shops come by the dozens. There’s one, three or more in practically every town and village in Malta. But the Crystal Palace in Rabat is something else again. Known by its nickname of Is-Serkin (the horse sulky) this small hole in the wall has been there for over a hundred years, a small family run bar originally established to cater for the British services in nearby Mtarfa – itself practically a garrison town in its heyday.
Is-Serkin is known throughout Malta as the one place where one can satisfy his pastizzi cravings at practically all hours. The shop closes for just an hour or two after midnight during weekdays and is open most days by 4am to welcome its first patrons. During weekends a 24/7 schedule is quite the norm. Owner Martin Azzopardi, who took over from his father some forty years ago, seems to be there all hours. One wonders if he ever gets to sleep in fact…
The shop is patronised by all sorts. In the late night weekend hours it is a favourite with youths nursing a hangover after a night at Paceville while most mornings half the pensionable male population of Rabat seems to visit at some point. Sunday mornings see is-Serkin at its busiest – with families having their tea and pastizzi breakfast there and people spilling over outside discussing everything under the sun.
In spite of its spartan looks (ironically a part of its abundant charm), no- frills but friendly enough service and limited fare, the Crystal Palace is undoubtedly an institution of sorts in its own way and almost an icon and showcase for the humble
pastizz; a throwback to a slower paced life, and a gleeful and naughty one finger salute to health conscious low cholesterol living. Located strategically close to Mdina and on the main street which from the Roman Domus leads to Saint Paul’s church and the Catacombs, the Crystal Palace invariably draws in a good number of tourists who are attracted by the pastizzi aromas and the conviviality of the place. And when a hearty meal of pastizzi and tea puts you less than £1 back one can quite see the point too.