Pala …father…in the Tibetan language…I always thought it meant brother since we had a regular “Pala” making the rounds of our school during lunch hours selling the meat filled breads from a dark and dingy cloth pouch hanging across his shoulders…he was “Pala” to all students and teachers alike and everyone loved him as much as they loved his magical meat breads…those crispy fried golden rounds of delight oozing with juicy minced beef…Sha Phaley – the Tibetan meat bread!
It was the early seventies and more than a year since Pala had last travelled to Jelep La…the border pass between India, Bhutan and China, located in the nondescript Himalayan ridge of Kalimpong under the district of Darjeeling. Jelep La till the 1962 Sino- Indo aggression, had been used by the Indian and Chinese traders for ages as a route for trading silk, yak wool, musk, yak tails, sheep wool, cotton textiles, spices and much more. Pala had on many occasions traversed this route with his father either on foot or on mule back…he vividly recalls the valleys of Chumbi and Yatung and the days of arduous journeys passing through the high walls of the biggest monasteries in Tibet at Gyantse and Phari. Fueling their journeys with the Sha Phaley – the fried meat breads, Pala and his father, like many others had carried on trade through this ancient mule track till conflict lead to China taking control of the Tibetan territory in the year 1959, where in the erstwhile religious and political leader his holiness the Dalai Lama fled Tibet and took refuge in India. Pala still at times wakes up in the middle of the night, involuntarily smiling at the sight of the mule trains, under those starry skies along with the lilting sounds of the bells tied to the neck of those mules that recurrently appear in his dreams. Those were the days of yore, of prosperity, of trade and commerce that flourished along this rugged mule track, of private banks having Indian owners and branches in Tibet (there were three banks – Kuber Bank, Das Bank and one owned by a local trader by the name of Ramachandra Mintri!)
Disaster struck in the name of war…the Indo-Sino War of 1962…the trade route..the mule track..those tinkling bells…the banks…those days of economic prosperity..and finally those journeys…all ended…the trade route closed forever…Pala remained in India…officially a refugee…economically strained…physically drained..totally displaced…they took over his hills and valleys…a place which was his home…his Tibet…a nowhere man…that’s his new status…and now everyone calls him “Pala” – the father, who lost his motherland while owning this sobriquet! All that remained was those golden fried rounds of meat bread – the Sha Phaleys…a means of his economic and historical identity…which he now sells to live a life!!!
All purpose flour – 8 cups
Cold water – 3 cups
Mix the flour and water and make a dough. Knead and make a smooth ball, let it aside in a bowl covered with a cover for 2 hours.
- Ground beef – 2 pounds
- Chopped cabbage – 2 cups
- Minced Ginger – 1/3 cup
- Minced garlic – 1/4 cup
- Green onion – 2 cups chopped
- Soy sauce – 2 tblsp
- Cooking oil – 2 tblsp
- Salt – to taste
Place the minced beef in a metal bowl. Add all other ingredients. Mix well.
Roll out the dough into small rounds, place the mixed filling in each round, pinch the edges together in a crimped formation.
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Heat oil for deep frying in a pan, fry each crumpled dough bread with meat filling till golden brown. Strain on napkins and drain the excess oil.
Serve hot with soy sauce or chilli paste.
(Pala served his Sha Phaleys in a large leaf with a chilli paste)
P.S : Until 1959, when China took control of Tibet, the Indian Posts and Telegraphs Department has offices right up to the Gyantse valley in Tibet.