Malta’s long-standing passion for bread-making is very much engrained in its history; for many cultures more than 2,000 years-old, this fascination is not uncommon in the slightest. In fact, on the contrary, it’s a strong symbolic gesture that is rather telling of the island’s cultural heritage. Also quite importantly, it signifies what grains were available to the people of that particular civilisation at that moment in time. For this reason, Malta’s tradition of bread-making remains an important part of history.
Ħobż is bread in Maltese. The etymology derives from an amalgamation of Semitic and Arabic, as is the case with a lot of its language. This is largely due to the vast number of cultural influences it has adopted into its rich tapestry of history. It was also once part of the Roman Empire, meaning that Malta acquired invaluable baking techniques from them. Still to this day, Roman-influenced bakers remain some of the best in the world.
Today you’ll find Ħobż comes in many shapes and varieties depending on the locality of the bakery. One thing all Ħobż has in common is that it is made with a starter, so it is technically sourdough bread. Although modern commercial yeast has largely eclipsed starters, there is some degree of pride in a number of bakers who insist they never use it and brag at great length just how old their precursor is.
In true Mediterranean fashion, Maltese bread is usually served with a wide a range of colourful and flavoursome condiments and additions. These usually range from tomato paste, drizzles of olive oil and fillings of capers, olives tuna ġbejna and bigilla. The Maltese term for this is Ħobż biż-żejt, which translated means ‘bread oil’.
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