Traditional Maltese bread holds a special place in the hearts of the Maltese and anyone who visits the islands.
The rustic, crispy loaf is a unique mix of harmonious flavours and textures resulting from a long history of baking techniques and local traditions. And, despite being around for centuries, this tasty, crusty sourdough bread is now woven into local culture, cuisine, and life.
Its distinctive appearance makes it easy to spot in the local bakeries spread around the island. And its versatility makes it a staple in the rich local cuisine.
In this blog, we’ll look at the history of Maltese bread. This includes its ingredients, and the cultural significance of the beloved bread in the rich local cuisine.
History of Maltese Bread
Maltese bread, known in Maltese as “Il-Ħobż tal-Malti”, dates back centuries, more precisely to the Phoenician period (725-218 BC).
Naturally, its form, ingredients, and texture evolved as more bread-making techniques and tools were introduced to the islands.
The arrival of the Knights of St. John in Malta in the 16th century, for example, introduced ingredients such as wheat flour and yeast to the traditional recipe. Similarly, the Italian bakers who joined the Knights brought new ways to enrich the technique used by the locals to make their bread.
Throughout history, Maltese bread has influenced not just the local cuisine but also part of the islands’ history too.
The most significant event related to this happened under British rule (1800–1964 AD) in 1919. On the 7th of June, the Maltese population rebelled against the British colonial rulers, as well as the bourgeoisie and flour mill owners, during a period of unrest.
The First World War (1914-1918) had increased living costs. This naturally included the price of bread, as the price of wheat had risen.
Despite all this, the millers wanted to keep making profits at the expense of making bread a luxury rather than a staple among Maltese families.
The British governor declined to provide subsidies to millers, which kept the price of bread extremely high, eventually leading the Maltese to take to the streets to fight for their survival.
Two mills in Hamrun the Farrugia and Francia’s mills were destroyed, with four people losing their lives during the riots.
This event is known as “Sette Giugno” (translating to the 7th of June) and is now a public holiday on the islands, commemorating this occurrence.
Ingredients of Maltese Bread
Over time, Maltese bread evolved to have its distinct characteristics. And although slight variations exist, especially with more modern technology, there’s still a traditional way of making Maltese bread.
Traditional Maltese bread is known for not having any preservatives or artificial additives. The secret of the authentic version of the loaf lies in the simple and fresh ingredients that make it a true culinary delight, and in the slow fermentation process used.
So, what ingredients do bakers use to make Maltese bread?
The key ingredients used are flour, yeast, water, olive oil, and sea salt. Recipes may however vary from baker to baker.
The process involved to make this bread is far more intricate than the essential ingredients, resulting in a crunchy exterior, and soft and chewy crumb.
The simplified method version is to mix wheat flour, water, salt, and yeast to form a dough. Then, knead the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic, and allow it to rise until it doubles in size.
Finally, shape the dough into round or oval loaves and bake it in a hot wooden oven until crusty and golden.
However, making the authentic version of this bread is more complicated than this. Plus, it usually involves one secret ingredient or two!
Where and how to try Maltese bread
Finding tasty Maltese bread is as easy as its ingredients.
You’ll find many bakers selling either the Maltese loaf of bread or a variation called “ftira”. Bakers usually bake the latter, an unleavened, flat-shaped bread, before making loaves.
However, Qormi, known as “Casal Fornaro” (the Village of Bakeries) during the rule of the Knights of Malta, takes the spotlight as the town renowned for its excellent bakeries and bread.
Qormi also organises an annual event to celebrate their culinary tradition, Lejl f’Casal Fornaro, on the third Saturday of October.
So if you’re visiting the island around that time, consider attending this fair, you’ll definitely sample some of the best bread and get a snippet of the local life!
The filling is entirely up to you and your preferences. However, there’s a traditional way to savour it in its authentic form.
And that is with a generous spread of tomato paste (known as “kunserva”) and a delicious mix of canned tuna, olives, capers, onions, garlic, olive oil, parsley, and salt and pepper.
Once again, everyone has their recipe too. Some add gbejna (local goat cheese), broad beans, and more.
You can also sample ready-made bread at most cafes and some traditional restaurants, as it’s probably one of the most common items on most Maltese menus!
Experience Malta at 1926 Hotel
There’s nothing like sampling the local food to live a destination to the fullest. And let’s face it, the Maltese Mediterranean cuisine is already worth the trip.
Maltese cuisine reflects the island’s rich history and diverse influence. So, whether you’re a foodie looking to experience the local cuisine or a traveller seeking to immerse yourself in the local culture, choosing a hotel in the heart of Malta will help you make the best out of your stay.
Our hotel is located in Sliema, and surrounded by local and traditional cafes and restaurants. It’s also well-connected to quaint villages and towns that will give you a taste of what living in Malta is really like.
Book your room now, or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or + 365 21333565 for more information.