Il-Ftira, culinary art and culture of flattened sourdough bread in Malta

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Inscribed in 2020 (15.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

© Paul Parker, 2019

Il-Ftira, culinary art and culture of flattened sourdough bread in Malta, is a key part of the cultural heritage of the inhabitants of the Maltese archipelago. Ftira has a thick crust and light internal texture, characterized by large, irregular holes (an open crumb). It is flatter than other Maltese breads and has a hotter baking temperature. The halved loaf is filled with Mediterranean-type ingredients such as olive oil and tomato, tuna, capers and olives. Seasonal variants and inventive twists can also be added. With a name derived from Arabic (fatir, meaning unleavened bread), ftira culture reflects the continuity of intercultural exchange in Malta’s history. Although other kinds of Maltese bread can be made with a mechanized process, skilled bakers are still needed to shape ftira by hand. In the bakery, apprentices learn by watching and doing, and various training programmes also exist. The skills of choosing compatible ingredients and filling ftira are passed down informally in homes, as well as through other channels such as social media and cooking blogs. Eating ftira as a filled snack or appetiser fosters a shared identity in Malta, bringing people together. A wide variety of people, including marginalized groups, can enter the baking profession as apprentices, and Ftira Days in schools help inform students about healthy eating.

Baker adding wood to the wood-fired artisan oven. Wood used is to be in it’s natural state as possible
A baker preparing the dough for the ftira. The dough must be flattened by hand
After about 20 minutes, the ftira is taken out of the oven. Wooden pallets are used
A Maltese family preparing ftira for school lunch
Although a variety of ingredients may be used, the most popular is what in Maltese is called “Ftira biż-żejt”. The typical ingredients are: olive oil, tomato paste, olives and onions
A classrom situation during a Hospitality lesson. During this lesson, the teacher is teaching 14-year olds how to prepare and present ftira for consumption. The classroom is at St. Nicholas College Secondary School, in Dingli
A classrom situation during a Hospitality lesson. During this lesson, the teacher is teaching 14-year olds how to prepare and present ftira for consumption. The classroom is at St. Nicholas College Secondary School, in Dingli
It is a typical scene that workers have a ftira during their lunch break. These are workers on a building site
Band Clubs in Malta and Gozo attract several members of the local community. Band clubs hold several social events which are also fund-raising activities. It is typical to offer ftira to those attending the event
People from all walks of life enjoy the ftira as part of lunch. This photo shows a snack bar in Valletta during lunch-time
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