Ftira Bread and Limestone Rock Intertwine in Malta

Written by Albert Fenech
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“In the heart of the Mediterranean lies a place where the simple elegance of freshly baked ftira bread and Malta limestone rock have intertwined for centuries. These two elements, deeply embedded in Maltese culture, continue to captivate locals and visitors alike, with “ftira” earning a prestigious spot on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list and Maltese limestone achieving global recognition. Join us on a journey to discover the rich history, cultural significance, and culinary delights that make Malta and Gozo a treasure trove of experiences waiting to be savored.”

When in Malta, Angela Merkel breakfasted on ftira at a wayside kiosk.

Bread and Malta limestone rock go back thousands of years, and limestone globigerina rock hundreds of millions of years. The two unlikely materials and their ingredients are part and parcel of Malta and Maltese history.

When Angela Merkel was still the German Chancellor she came to Malta together with other EU leaders for a summit. One morning, on her way to the conference hall in Valletta, Merkel made the driver stop at a roadside kiosk, where she promptly ordered a Maltese ftira, and urged her driver and accompanying security to do likewise. Voila! The troupe enjoyed a sumptuous Maltese specialty.

So, what is a “ftira”? Basically it is as uncomplicated as a Pizza Margarita, or the Maltese response to the Neapolitan concoction, which has now become internationally famous.

Limestone cliffs

Ftira Bread and Malta Limestone Rock

A “ftira” traditionally is a flat, circular loaf of fresh and crusty bread with a hole in the middle. It is sliced into an upper and lower crust, soaked in olive oil, and can be packed with just about anything. The most popular fillings are tuna fish, anchovies, fresh tomatoes, topped with finely sliced onions, chopped olives, fresh mint and basil leaves and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper, and, for the more adventurous, a chilli pepper.

Alternatively ftira bread can be part of a fresh salad and pairs nicely with sliced hams, mortadella, salami, sliced roast chicken, beef, pork, lamb or whatever you fancy, even corned beef, hamburgers, and frankfurters.

Ftira Bread and Malta limestone Rock

“Ftiri” can paired with a variety of different fillings

How special is it? So special that a campaign was mounted for it to be included in the UNESCO list as an intangible cultural heritage, and it was.

A fresh, crunchy ftira packed with all sorts of good stuff makes it one of the most sought-after appetising snacks.

On the World Heritage List

The Maltese ftira, still made by hand, is now included on the UNESCO list of World Intangible Cultural Heritage. The manufacturing process includes frequent use of one’s hands, particularly during formation kneading stage, to flatten it, remove all gases trapped in the “ftira”, and include the hole in the middle. It is then baked, fairly quickly, for not more than 20 minutes, in an oven at high temperature. This is completely different from the equally Maltese loaf, as the “ftira” has a rather particular process.

The “ftira” goes back to the 16th century. It is in this context that documentation was put together for its inclusion in the UNESCO list.

Ftira Bread and Malta limestone Rock

Globigerina Limestone – Malta’s structural backbone

In another development, The Department for Conservation and Heritage within the Faculty for the Built Environment at the University of Malta crucially promoted the Maltese globigerina limestone at international level, leading to this stone receiving global recognition.

Globigerina Stone

Globigerina + Malta = Malta today. So, what is globigerina? Modern geophysical analyses of the Maltese Islands conclude that Malta is made up of almost pure limestone, created by deposits over millions and millions of years of decayed and deteriorating sea shells that sank to the bottom of the sea, forming layers and layers of solidified rock. At some point there was a volcanic sea eruption and the sea floor erupted to become mountain-top land and hence the Maltese Islands of today.

The Maltese globigerina limestone and six other stones from different countries have been recognised by the International University of Geophysical Studies as a stone and global heritage resource.

Besides the globigerina limestone, global recognition has also been given to the Lioz from Portugal, Lede stone from Belgium, Jacobsville stone from the USA, Kolmården marble from Sweden, Welsh slate from Wales, and Piedra Mar del Plata from Argentina.

The main feature of Malta’s limestone is that it is easy to quarry (Malta is pitted with quarries) and when hewn, it is soft and easily crumbles  like fresh Cheddar cheese. Once the hewn stone is exposed to air it hardens and hence virtually every building in Malta is made of this limestone.

However, exposure to weather also causes deterioration over a period of time and requires frequent restoration.

Typical Gozitan-style ftira

Tour and View

Travel around Malta and Gozo is easily available at low cost such via the public bus service, which covers every nook and cranny. Hundreds of cars are available for hire, and organised night and day tours and to main events are plentiful from leading localities such as Valletta, Sliema, St Julian’s, St Paul’s Bay and Rabat in Gozo.

Tours around auberges and splendid palaces around Valletta can stretch over days, together with San Anton Palace and Verdala Palace.

However, the main attractions are the heritage and culture sites and monuments such as:

  • The 5,000 year-old Neolithic Temples near Zurrieq and in Gozo
  • Ghar Dalam (the Cave of Darkness) at Birzebbugia
  • The Hypogeum at Tarxien
  • Mdina, the old capital city, and nearby Rabat such as St Paul’s Cave and a number of caverns of early Christian, Roman, Arab and Jewish burials
  • Hundreds of splendid churches and chapels

 

 ***

BeSeeingYou In: Malta 

Good To Know: Ftira is highly accessible and not expensive

WOW! Factor: Maltese Ftira (flatbread) and how it’s made is on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list

Tip:  Munch on ftira all over the islands of Malta and Gozo

Author Bio: Albert Fenech

 

 

MALTESE SAYING

“He is suffocating in his own blood”.

When a person is fumingly choked and rendered speechless, particularly after initiating and then experiencing the trouble caused by them and their own loose talk and actions!

_________________               ___________________

Albert Fenech
Born in 1946, Albert Fenech’s family took up UK residence in 1954 where he spent his boyhood and youth before temporarily returning to Malta between 1957 and 1959 and then coming back to Malta permanently in 1965. He spent eight years as a full-time journalist with “The Times of Malta” before taking up a career in HR Management and Administration with a leading construction company building the Benghazi Hospital in Libya, later with Malta Insurance Brokers, Malta’s leading insurance Broker and finally STMicroelectronics Malta, employing 3,000 employees and Malta’s leading industrial manufacturer. Throughout he actively pursued freelance journalism and broadcasting for various media outlets covering social issues, current affairs, sports and travel. He was Publications Editor for the Malta Football Association for 25 years and has written for a number of publications both in Malta and overseas, as well as publishing two e-books.

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