A Taste of Tradition: The Cultural Importance of Maltese Bread
Bread has long held a special place in the hearts and homes of the Maltese people. It is more than a staple; it is a culinary gem closely tied to the identity and way of life of the island. Traditional Maltese bread stands out among the tapestry, beckoning visitors, and locals alike to experience its simple yet mouth-watering flavour.
Maltese bread, known locally as “Il-Ħobż tal-Malti,” has a centuries-long history dating back to the Phoenician period. As new bread-making techniques and equipment were introduced to the islands, the form, ingredients, and texture of Maltese bread evolved naturally as time passed by. Interestingly, the traditional bread recipe underwent considerable changes with the arrival of the Knights of St. John in Malta in the 16th century. The Knights brought new ingredients with them, such as wheat flour and yeast, which improved the native bread-making technique.
The backdrop of the First World War resulted in increasing living costs, particularly the price of bread, due to rising wheat prices. The millers, on the other hand, worked hard to keep their earnings while making bread a need rather than a luxury for Maltese families. The British governor’s refusal to provide millers subsidies kept bread prices soaring, causing Maltese to take to the streets in a fight for survival. Two mills in Hamrun, Farrugia and Francia’s, were wrecked as well as four people were murdered during the unrest of the riots. This important date, known as “Sette Giugno” (7 June), is now a national holiday on the Maltese islands, recognising the Maltese people’s struggle and tenacity.
Bread was a critical resource not only in Malta, but in many other Mediterranean countries. From the 17th through the 19th century, it even became a method of payment. Maltese bread was always sought after due to the absence of preservatives or artificial chemicals, enriching its authenticity, relying instead on simple, fresh ingredients and a slow fermentation process. The ingredients of Maltese bread are incredibly simple, incorporating just flour, yeast, water, olive oil, and sea salt, albeit recipes can vary widely from one baker to another, resulting in minor variations in the final product. However, traditionally the process incorporates adding wheat flour, water, salt, and yeast in a mixing bowl, carefully kneading a dough until it is smooth and elastic before letting it rest to double in size. The dough is then formed into oval loaves and cooked in a hot wooden oven until it has a pleasing crustiness and a golden colour. Making the actual form of this bread, on the other hand, involves a more extensive technique.
A variation of the Maltese bread is the ‘ftira’ – another traditional bread with a hotter baking temperature and famously characterised by its thick crust and irregular ring shape.
The central city of Qormi earns the moniker of “Casal Fornaro” or the Village of Bakeries, dating back to the era of the Knights of Malta. This town is well-known for having outstanding bakeries and producing delicious bread. A yearly event celebrating Qormi’s rich cultural history takes place in the heart of the city, now expecting to host its 16th edition.
Furthermore, Maltese bread tastes are not limited to bakeries. Bread is offered in the majority of cafés and certain traditional restaurants, making it one of the most commonly served foods on Maltese menus. Savouring the flavour of this renowned bread, whether the classic Maltese loaf or the distinctive ftira, is an essential part of experiencing the island’s rich culinary culture. We recommend you to try the Maltese ftira with tuna and a side of fries near a coastal area to truly revel in an authentic local experience!