A dark crunchy crust and a springy soft centre are the unmistakable qualities of traditional Maltese bread. The Maltese Ħobża (bread in the Maltese language) is a staple in any local’s diet. Dating back to the stone age, this sourdough bread is as much part of the cultural heritage as the historic landmarks found on the island.
This traditional bread is made using centuries-old techniques which have survived, with very little change, to this day. Maltese bakers do not use commercial yeast, but rely on natural starters to raise the dough mixture. A piece of old sour dough is incorporated into the fresh batch with aerates the dough giving it an airy chewy centre unique in taste and texture. Of course, one must highlight that this bread is cooked in stone-based ovens which enhances the taste and give a crispier crust.
Most Maltese towns and villages are home to a traditional baker. Usually a small space, with a large oven, various bread options, and a smell that will surely whet your taste buds. The local village of Qormi is the most well know for bread making. Walking through the village you may follow your nose from one bakery to the next to watch how this delicious bread is made.
At experienced speed, the baker kneads the dough into round loaves before transferring to the hot oven, a process which takes seven to eight hours to complete, from kneading to baking.
With a taste that is good enough to eat as is, traditional Maltese bread is enhanced when smeared with fresh tomatoes, tomato paste, olive oil, tune, olives and capers. Locally known as Ħobż biż-Żejt (literally meaning bread with oil), this iconic dish may be enjoyed at all times of the day, particularly on a warm day by the sea.
The Maltese Ħobża is best when it is fresh out of the oven, so do not wait too long until you dig in – although, chances are you will not be able to resist once you smell the bread.