More than 15,000 kilometres away from our islands, The Journal encountered a place where Maltese cuisine finds a home.
Traditional Delights is a manufacturer and supplier of Maltese food, based in the state of New South Wales, Australia. Although located so far away, it’s a business that feels more like home than most other enterprises in Malta. Traditional Delights, in fact, embodies the essence of Maltese food, providing its customers with the opportunity to discover the rich heritage of Malta. It’s more than just a business; it’s a celebration of our authentic flavours.
We spoke to Rita Tonna, a first-generation Australian who owns Traditional Delights with her family. She was born to parents who migrated to Australia: her mother originates from Marsa and her father from Valletta. She recalls how the Maltese language resonated in the household of her grandparents, who she still refers to as nanna and nannu. Maltese was also spoken in Rita’s parents’ home and it’s the language she speaks to this day.
Rita recalls how her nannu maintained a lively atmosphere, housing rabbits, finches, and participating in greyhound racing. On weekdays, while Rita’s parents were at work, Nanna took care of her and her brother. Weekends were a celebration at Nanna’s: six aunts, eight uncles, and four cousins would gather around traditional dishes such as pea and ricotta pastizzi, spaghetti with rabbit, oven-baked potatoes, baked rice, pudina, and ravjul, which is Rita’s favourite. Christmas held a special place in the family’s heart – they celebrated Christmas Eve at Nanna’s place.
A deep, family connection
Her memories reflect a deep connection to Maltese culture, language, and culinary traditions, and Traditional Delights is a living testament to the family unit. The company provides traditional food throughout the whole year, although they experience a significant upswing in demand during Easter and Christmas.
Apart from pastizzi, ravjul, and qassatat, the company takes pride in offering a proper selection of Maltese biscuits, including galletti, treacle rings, almond biscuits, village biscuits, sesame biscuits, dates prepared in both fried and baked variations, biskuttelli, and coconut biscuits. For those with an insatiable sweet tooth, kannoli are also on the menu.
Traditional occasions call for the inclusion of figolli during both Christmas and Easter, and Easter sees a traditional surge in their popularity. There’s fresh rabbit, and for those with a penchant for savoury delights, Maltese sausage and Maltese-style olives are also part of the ensemble. Maltese bread is made available once a month.
The family’s commitment to authenticity is reflected in the sourcing of their food products. They take pride in being able to procure every ingredient needed for their culinary creations. There is one exception: the rice paper for their almond biscuits. Although available in Australia in limited quantities, they choose to import it directly from Malta to ensure the genuine taste and quality of their almond biscuits.
A team effort
The heart of their operation lies in the hands of their team. The baking process is a collaborative effort, with Rita herself and the invaluable assistance of her two aunties, Sylvia and (another) Rita, taking charge. Their expertise and shared passion contribute to the consistent excellence of their baked goods.
The art of making pastizzi remains a cherished tradition, and they are fortunate to have their father continuing this practice for them. “His skill and dedication ensure that our pastizzi maintain their authentic flavour and texture,” said Rita. Her mother also plays a pivotal role, particularly in crafting fillings for their olives, pastizzi, dates, and other treats.
“This family-oriented approach to cooking not only gives our food a personal touch, but it also ensures that each product is infused with the care and tradition that defines our brand,” explains Rita.
The business operates on both wholesale and retail fronts, supplying supermarkets, fruit shops, Maltese clubs, cafes, and food distributors. Over the past four months, they’ve transitioned from a home-based operation to a larger premises with a shop front, signalling ambitious plans for further expansion.
The strategy involves an active presence at Maltese events, with a notable presence in three Maltese clubs in New South Wales (NSW) and partnerships with two food distributors: one in NSW and another in Queensland. Traditional Delights also engages with the Maltese community through social media platforms.
Quality, consistency, expansion
Maintaining quality and consistency is a top priority for the business. Rita emphasised their commitment to using good quality ingredients, sticking to the same brands even when cheaper alternatives are available. The stability of the team, which has remained unchanged throughout the business’s evolution, contributes significantly to the product’s consistent excellence.
“Customer feedback has been overwhelmingly positive over the years, and this has given us the confidence to make the leap from a home-based business to a larger establishment with a shop front,” said Rita proudly. Having this shop front is important as an avenue to introduce more traditional Maltese foods to a wider audience.
While reflecting on the challenges that the business faces, Rita mentions the initial difficulty in convincing shopkeepers of the market potential for their products. Despite this, the business is now exploring new opportunities, including the introduction of hot Maltese takeaway meals. They aim to not only prepare the products, but also import items directly from Malta. Rita expressed her anticipation of returning to Malta at the end of May with plans to import some unique products, further expanding the business’s offerings.
The story of Rita and her family is both heart-warming and one that tells of bravery and resilience. It takes remarkable courage to navigate the challenges of starting and sustaining a venture in a foreign land. The journey has demanded not only financial investment but also a deep emotional and cultural commitment. It reveals the deep-rooted love of the Maltese disapora for the heritage that still nourishes its soul.