by a Blog Reader
It started with a fenkata at the Valletta Marketplace on Merchants Street. It was swimming in paprika stew, nothing but paprika in taste. I excused the Asian chef. Perhaps nobody bothered to take the time to teach him the art of Maltese cooking. Or perhaps, he adapted the venerable recipe to his mother’s kitchen and tastes.
The other day, I asked the butcher for some braġjoli. “The only ones left are chicken braġjoli,” he said. I bought a pair of stuffed chicken breasts sealed in thick plastic lining. What is there not to like about the stuffing of a Maltese braġjola? Bread crumbs, chopped bacon, cheese, parsley, and chopped hard boiled eggs. Pure magic. In my kitchen, I tore open the lining to cook the braġjoli. Somehow, I suspected that the chicken may be hiding something. I unfolded the first chicken breast and stuck inside it was a Maltese sausage. Nothing but a squished Maltese sausage. I could not believe my eyes.
At the fish monger, I bought stuffed squid. The typical stuffing for this Maltese recipe includes onion, fennel seed, anchovy, garlic, chopped squid tentacles, ricotta, olives and some bread crumbs. I scissored the squid open due to, by now, a lack of trust. Inside it was a ton of bread crumbs marinated in some deep brown sauce with miniscule pieces of squid, so miniscule that I couldn’t even be sure they were squid. The stuffing was unappetizing, and I tossed it away. I cooked the squid.
At the grocer I bought “ġbejniet friski.” At this point, I bought them for the sake of penning this article since I wanted to experience myself what it’s like to buy fake fresh cheese for a small pie. They were anything but fresh. They were preserved, marinating in liquid doused with potassium sorbate. They tasted like moist cardboard, especially when you’re accustomed to the real “ġbejniet friski.” One of the cheeselets refused to crumble under my knife’s moderate pressure. It looked like it had been infused with rubber. I had never encountered a stubborn fresh cheeselet before. In my village, one can still go to a farmer and buy the same “ġbejniet friski” that our ancestors enjoyed for centuries. Why are we allowing the big grocers to drive out the farmer and his authentic cheese?
In the meantime, we are the individuals who are suffering from all this. These are a few examples of how exploitative businesses override the genuine recipes that sustained us throughout the centuries. What is at stake is the identity that makes us Maltese. When the Maltese “ftira” was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List, we were all elated, and rightly so. However, we don’t need to go to UNESCO to protect ourselves from the food swindlers in our midst. All it takes is a Maltese law that precludes sellers from labeling preserved cheese as “fresh” and defines what qualifies as a braġjola, stuffed squid, and other mouthwatering food we used to take for granted. When the fake is peddled as an equal, the politics of equality is exploitative.