Malta Diary The softer side of the town of Hamrun – and misconceptions of its history; Chocolate Galore!
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The town of Hamrun is one of the “youngest” in Malta (about 200 years since proper establishment) and mainly resulted from an overspill of three much older areas, Msida, Birkirkara and Marsa. “Ahmar” is red in Semitic Maltese and hence Hamrun and naturally the town’s colours are red, probably resulting from the nature of the red rock town foundations despite a zone on its outskirts being known as “Blata l-Bajda” – the white rock!
The greatest expansion came from the Marsa port area, a busy locality that in the past provided work for hundreds of port worker labourers unloading vessels packed with coal, cement and general goods, as well as Royal Naval and merchant sailor personnel who thrived in the area to be near their ships in the port and general Grand Harbour area.
Nowadays those times are over but Hamrun has remained famed for the fanaticism of its people for the annual titular parish festa dedicated to St Gaetano and their much-loved football team Hamrun Spartans FC, playing in red-and-black.
The townspeople carry two principle nicknames; “Tas-Sikkina” (people wielding knives) and “Ta’ Werwer” (people who inflict terror). These are daunting but originate from simple explanations.
Hamrun was the first town to have a Boy Scouts Brigade Band and the musicians wore Scottish kilts, played bagpipes and drums, and carried dirks in their stockings. So, wherever they went they were known as “the knife people” and this led to the notorious but unfounded reputation they were quick to become ill-tempered and readily to resort to using the knife. Hence, also the “terror” element that followed.
Well, my wife is from Hamrun and I have always loved the town (as well as her!”). When I met her, her uncle Mons Matthew Chircop was the Parish Priest of the St Gaetano Parish Church and her family therefore had an important profile in the area.
Nowadays, Hamrun is famed for its annual San Gaetano festa band marches, the most popular and most attended in the Islands held on the first Sunday in August nearest to the actual day August 7th. Believe me, the whole festa week is simply mind-bending with the two bands, the San Gaetano Band Club and the St Joseph Band Club performing their week of street marches attended by thousands of revellers.
Hamrun however does have a softer and tastier side. It has a lengthy history associated with the coffee trade and there were various coffee merchant outlets as one approached the town from Hamrun. In fact, when I was courting and travelling to Hamrun by bus from Valletta the first sensation was a swirl of coffee and coffee beans being ground.
There is also a long association with confectionary and hence the vast popularity of the annual Chocolate Festival that was held a couple of weeks ago on a Saturday evening.
So for the evening, diets were put aside and diabetes overlooked with Hamrun Mayor Christian Sammut, a former work colleague and friend, describing the event as the largest and best ever.
The evening brought together past chocolate traditions blended with innovative and imaginative chocolate sculptures. Live demonstrations were given by established chefs, bakers and chocolate makers showing off their recipes and creations and included:
Chocolate painting on canvas
- Chocolate tattoos
- Chocolate sculptures
- Chocolate body painting
- Chocolate history
- An interactive chocolate story by the Institute of Tourism Studies
- Cocoa painting
- Chocolate centre piece competition
- Various Bands in Hamrun’s St. Joseph High Street (naturally – where else to hear a brass band but in Hamrun)
- Live demonstrations using various chocolate recipes
Realistic chocolate sculptures were displayed by Chris Zammit, Steve D’Anastasi and Paul Joachin – the three experienced chocolate confectioners.
The annual event has established such a name, mainly for the sculptured presentations, that a television crew from Britain’s Channel Five was present and the programme will be shown on The Wonderful World of Chocolate.
As I have always maintained, never a dull moment in Malta because something, somewhere is always happening and in turn throughout the year other localities host a strawberry fair, a fish bonanza fair, a cheese fair, a potato fair and many, many others.
“Give him the slightest finger of encouragement and he will go all the way.”
Don’t give too much away to a person otherwise he will make use of it and go all the way and that may well be to your detriment.