The Sabaya Company
Place orders via direct message for pickup in Piedmont, specify 15″ ($55), 18″ ($75), or 4″ (DM for pricing).
Growing up in a Yemeni immigrant home in Richmond, Sumaya Albgal always wondered why sabaya, a traditional pastry made with thin layers of dough and fragrant brown butter, wasn’t more readily available or known outside of her family community. Born and raised in the Bay Area, Albgal never saw Sabaya other than in her home when her mother made her using flour, honey, and black seed seeds. She often joked with her siblings that they should bring Sabaya to the rest of the world, and now she is with her Instagram-based business, The Sabaya Company.
Albgal, who described Yemeni cuisine as “similar to Middle Eastern cuisine, with influences from Africa and East Africa,” said she decided to focus her business solely on sabaya because it was so hard to find in stores. Part of that is because “it’s so labor-intensive,” Albgal said, since each sabaya can take up to two hours to make. But “just like any labor-intensive delicacy,” Albgal said, “it’s well worth trying and having.”
“When you serve sabaya to guests, say, ‘That’s how much I appreciate you as a guest. I have this sabaya offering that took a very long time to make,'” Albgal said.
Albgal said that many Yemeni baked goods revolve around the ingredients used to make sabaya: flour, clarified butter, black cumin (also known as nigella seeds), and honey. Albgal’s main job is as a private attorney handling criminal and juvenile addiction cases, but during the pandemic she set about seriously developing her own recipe and perfecting it over the course of about 18 months. Her version has 30-35 layers of very thin batter, and between each layer she adds brown butter and black cumin.
“It’s layered and then I braid it along the edges,” Albgal said. “It puffs up when you cook it. All these wafer-thin layers are saturated with hot air. It’s puffy and delicious, resulting in a really flaky pastry. I would say it’s similar to a croissant but softer in texture.”
Like its Middle Eastern cousins, baklava or kunefe, sabaya varies from region to region. “My, as my mother taught me, is that you have many, many layers to create a kind of crunchy pastry,” Albgal said.
“Weave – our pastry has a weave on the outside of the sabaya – the weave comes from a town called Radaa. My family is from Malah, a small village outside of Radaa. Sabaya from this area is unique in its airiness, extra layers and signature weave.”
Now that the court is in session again, Albgal spends her free time working on her new company. She is expanding and consolidating aspects of the business, she said, and is seeking help to bake more sabaya — the hope, she said, is to create more job opportunities for immigrant Yemeni women.
At the moment there are a limited number of Sabaya available for collection in Piedmont each week, but deliveries are possible for bulk purchases. The sabaya are currently $55 for a 15-inch pastry, $75 for an 18-inch pastry, and (if available) their sabaya is available for $7.50 each. Albgal’s innovation, a treat she calls sabaya “pockets,” 4-inch rounds of sabaya bites made from the same 30-35 layers of dough, is sold by the dozen. Frozen sabaya are also available, with detailed instructions on how to prepare them.
Abgal hopes to be an ambassador of her cooking for those new to Yemeni cuisine, while catering to those already familiar with the treat. “I love teaching how people consume it. Here, Yemen isn’t really known for much more than maybe the state of politics in the country, but there’s so much more than that.”
“When my mother was growing up in Yemen before the ’80s, it was such a rural place and the way people in the community interacted with each other was by cooking and sharing dishes,” Albgal said. “The making of sabaya was solemn. It’s the happiest thing we have. Bringing those ingredients together—dairy, eggs, and sugar—to present this to your guests is symbolic of the joy of having them. It’s a symbol of respect, of love.”
Currently, Sabaya Company only takes orders via direct messages on Instagram (@thesabayacompany), but Albgal plans to launch an online ordering website soon.