[WATCH] The strange case of the zeppoli of St Joseph

Is there a link between the famous pastry and St Joseph? Apparently not, we've been told, but zeppoli sell in their thousands during this time of year

Sfineg or zeppoli? And is there a true connection with St Joseph?
Sfineg or zeppoli? And is there a true connection with St Joseph?

Do you know the connection between zeppoli and St Joseph's feast in Malta? Nobody MaltaToday spoke to does—it's just one of those things that became inexplicably a Maltese tradition based on an Italian one. So why do they call them the Zeppoli of St Joseph?

The closest we got to an answer was a statement made by Father Martin Coleiro from the Franciscan convent in Rabat. "There's a history of people coming to Rabat for St Joseph's feast during lent. The reason is that people doing this were exempt from fasting at least for this one day. So people ate the sweet Italian zeppoli. A lot of them."

According to the New England Historical Society, the story goes that the original staple of the feast day's meal was the fava bean which had saved the Sicilians from starvation. This fava bean gave way to dessert. During the 19th Century, a Neapolitan baker named Pasquale Pintauro popularized the treat by selling them from a street cart every March 19.

There's another thing: the link between sfineg and zeppoli. While most would assume that they are one and the same thing, Busy Bee part-owner Luke Friggieri told MaltaToday that sfineg usually refers to the sweet ones while zeppoli refers to the savoury version.

Zeppoli are originally Italian deep-fried pastry filled with ricotta and other sweet ingredients, also tied to the feast of St Joseph. Elia Borg Bonaci is one of the very few caterers on the island that makes Zeppoli using rice rather than ricotta.

"We don't keep making sfineg after St Joseph's feast even though they sell very well, over 15,000 during this time of year. The reason is that people stop asking for them once the feast is over," Friggieri said.

Popular tea shop Serkin also capitalised on the zeppoli craze during this time as the owner, Kenneth Ciangura, told MaltaToday that the decision to make them was reached just a week ago and they sold hundreds of them, courtesy of their Italian chef.

"I usually advertise new products on Facebook. I didn't this time because I wouldn't have had any left for the people who came asking for them. We sold hundreds in a week," he said. Ciangura argued that the zeppoli would be discontinued after the feast is over, especially because making them is such an arduous task.

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