Called Lahpet Thoke in the local language, tea leaf salad is a surprisingly delicious and refreshing meal when travelling around Burma. The thought of eating tea leaves may seem strange at first, but you will likely be pleasantly surprised when you try it – try it at least once! It is widely available in numerous restaurants and cafes around the country.
It is also really quick and easy to make at home too if you find that you have a craving for it after you leave! Why not impress your friends and give it a try?
It is a popular snack for Burmese people, and is often the dish of choice when people have visitors at their home. Historically, it was used a peace offering after battles! For a tourist, it is a tasty snack, light lunch, or you could even have it as a side order as part of a larger meal in the evening. It is especially nice when the weather is hot and sticky and you just fancy something light and refreshing.
The main ingredients are fermented green tea leaves, green beans, peanuts, and garlic. Sesame seeds are also usually added, and depending on a person’s tastes there may be other items such as juicy tomatoes or dried prawns. Traditionally, each ingredient is prepared and served separately allowing people to add as much or as little of each to meet their own preferences. In restaurants today, though, you will also find that everything is served already mixed together.
If you make it yourself using fresh green tea leaves, the leaves need to be soaked well. The other ingredients should be lightly sautéed in a small amount of oil.
Tea leaves are an integral part of the Burmese culture, so much so that after the tea is harvested each year it is separated into two piles; the best tea is kept to be fermented with the rest dried for drinking. Tea leaf salad is a true taste of Burma!
Overall, the food in Burma is very diverse, with lots of regional specialties. Common flavours often include the saltiness of fish sauce and fermented sea foods, and the spiciness of chilies. On the other hand, other dishes can be pretty bland. Tea leaf salad, therefore, makes a refreshing alternative! Although it contains a wonderful blend of textures and flavours, it does not have the strong tastes that are commonly found in so many other dishes, but does have lots of tastes going on to really give your taste buds something to celebrate!
/// Written by Sarah-Jane Williams, Thailand