Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ftira: A Fitting National Dish

ftira at fontanella tea garden, mdina

The best thing about ftira sandwiches is that none are perfect. Everyone makes ftira biz-zejt their own way, and no way is the way.

At Caffe Luna at Palazzo Parisio in Naxxar they make their ftira biz-zejt in a huge, open faced portions, spreading the sweet tomato paste called kunserva on the bread first, and layering tuna, capers, olives, and mint on after, with a drizzle of olive oil for good measure. This is one of my favourite ftiras on the island, but at €8 a pop it's a (well worth it) splurge.

At Maxim's Lido on Ghadira Beach, Mellieha, and Fontanella Tea Garden in Mdina, their ftiras are the traditional, humble kind: ftira bread, with a mixture of tuna, tomato, olives, onion, capers, basil, and broad beans or bigilla (the beans are my favourite part). All that for €2-4? You can't go wrong.

In Pretty Bay I've also had ftira with feta cheese on it (delicious), I've scarfed down ftira with gbejniet (a type of Gozitan cheeselet), and I've eaten my fair share of the most basic version, wrapped in cling film at €1.50 a pop, at many a roadside pastizzeria. You can also add carrots, cabbage, lettuce, cauliflower, zucchini, or anchovies to ftira biz-zejt. Whatever is in season, whatever is on hand.

But for me, the best ftira is the one I order and get the pronunciation of this beautiful, rolls-off-the-tongue word just right. Fteerah. When the waiter/ess or clerk responds to me in Maltese, not English, my ftira sandwich tastes that much better.

It's a traditional food, yes. But it's also quirky and diverse, reliable and humble. It's constantly changing. It's about basics and resourcefulness, with a dash of innovation thrown in. And so, fittingly, ftira biz-zejt is practically Malta's national dish.
- Jess

p.s. ftira recommendations always appreciated!

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