This article provides information about Malta and its strongest traditions; pottery, blown glass, filigree and lace, folk music, Maltese food and the traditional market.
Malta is an island of traditions, each of which stems from its exquisite history. Here ‘tradition’ is taken to include various aspects such as crafts, food and music, which are still present on the Maltese islands. Recently, new efforts have been injected to resurrect and protect dying Maltese traditions, such as lace making; Not only because they provide excellent souvenirs for tourists visiting Malta, but also because of their cultural and artistic values.
Handmade crafts in Malta
Malta’s oldest artisan tradition, firmly rooted in the prehistoric era, is pottery. As can be seen from some of the splendid statuettes in the Temple of Tarxien (visit the Temple of Tarxien, the Saflieni Hypogeum, and the National Museum of Archeology), pottery was always an important form of self-expression. Today, ceramic crafts are still evident, one of the most popular being the ‘pasturi’, the figurines that fill the Christmas Crib. The first imported Italian pasturi were very expensive and most people could not afford them. As a result, the locals began to make their own ‘pasturi’ out of rough clay and plaster. This became so popular that today all the Christmas displays of handmade nativity scenes and pasturis are on display to the public.
Although relatively modern, glass blowing in Malta is an ancient technique that reached the Maltese islands during the Phoenician period around 3,000 years ago. It’s completely hand-blown and handcrafted, just like the old days, and much of today’s glassware is an original Maltese type of glass with strong Mediterranean colors. The complicated process begins with beads of various colors, which are blown into any shape. Clear glass is then placed around the stained glass and shaped to form particular designs.
Another trade, which flourished particularly under the Knights, is gold and silverware. Malta’s most prized production is filigree and jewelery. This remains a thriving tradition, the work of which is often exported to major cities abroad. Cities like our capital Valletta are teeming with local jewelers, all of whom offer a range of traditional and modern Maltese creations.
Since the time of the Knights, life in both Gozo and the rural areas of Malta has been relatively harsh. Thus, handicraft industries became the main source of income for rural families, namely embroidery, weaving and lace making. Traditional lace is known as ‘bizzilla’ and this craft was introduced to Malta by the Knights of Saint John. It was called bobbin lace and was very popular for hats and collars in the 16th and 17th centuries. Maltese bobbin lace is made from several threads that are wound onto an elongated wooden spool or spool. A special long cushion called ‘trajbu’ is used as the base for creating the lace. All of the aforementioned artisan products are easily obtainable from most of the island’s souvenir shops, but a visit to the Ta ‘Qali craft village will ensure an excellent understanding of all Maltese artisan traditions, including live demonstrations! !
Traditional entertainment around Malta
Folk music is very strong in many Mediterranean countries and Malta is no exception. The ‘Ghanja’, which means ‘song’, is Maltese traditional music and sounds like something between a Sicilian ballad and the Arabic rhythmic wail. The first known form dates back to 1792 during the last years of the rule of the Knights of Saint John. It was started by peasants, but music has now become an integral form of popular entertainment in Malta. Romance is a popular theme in these ballads, but perhaps one of the most popular forms of ‘ghanja’ is the style called ‘Spirtu pront’ (‘On the spur of the moment’), where two or more ‘ghannejja’ (singers) perform a duet, often a rhyming war of words, in typical Mediterranean style.
Like folk music, Maltese food is heavily influenced by our Sicilian and North African neighbors. Maltese dishes, which accompany any glass of wine in popular wine bars, include olives, capers, sheep’s cheeses (‘gbejniet’), sun-dried tomatoes, Maltese sausage, broad bean pate known as ‘bigilla’ and well-known traditional Maltese biscuits. as ‘galletti’. In each village you will find the typical ‘pastizzeriji’ that serves traditional ‘pastizzi’ (tasty filo cakes filled with ricotta), as well as other pastry products, which are bought on the street in a matter of minutes. ‘Hobz biz-zejt’ is another popular snack made with slices of crisp Maltese bread, spread with red tomatoes and topped with a little onion, gbejniet and anchovies or tuna, soaked in delicious olive oil.
When visiting the island of Malta, look for other typical Maltese food such as ‘Minestra’, a very thick vegetable soup served with Maltese bread and oil; assorted fresh fish, along with ‘Aljotta’, a delicious fish soup; Rabbit stew; ‘Imqarrun’ (baked macaroni) or ‘Timpana’ (baked macaroni in a dough box); ‘Soppa Ta’ L-Armla ‘(widows soup) which is a mixture of vegetables, leftover cuts and cheeses; and finally, Snails, known as ‘Bebbux’ cooked in a hot stew. Traditional sweets include fried ‘Imqaret’ (date cakes) and ‘Qubbajt’ (nougat); Easter ‘Figolli’, pastry figures filled with almonds shaped like rabbits, cars and hearts decorated with icing sugar; ‘Kannoli’, fried dumplings stuffed with ricotta similar to those of Sicily; and Christmas ‘Qaghaq tal-Ghasel’ (honey rings).
Maltese Sunday Markets
In some Maltese villages, the silence of the early morning is broken by the bustle of shoppers and the shouts of vendors in traditional Maltese markets. They provide not only a place to shop for essentials, but also to catch up on the town news. For everything from clothing to household items, the Sunday market on the outskirts of Valletta is key. But to savor the traditional Maltese market, a visit to the Marsaxlokk Fish Market in the old fishing village is a must, where fresh vegetables and fish are sold every Sunday, as well as traditional Maltese souvenirs and crafts.