tsampa, momo, lephing and more!
Sangha Bhaley is a favorite treat for Tibetans from Lhasa, Tibet’s capital city – it’s a special type of Tibetan khabsey. Loosely translated, sangha bhaley means “one srang bread” – I am told that it is probable a handful of these types of cookies or bread were once sold for a srang and that’s how the name came about. Sang (srang) is a Tibetan monetary unit from pre-1959 – Srang is a silver coin and “srang gang’ means “one srang”. Pre-1959 Tibetan money, issued by the government of Tibet, included bronze, silver, gold coins and printed paper notes. Silver coins came in denominations of one, three, five and ten Srangs. I found some good information on historical Tibetan monetary system on Wikipedia. There’s also this interesting survey on Tibetan paper currency by Wolfgang Berstch.
But back to food, there are a couple of different types of Sangha Bhaley but the most commonly made ones in Tibetan homes are those scrumptious, delicate ones with dozens of paper thin layers topped with a sugar coating. I’ve tried to learn how to make these from a number of friends but have never been able to perfect the craft. These cookies are quite delicate and require some precision cooking. The best ones in our area come from our friend Thupten Tsering la’s kitchen and I was truly delighted when he accepted my invitation to share his recipe on Simply Tibetan.
Moving to US almost two decades ago, Thupten la found himself craving many of the familiar tastes and treats that he’d grown up eating in Lhasa. Unable to find them or buy them anywhere, he began experimenting with ingredients available in western markets and learnt to adapt & improvise, slowly recreating Tibetan foods like Sangha Bhaley for himself and others to enjoy.
With regards Sangha Bhaley, Thupten la has an interesting story to share. Back in Lhasa, Thupten la’s mother usually made Sangha Bhaleys for special occasions and he always assisted her. One year, just around the time of Losar, he remembers a woman from a visiting Tibetan dance troupe stayed as a guest renter in one of the rooms in their family compound. She happened to have a free day per chance on the day they were making Sangha Bhaleys and his mother invited her to join them. To the everyone’s delight, this lady turned out to be a real Sangha Bhaley specialist, and she showed them some important Sangha Bhaley techniques including kneading the dough with very hot water.
The perfect Sangha Bhaley has multiple layers of paper thin pastry and is so crisp and that it falls apart as you bite into it. (The only comparison I can think of is biting into a layers of chips piled up together). The proper etiquette to eating Sangha Bhaley is to hold the palm of one’s free hand under the mouth as one takes a bite – in order to catch the sugar powder and crispy bits that fall off the side as you bite into the cookie.
For every recipe, there are important tricks or techniques that one learns only after cooking shoulder to shoulder with a seasoned cook. So, Simply Tibetan would like to thank Thupten la for cooking with us and sharing his family’s Sangha Bhaley recipe.