, but the mission here is to bring everyone together and keep the community and culture strong for Maltese people in New York City and their families who are raised here.

The only other artifact of Malta nowadays is nearby Leli's Bakery, written about here in 2014 and which caters their famous pastizzi to the Maltese Center on Sundays and some other occasions. For a quick sampling, go there first as the center is technically just for members. Once you make friends during an event, multiple friendly folks will invite you back for pastizzi and coffee on the weekend.

They do put on quite a few of these events, of which I have been monitoring but unable to attend until this past weekend when they threw a majjalata, a traditional whole hog roast. This kind of event was one I unfortunately did not make when visiting the Mediterranean island nation, but is wildly popular as a type of gathering and excuse to get together, eat, and talk to friends and family.

Their Facebook page, which you should give a follow if you want to see future events, started teasing photos of the uncooked pig during the morning of the event.

Photo courtesy of Maltese Center NYC.

As people started to show up even before the listed start time, filtering downstairs to the center's event space, a DJ was spinning and the bar was ready to quench your thirst. Some members took their seats and kept their eyes on the buffet table and on the back door, where presumably the hog would arrive from.

When the main course finally did show up, it was announced it needed to cool but not for long. Folks with growling bellies were encouraged to start with some of the various pasta salads and side dishes that were available.

The one everyone came to see.

Eventually, the butcher's knife acted like a dinner bell, the thwack, thwack of meat being carved and cut into small pieces got everyone's attention and the meal was ready to be served. After enjoying these proceedings for a bit (below), I took my plate over and was given a huge portion of different pieces and skin, an enormous amount of meat for one person to consume. It seemed to be their way of making sure nothing would go to waste because the beast had plenty to go around despite the good turnout.

Before I left the counter, the man serving pushed a squeeze bottle towards me and encouraged the generous usage of a vinegar sauce. I doused my pig and went back to the table to enjoy.

After everyone was stuffed, a woman from the center started preparing slices of bread with what initially looked like bright fruit jam but was actually a sweet tomato spread. When I came over and showed my curiosity, another woman was happy to explain this was hobz biz-zejt (below), a common Maltese snack whose consumption on the island she compared with the way US Americans eat chips.

The whole event was put on to raise money for the Maltese Center Dolphins, the organization's football club, and patrons were encouraged to wear their favorite club jerseys. Others were put on the walls and a good assortment of teams were represented although the Maltese community seemed to have overwhelming support for Manchester United, with Juventus, the US national team, and Tottenham also represented. Thankfully only one man put on a hideous Chelsea jersey and made his daughter do the same. Child abuse?

One of the club's members sported this jersey below with a Cisk sponsor, the most famous beer in Malta. Unfortunately the light lager was not available for purchase here at the club although it is on occasion found at beer retailers here and there in the states.

Thank you so much for the hospitality Maltese Center! I will definitely look forward to returning and joining more of the fun.


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