Maltese Sandwich: Hobz biz-zejt

Hobz biz-zeit (pronounced hobz-bi-zate) translates literally as bread with oil. It’s a staple meal in Malta – probably the country’s number one snack – and is served as a closed sandwich on every beach or snack bar in the country. It’s possibly better known as being served as an open sandwich, especially for those making it at home, and it sometimes looks a bit like a big Italian bruschetta. My Nona (or Nannu) who lives just outside of Valletta, makes a killer hobz biz-zeit. The secret is simple. Good quality bread, olive oil and the sweetest red tomatoes you can find.

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The Maltese tend to use canned tuna but here I’ve prepared a gourmet version using a fresh tuna steak and added a few of my own favourite things such as yolky boiled eggs and gherkins to give it a twist. The most important part is the Maltese bread. A crusty exterior (to soak up the oil and tomato juices) and a soft but dense middle. One of the closest breads to the Maltese bread you’ll find in the UK is a good artisan sourdough. There’s a place in North Norfolk that sells bread almost identical to that found on every street corner in Malta. If you live in Norfolk, head to Stiffkey Stores and ask Andy for one of his giant boulder-shaped sourdough loaves. (My Maltese Mum, who is so addicted to this little taste of Malta in Norfolk, and with good bread being the staple of any Maltese diet, buys 2 – 3 loaves a week to distribute to myself and my other sibling.)

Exhibit A – Andy’s ‘Maltese’ bread:

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For the Hobz biz-zejt you will need:

A thick hunk of sourdough bread

1 – 2 vine tomatoes

1 teaspoon of good quality sweet, tomato paste*

Olive oil

Sea salt and black pepper

Optional: 

1 fresh tuna steak

1 medium to hardboiled egg

A teaspoon of capers

A gherkin thinly sliced or diced

Being half Maltese, I feel a little ashamed to be writing this, but… mayonnaise

*NB: Some Italians produce a tomato paste including sugar (I have one which I bought in Italy last year but you might be able to find one in the UK). The Maltese one is called kunserva. Online there is a place you can buy Maltese food http://www.maltesefood2.co.uk where I think you can buy it. Or you could just add a little sugar to taste to a good quality tomato paste. 

Method:

1) Smear a teaspoon or so of good quality sweet tomato paste on the bread

2) Drizzle with olive oil and add sea salt and black pepper

3) Top with thin slices of ripe red vine tomatoes or other sweet tomatoes (some like to smear the fresh tomato juices on the bread before placing the tomato on the top)

Now you could simply stop here, open a bottle of wine or crack open a can of the national soft drink Kinnie (if you live in Malta) but many Maltese like to add other extras. It’s up to you. Pick and choose from: crushed garlic, capers, anchovies, black or green olives, finely sliced red onion and tinned tuna. These are probably the most popular additions. In my version I’ve gone to town! 

5) I added a layer of mayonnaise to the bread after the tomato puree (just because I’m a mayo addict but I’m not sure what the Maltese would think of this!). And instead of tinned tuna, I’ve pan-fried a fresh small tuna steak. I also think a medium to hard boiled egg gives the sandwich a rich and creamy tone and the acidity of a few capers and a thinly sliced gherkin cuts through all these rich flavours.

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4 comments

    • I too have grew up on these in Malta! And as a result, I decided to blog about my own version, using fresh tuna and a few other choice ingredients to give it a twist, rather than just using tinned tuna and tomato paste. In my opinion this adds a new dimension to the traditional sandwich. I’ve listed these new ingredients as ‘optional’ so I’m by no means claiming this is the traditional way to prepare the sandwich, but felt it would be interesting to blog about an adaptation. As for the phonetic spelling, apologies if I haven’t quite pronounced it correctly, Maltese isn’t my first language. If you’d care to advise on this (I’m presuming you’re Maltese?) then I will edit my post with a more accurate pronunciation.

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