Hobz biz zejt (translated to meaning bread with oil) is a simple food tradition that the Maltese love. I had a picnic outside in the garden last week with my girls and we made our very own Maltese sandwich famously known as hobz biz zejt.
The simplicity and at the same time complexity of Maltese bread (known as hobz tal Malti) is what makes the wonderful Maltese bread so special and unique.
Maltese bread, especially the large round crusty loafed bread known simply as hobz is incredibly difficult to imitate. It is a sourdough, as is ftira (another type of commonly known Maltese bread) but its hard crust and soft centre full of many air holes has not been repeated anywhere outside Malta. The distinct taste and look of our hobz I believe may have something to do with a few factors.
Firstly, the bread is made by initially using a piece of dough (or starter) from the previous days baking. This is known as it-tinsila. the carry over of this dough from day to day in some bakeries has been done for many years and I have heard some starters are at least 100 years old. That in itself is going to produce a unique taste to the bread. Factors such as the flour and water used, as well as the differences in air will create a distinct taste to the bread too. One other reason the bread is so unique is that the ovens are very old large wood burning, stone and metal ovens which are not easily replicated. These ovens were introduced by the Knights of St John. Finally the, bread is cooked in these ovens at 275oC, then removed from the oven and left to cool.
The bakery I am most familiar with in Malta is the bakery in Mgarr. A village where my mum’s family are from (and some of my family still reside). Most villages in Malta each have their own bakery which produces bread in the early hours of the morning ready to be delivered to the village the next day. What a wonderful tradition that is still being kept (although deminishing) to this day.
In Australia we unfortunately did not have the availability of Maltese hobz. However, when I was young we would get similar bread delivered to us. We used to live on a farm which had a long driveway. At the end of our driveway we had an old drum attached to a telegraph pole and this was used as the bread box for the baker to deliver the bread in. The similar bread I think was very much like Australian damper (another bread similar in texture to our hobz).
The way we eat this bread is varied but simple. Torn and added in soups is one. We let the bread soak up the soup and we then place the bread onto our spoons which is then eaten. The most other common and traditional ways are firstly just by cutting the bread in a large thick piece. We make a hole in the bread by breaking a chunk of the bread off. Olive oil is added, a cut tomato is smeared on the bread, possibly some raw onions added, a little salt/pepper and then the chunk of bread placed back on. Eaten quickly before anyone else is around to eat it before you.
The most other common ways to eat our bread is to slice thinly and place a number of different toppings. Firstly, olive oil is smeared and then tomato paste (kunserva) added and spread onto the bread. Traditionally toppings usually include tuna, tomatoes, onions, capers, white bean salad, broad bean dip (bigilla), our gbejneit (Maltese cheese – fresh or dried), corned beef, olives, peppers, pickled vegetables, parsley, oregano, and mint.
Instead of using our hobz, another type of Maltese bread is also traditionally eaten known as ftira. It is a flat round sourdough bread with a hole in the centre. I had both in my freezer in London (I got both breads shipped from Malta) but decided to use hobz this time.
Last week I had a Maltese picnic in the garden with my two girls and we enjoyed our hobz biz zejt with a variety of toppings. I kept it pretty simple but added oil, tomato paste, white bean salad, tomatoes, capers, olives, onions, dried Maltese cheese (gbejniet) mint, parsley and salt/pepper. I do hope you get to try our bread if you haven’t already. It truly is special.
No recipe required for this. Just add a little olive oil to your hobz or ftira and then a choice of any of the above toppings can be added.