Let me introduce you to tea leaf salad, or ‘lahpet (green tea) -thoke (salad)’ as it is called in Burmese, a salad made of fermented green tea leaves. You may think that tea leaves are only good for drinking, but that’s because you haven’t tried this delicious salad yet!
Historically the Lahpet-Thoke was served as a peace offering, after an important dispute between kingdoms was settled. In modern day times, it is served as a welcome snack in nearly every local home, as a snack in tea houses or as a side dish in restaurants.
In a private house, you would typically be served a platter with fermented tea leaves and all other salad ingredients on the side, so everyone can mix the different components of the meal to their own liking. In restaurants, however, you will usually get a version where everything is already mixed together.
So what are the ingredients?
The final salad boasts an eclectic mix of flavors and textures that includes soft, pickled tea leaves, crisp, roasted peanuts and other crunchy beans, toasted sesame seeds, ginger, oil, and a lot of fried garlic. A well known version includes the ingredients sprinkled on rice, which is a perfect cheap meal for students that also provides a boost of energy for the day, as the tea is packed with caffeine.
The ‘Lahpet-Thoke’ culture is so important, that the best leaves of the harvest are put aside to be fermented for the salad. The fermentation process can last from 3 months to 1 year; it takes this long for the bitter taste to leave the leaf.
This traditional food is deeply ingrained in Burmese culture, especially in the tea bush-dotted hills of the Shan state where you will find some of the tastiest tea leaf salads.
If you are invited to try this snack, don’t be surprised if it is served with just one spoon for everyone. In Myanmar, people traditionally share one spoon for all their snacks. They load the food on it and delicately drop the food in their mouth without really touching the spoon. If it makes you more comfortable, don’t be shy to ask for an additional spoon so you can sample this tasty salad, you will not regret it!