Tibetan chang is an alcoholic drink that is made of barley, rice or millet. Tradtionally, it is a very common part of life. Tibetans drink it at funerals and celebrations, while working and playing, and at all ages. Little kids get a little taste of chang and many elders drink it as well. Just about everybody drinks it during Losar, Tibetan New Year. (Here’s a how-to guide for celebrating Losar.)
In Central Tibet, it is drunk especially while doing the harvesting. Farmers can’t usually afford to buy alcohol but they can easily make chang on their own, since they grow their own barley.
In Tibet, chang is made from barley, while in exile, where barley is not as common, we use other grains. In Tibetan communities in India, it is usually rice or millet. Certain areas of Arunachal Pradesh, which are close to Tibet, also use barley.
For this post, we are making rice chang, called drechang. We learned this recipe from Kelsang Chodron, who learned it from her mother, who was a professional chang maker. Thank you, Kelsang la!
Watch Kelsang la make the drechang in the video below, and get the written recipe below:
- 5 cups jasmine rice (any white rice is okay except basmati, which would not work very well)
- The normal amount of water you would use to cook your rice.
- 1 full tablespoon of dry yeast, which Tibetans call either pab or chanzi. The pab we used here came from India, but you can find it also in Asian stores, called Dried Yeast (see the photos below for the package.)
- One important thing is that your containers and your work surfaces and your hands be very clean, free especially of oil or salt, which will ruin your chang.
- Thoroughly wash and dry a large container with a lid to put the rice in for fermentation. We used a plastic one because that’s what we had but you could pretty much use anything. Central Tibetan farmer families we know would use, for example, a ceramic pot.
- Prepare a clean surface to work with your rice after it is cooked. We cleared our kitchen table and laid down a large, new, very clean plastic bag on it.
- Wash your hands very well. (This is a strong directive from Kelsang’s mother’s teachings :-)
Making the Chang
- Grind enough pab/chanzi for 1 full tablespoon to a fine powder.
- Cook your rice as you normally would. We use a rice cooker, with 5 cups of jasmine rice, and water filled to the 5 cup line.
- Once the rice is cooked, stir around the rice in the rice cooker or pot your cooked it in. You want to sort of loosen and fluff the rice up – you don’t want it packy or clumpy at all.
- Spread the rice onto your very clean working surface to cool it. Work through the rice when it is cool enough to touch, loosening up any clumpy bits.
- You want to cool the rice down so that there is just a little bit of warmth left, really not very warm at all, sort of a tepid temperature.
- If the rice is too hot when you add the yeast, you will get sour chang.
- If the rice is too cold, it will take longer to ferment, which is okay, if you have time.
- Sprinkle the ground up chanzi over the rice, then mix it in very well with your (clean :-) hands.
- Pour the rice mixture in your prepared container.
- Cover it with a lid.
- Swaddle it like a baby in a couple of warm blankets.
Fermentation and After
- Leave it 4-5 days in a warm place. Don’t open it in the meantime. Kelsang said when we started to smell the fermentation strongly, it would be ready, but we never smelled anything and after 7 days we opened it up. We think this is because the lid on our container is quite tight. The warmer the spot, the faster the rice will ferment, though you don’t want it in a really hot spot, like next to a heater, or it can rot. This happened to us the first time we tried to make chang :-(
- You’ll see in the image that when the chang is ready, the rice doesn’t look dramatically different than when it went in. There is some condensation on the sides of the container and a few inches of liquid at the bottom of the container. The main way you will be able to tell it is ready is that it will smell like it has fermented, a bit alcoholic.
- Once your chang is done, you will want to transfer it to another clean container, and add about 3 cups of water, and then put it in the refrigerator. (You can add as much or little water as you like actually, to make your chang stronger or weaker.)
- Although the chang is already fermented at this point, you’ll want to wait 24 hours or so after you add the water before you start drinking it.
- You can keep this chang mixture in your fridge for quite a while, possibly months, or even longer. Tibetans can keep it up to a year. (You’ll have to taste a tiny bit each time to be sure it has not gone bad.)
How to drink the chang
- There are two ways you can drink your chang:
- One way is to strain out the rice pieces and drink the thin, milky liquid.
- Another way is to keep the rice, and to mix the contents of your container, as is, with some khapse, dried cheese, sugar and butter, and heat all that up. This is called changkol, and we will show you how to do this in another post, coming soon.
- Of course you can do a little bit of both, and strain out some liquid to drink as chang, while keeping some of the combined rice liquid mixture to make changkol. That’s what we do.