Gozo Ftira Is The Best Pizza For Potato Lovers

The Maltese archipelago sits like a beacon of small islands in the Mediterranean Sea delineating the midpoint between the Italian coast of Sicily and North Africa. The food on its three main islands of Malta, Gozo, and Comino is as diverse as its location and the cultures that surround it. Influences of Italian, Tunisian, Spanish, French, Arabic, and British cooking can all be tasted in what has become a uniquely Maltese cuisine. Two foods, in particular, are practically synonymous with Malta — ftira and Gozo ftira — and while their similar names may cause some confusion, they are distinctly different dishes.

Ftira actually refers to two related national foods. First and foremost, it is the traditional sourdough flatbread of Malta, as well as the name of the sandwich that is made with it, also known as hobz biz-zejt (bread with oil). The bread is so much a part of the country's way of life that in 2020 it was placed on UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list.

Gozo ftira on the other hand, known locally as ftira Għawdxija, is a type of pizza made using ftira dough as its crust. Gozo is home to a number of famous bakeries that specialize in making it, drawing visitors to Malta's second-largest island by ferry or helicopter just to get a taste. Its crust is not the only thing that differentiates it, as this potato lover's dream is typically topped with sliced potatoes and baked to perfection in a wood-burning oven.

Gozo ftira comes with potatoes and gbejniet cheese

Delicious crisped-up potatoes and regional bread crust are not the Gozo ftira's only distinguishing feature, as its other toppings also usually include fresh-grown produce, locally caught fish, and other ingredients only available in Malta, like its special cheese. While mozzarella or ricotta may be used, gbejna cheese also sets the Gozitan-style pizza apart from its more common Italian or American counterparts. You must try the Gozo gbejniet when on the Maltese archipelago — that's the plural form of gbejna. It is traditionally made from unpasteurized sheep's or goat's milk (although these days pasteurized methods are also used) and comes in the form of small round cheeselets, which are formed in little baskets that give them their recognizable shape.

Toppings regularly used on Gozo ftira pizza often include anchovies, capers, onions, tomatoes, olives, eggs, and Maltese sausage. Modern versions can be made with more familiar pizza toppings that give a nod toward the country's Sicilian connection such as pepperoni, ham or bacon, green bell peppers, mushrooms, garlic, and herbs like oregano, basil, rosemary — but it's the potato and gbejna variety that is considered to be the most authentic version.

In comparison, the traditional sandwich version of ftira is usually always made with tuna, pickled onions, capers, local olives, broad beans, tomatoes, and gbejniet. Sometimes in addition to, or instead of, fresh tomatoes, the sweet tomato paste or spread known as kunserva is used, which is another Maltese specialty.

Where to eat Gozo ftira

While the origin of Gozo ftira may be lost to history, the dish is closely tied to the making of ftajjar (plural for ftira bread) and can be traced back at least 100 years. It is believed to have started as a way to use up leftover dough that was unused from the breadmaking process.

One thing that's for sure is that you can eat and drink incredibly well in Malta, and many of its characteristic dishes cannot be found anywhere outside of the island. This is especially true for Gozo ftira that, unless you make your own at home, you will have to travel there in order to sample. There are numerous bakeries on the island that offer the namesake dish, but two of the most well-known are both located in the city of Nadur.

The family-owned Maxokk Bakery has been baking bread on Gozo since the 1930s. Originally serving only ftira, Maxokk later expanded to create classic and original Gozitan pizzas, which are considered by many to have the best — and no visit to Gozo would be complete without a meal from this old-school bakery. Made in a brick oven that uses dry oak wood as its fuel, you can have your ftira Ghawdxija baked while you wait, or purchase it partially cooked to finish baking later. Nearby is the Mekren Bakery, which also serves traditional ftira as well as modern-style pizzas and is another must-have when touring the island.