We visit the quaint village of Gharghur to meet up with Adrian, a third-generation baker who is keeping the baking tradition alive. In Maltese a baker is called a ‘furnar‘ which originates from ‘forn‘ which is Maltese for oven. Adrian gives us some insight on the dedication and consistency needed to be a great baker.
“Everyone loves Maltese bread, locals and foreigners alike. It’s delicious. No meal is complete without that small piece of bread. It’s unique and popular. Rather than the actual bread, I think you have to be more careful about the toppings or fillings that you choose.
Our bakery in Gharghur has been up and running for almost 90 years. Our grandfather, who was from Qormi, started the business and then my father continued the business. He still comes here to give me a helping hand. A few years ago, I inherited the family business. Just like my father before me, I was born and raised here, in flour and dough…and the fire never dies down!
Door-to-door sales are on the decline because nowadays many customers go out to work and buy their lunch. Everybody has their own preferences and tastes when it comes to the “ħobża tal-Malti”. Some want the ends, others want it slightly crispy or burnt.
Some customers still come here, to the bakery, to buy the bread as soon as it comes out of the oven. Nice and warm. The smell of fresh bread is irresistible. It has this magnetic power. The best part is listening to that crackling sound that the crust makes when you break the bread. There’s nothing like a piece of “ħobża tal-Malti” with some olive oil, olives and a local “ġbejna”.
I still follow my grandfather’s original recipe and method. The oven is the same one that my father used, a wood-fired oven. The taste of bread is just too good.
The first step is making the starter dough, also known as sourdough (tinsila), made from yeast, lukewarm water, salt and water. I spend my nights here: I start off at 11.30pm. First step is baking, and then we take it one step at a time, going through the whole process which takes about 6 hours in total. The dough takes 3 hours to rise.
We also make the traditional “ftajjar”: they come in big and small sizes. Many customers also ask for the “bezzun tal-Malti”, also known as “Xikklun”. Then, at 5am, we start going around to distribute the bread especially to these coffee shops, including “ftajjar” and “hobz biz-zejt“. It’s a race against time.
A health emergency or an illness can be a huge inconvience for us, bakers. You have to ask someone for help or maybe turn to one of your employees who knows how to do the job well.
The greatest satisfaction is seeing the final product, that loaf of bread coming out of the oven. I’m really pleased when customers say that they prefer our products and love our bread.
This work requires great commitment but I love it. This is my trade, my livelihood. I would like to thank my whole family for all of their support and help.” – Adrian “Tal-Ħobż”, Meli Bakery – Għargħur.