The Malta Independent 18 November 2017, Saturday

There's nothing like a baker's oven: L-Ahwa’s bakery set to cook many meals this Christmas

Therese Bonnici Wednesday, 24 December 2014, 13:55 Last update: about 4 years ago

As you walk down St Trophimus Street, in Sliema, you're hit with an appetizing smell that makes your mouth water. It's the smell of baking bread, making its way to your nostrils from L-Ahwa's bakery.  Researchers in France suggest that the smell of bread triggers a positive mood, and as a result, makes us kinder to strangers.

But back to L-Ahwa. The bakery first opened its doors over 125 years ago. Then, in 1968, Carmelo Micallef and his brothers took over the shop. Carmelo is today 64 years old, and still runs the bakery.

Ten employees, work at the shop, all related, with their ages ranging from 18 to 64 years. Most have been working at the bakery from a very young age. On Sundays, the team produces over 1,000 loaves of Maltese bread.

Those on night shift work from 10 at night to 8 of the following day, at which time the next shift takes over. "It's always buzzing in here, no matter what time it is," Manuel Micallef says. "There's bread to bake, customers to serve, and equipment to wash."

At Christmas, many customers take their meals to the bakery to have it slowly cooked. Last Christmas, the team prepared over 100 dishes of turkey, chicken legs or lamb. Some customers even take a whole pig for cooking. One Christmas, a customer took a dish that wasn't his back home, and never returned it. One can only imagine how disappointed the actual owner of the meal was. Today, the bakery adopts an organised system, and customers are given an allocated time slot to take and return their marked dishes.

On Christmas Eve, the team will be at work until at least 10 at night, and some of them have to return back on Christmas Day, to keep the baker's oven running. The team also distribute bread to all restaurants on the Sliema and St Julians front, with summer months being the busiest. During Christmas, the team also prepares some lip-smacking mince-pies.

Being a baker is anything but easy-going. First, bakers spend almost 13 hours a day at work, standing, and lifting heavy sacks of flour. Second, the working hours are ambiguous. "The support of our families is indispensible. They have to support us working at nights, weekends and public holidays. They have to get used to us going to bed at 6 in the evening, or nodding off at the table during lunch," says Manuel, who's been working at the bakery for the past 43 years.

Manuel feels a baker's occupation is still not esteemed enough in society. "Over the years, society has become more demanding, and little do they acknowledge the work we carry out."  To say the least, one bake of 250 loaves take over 7 hours to complete. The team at L-Ahwa's bakery are perfectionists; they are constantly taking precautions to provide the best possible product.

Foreigners are particularly fond of the bakery. "We've had tourists from the United States taking bread loaves back home. Foreigners always deem Maltese bread as the best in the world."

The team at the bakery are very loyal to their own product. "I can't help criticise bread if it's not ours. Last I had to buy one, I had to throw it out, "Manuel says with a smile. The team at l-Ahwa's are not fond of mass distribution of bread nowadays, cooked in electric ovens. "It's ruining the original recipe - bread needs to be cooked in the traditional baker's oven. Young people today are not particularly keen on Maltese bread, but back in the days, it was different." L-Ahwa's bakery is one of the few bakeries in Malta still using the traditional. Large chains today use electric ovens which produce bread faster. 

Photos Melvin Degiorgio

 

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