One of our very favorite experiences while attending the teachings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Mundgod Tibetan Settlement over the new year of 2014/2015 was watching the monks cooking their own style of Tibetan flatbread (pao balep) at Drepung Loseling Monastery.[CookingMiddle]
Video: Prepping the Dough
Check out the incredible, finely honed system they have for cranking out about 2000 pieces of this balep, which they call pao balep, a name that derives from the Indian word for the measurement of each piece of bread.* (Get Lobsang’s recipe for similar balep korkun here.) The monks make balep at least once a day, as they always eat one version of it for breakfast, with tea. Many days they would cook a slightly different version to go with lunch or dinner as well. (That’s 4000 pieces of balep!)
The morning version of the bread has white flour, water, a bit of oil and some sugar. The lunch or dinner version is just white flour and water. Both versions use a starter. Oil is added to the griddle for the lunch/dinner version so it won’t stick. The images and video in this post are of the making of the unsweetened lunch version. (If you want to try to make balep on your own, click on the red links to find the recipes for two other Tibetan breads, for balep korkun and amdo balep.)
The prepping and cooking process is epic, sort of around the clock. The dough for the lunch bread being prepared here was made after dinner the day before, and then cooked, as we watched, around 8a. Near the end of cooking the lunch balep, the monks made the dough for the morning balep, and left it to rise until about 5a, when they come in to cook the morning balep and tea.
The monks rotate on kitchen duty. Each of the younger monks (the ages represented here in our images) have to work in the kitchen one day a month.
Video: See the Whole Process
Drepung Loseling is only one of four major monasteries in Mundgod, and this level of bread making is repeated every day at Drepung Gomang, Ganden Changtse and Ganden Shartse as well. During His Holiness’ Lamrim teachings, the cooking reached even more gigantic proportions, as the major monasteries were asked to provide the lunch balep for all 20,000+ attendees. So each of the big 4 monasteries had to produce an additional 5000 baleps for the couple of days in which bread was served at the free lunch given to teaching attendees. This, on top of the daily balep production! The monks we talked to said it basically would take all night.
A little surprisingly, the balep that comes out of this production line tastes great!
* If anyone knows the origin of this we would love to know more.