Ask long-time Malta residents about kiosks and the chances are they will reminisce about their childhood and fondly remember hot summer evenings doing the routine ‘passeggiata’ (a stroll taking in the cool air of evening) on the Sliema front. In the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, a pit stop at a kiosk would have been a highlight for kids, as, with luck, they’d manage to persuade parents to buy them an orzata or an ice cream. Old photos of Sliema and Balutta seafronts show kiosks in their glory days.
The kiosk became a hot topic a few months ago when the famed ‘Magic Kiosk’ magically disappeared almost overnight! The Magic Kiosk began life in the seventies in modest size, but grew to fill nearly all St Anne Square, Sliema. But since it had only temporary rights of residence – which expired in 2008 – it was demolished by the authorities and the square returned to landscaped glory, with seating and a fountain, as a much-needed lung in this busy urban area.
True old-style kiosks (not the Magic Kiosk, which was a 70s’ restaurant) are somewhat fewer and farther between. You’ll still find some open for business – Upper Barrakka Gardens, Valletta; the square in Balutta; and this one above (which is larger than the truly old-style ones) outside Lower Barrakka Gardens, also Valletta. Until a couple of years ago, a tiny round one was still open, nestling under the arches at the back of Republic Square, Valletta. Now its shutters are tightly down, but it used to have queues of kids waiting for orzata on a hot summer’s day.
In Valletta, you’ll see another on Republic Street with the junction of St John’s Street – it sells flowers, but is well preserved and fine example of what the Maltese kiosk in its heyday would have been.
Instead of the quaint kiosk, the temporary motor van with flip-up serving hatch has mushroomed (and not just at festas) serving fried food as well as obligatory ices, beers, sweets, cakes and coffees. The Sliema-Gzira seafront and the Qawra-Bugibba coast has a lot of these motorvan hawkers around. They do serve a purpose, and are as convenient as their convenience food suggests.
But patronise the older kiosks, and you are likely to find yourself in a picturesque spot, enjoying a moment off from the street’s bustle. Also, if you know of some gems of old-style kiosks, please comment so we can build a list of them all – before they vanish.