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Why you need to try bigilla, the Maltese tic bean dip

BY Melita Cameron-Wood

17th Jan 2024 Food Heroes

3 min read

Why you need to try bigilla, the Maltese tic bean dip
Bigilla is the savoury bean dip from Malta, which it inherited from Arabic cuisine in the Middle East. We explore the history and recipe of this iconic snack
No Maltese family gathering would be complete without bigilla. This popular dip is made of mashed tic beans (ful ta’ Ġirba in Maltese), which are similar to broad beans, but darker in appearance and harder to the touch. 
If you can’t get your hands on tic beans, fava beans or broad beans are good alternatives.
Prepared with olive oil, garlic, chilli, herbs and occasionally also red peppers, this dip is eaten with Maltese water crackers called galletti.
It can also be served with warm bread rolls and a Maltese charcuterie board, including peppered cheese, known to locals as Gbejniet, and Maltese sausage. 

Bigilla and Ful Medames

Bigilla is similar in style to Ful Medames, a bean dish that originates from Egypt and Lebanon and is widely enjoyed throughout the Middle East.
Ful Medames is made of stewed fava beans, cumin, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and garnished with fresh mint, raw tomato and onion
While Ful Medames is usually eaten for breakfast, bigilla is often eaten later on in the day as a side dish to compliment a bigger meal or as a quick snack with a glass of wine. 
Bigilla with Maltese water crackers and a glass of wine

History of bigilla 

The parallels between bigilla and Ful Medames are no coincidence. The Arab conquest of Malta in 870AD led to a 220-year Arab rule of the Maltese islands. This inevitably led to an infiltration of Middle Eastern practices and cuisine, and bigilla is just one example of this. 
Years later, in the 18th century, bigilla acquired some deathly connotations that are hard to picture today while tucking into the dip on a sun-drenched terrace.
"Poor funeral-goers would share 'beghilla' as they accompanied the deceased to church"
Gozitan Canon Agius De Soldanis documented that poor funeral-goers would share “beghilla as they accompanied the deceased to church for the funeral mass.
This dish was reported to be a replacement for another traditional funeral food coccia or kuċċija, which consisted of cooked wheat or semolina with raisins and almonds. 

Beans and the souls of the dead

In many cultures, beans were believed to contain the souls of the dead. This belief is connected to the ancient Roman festival of Lemuria, which was celebrated annually in May.
The feast day saw people throwing beans over their shoulders to rid their homes of lingering ghosts and spirits. 
"In many cultures, beans were believed to contain the souls of the dead"
In ancient Roman times, the priests of Jupiter were forbidden from even touching or talking about beans, as they were thought to be symbols of death. 
Bigilla has now lost any sombre connotations it once had and is enjoyed at family celebrations and friendly get-togethers. 

Maltese bean dip favourite

If you are in Malta, then it is easy to get your hands on bigilla. The bigilla van, complete with a loudspeaker to announce its arrival, is one option, but bigilla is also available in grocery stores and restaurants throughout the Maltese islands. 
bowl of bigilla with herbs

How to make bigilla

If you would like to have a go at making the dip yourself, here’s a recipe for you try at home: 
Ingredients
  • 450g dried tic beans (fava beans or broad beans are possible alternatives)
  • 750ml water
  • 25ml olive oil
  • 5ml chilli oil
  • a pinch of salt
  • a pinch of black pepper
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 15g chopped basil
  • 10g chopped marjoram
  • 15g chopped oregano
Topping
  • 1 chopped chilli pepper
  • 10g chopped parsley 
  • a dash of olive oil
Instructions
  1. Soak your chosen dried beans the day before you want to make your bigilla by placing them in a big bowl and immersing them in water. Leave the beans to soak for 24 hours. During this time, check whether the water needs topping up. 
  2. Wash the beans. Fill a big pot with water and boil the beans. As foam starts to form on the surface of the water, remove it with a wooden spoon. 
  3. Put a lid on the pot and leave the beans to simmer for 60 minutes. Then check the water level in the pan. Add more if necessary. Leave the beans to cook for a further 30 to 40 minutes. 
  4. Drain the beans and conserve the water that the beans were cooked in. Then put the beans in a food processor, adding three tablespoons of the water you have conserved.
  5. Chop the garlic and herbs. Add them to the mixture in the food processor. Then add olive oil, chilli oil and chilli flakes to the mix. Blend the mixture until you have a thick paste, adding water from your pot for a smoother consistency. 
  6. Place the dip in a bowl and garnish with fresh parsley, finely chopped chilli pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Best served with galletti (Maltese water crackers) or warm bread rolls. 
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