Most probably the best bread
in the world
Joseph C. Camilleri
Maltese market offers a great variety of
bread. Some are typically Maltese while
others are "imported". The original Maltese
bread comes in various forms. There is the
flat ring of non-leavened dough called ftira
and the qagħqa ta' l-Appostli (a large
"Apostles' ring-bread). But the most popular
type of bread is the dark-brown round crusty
loaf, known as ħobża.
There are several reasons which explain the
popularity of the ħobża. This loaf is
slightly sweet and has a delicious crust.
Moreover, it has pure and sustaining
qualities. To make it more delicious, some
bakers sprinkle the top with sesame seeds.
This loaf is made from locally milled flour. As
Maltese agriculture does not produce enough wheat,
this important item has been imported since a very
long time. At first it used to be imported from
neighbouring Sicily. The Knights of St. John built
underground granaries to store this important wheat,
some of which are found at Floriana (known as
il-Fosos) and others at Valletta adjacent to Fort
Whenever wheat was scarce on the market, a mixed
flour used to be produced known as il-maħlut. This
consisted of a mixture of rye and wheat.
Another type of ħobża is the ftira. it is unleavened
bread flat in shape with a crust peculiar taste and
moist crumb. Many buy a piece of ftira besides their
daily loaf and latecomers find this from of bread
has been sold out.
Bread production used to be carried out in every
locality. Large urban areas had a bakery or two,
sometimes more. Some localities have a street named
Bakery Street in memory of a former bakery, such as
at Lija and Valletta. The most popular place for
bread-making was Qormi. It was referred to as
Casal Fornaro (the village of bakers).
It is a
documented fact that before the Knights
built their bakery at Valletta, their major
establishments, such as the auberges, the
Grand Master's Palace and hospital, were
supplied with bread from Qormi. Some believe
that this was due to two major reasons.
Qormi was already well known as a bread
making centre while it was the nearest large
locality to Valletta, as Floriana and Marsa
were still non-existent.
According to hearsay, Qormi was a place
where malaria flourished as it was situated
in a low lying position. The health problem
was solved by the warm dry air, offered by
the ovens. Qormi became one of the most
healthy districts in Malta.
The Maltese do not consider a good meal
complete without a piece of this crusty
bread. They insist on
having fresh bread
and possibly still warm from the oven. This is why
bakers have to start working either late at night or
in the early hours of the day, to have a supply of
bread ready for an early delivery.
A second bake is made at a later hour. Usually
clients come and collect their bread from the bakery
themselves. Bakers also prepare a third bake to
supply the local market with bread for those who
have their main meal late after returning from their
place of work.
A word associated with bread is bukkun or
kumpanaċċ. This was used to express the food
taken in small proportions with bread. The latter
word is a corruption of the Latin word
Cumpanatico. The Maltese considered bread as a
special grace of God. This concept made bread to be
treated in a special manner. When a person had to
cut the loaf, he or she would sign it with a cross
before using the knife to slice it.
On the other hand if a person finds a piece of bread
on the wayside, he would lift it, reverently kissed
it and placed it on a wall or ledge so that it would
not be trodden under another person's or animal's
foot. Why? The Maltese associated bread with the
Last Supper, that is when Jesus Christ instituted
the Holy Eucharist.
While you are in Malta ask for a dark-brown crusty
loaf. Cut thick slices. Rub the slices with tomato
halves, dab them slightly with oil and vinegar, and
sprinkle some salt and freshly milled pepper. Add
capers, and mint and you can feast on a delicious