In Myanmar tea is so popular that people don’t just drink it, they eat it too.
Now everyone knows how to make a cup of tea. Whether you’re using black or green tea leaves, herbal infusions or rooibos leaves, there’s plenty of different ways to brew a cuppa that are used throughout the world.
But in Myanmar, we eat tea leaves too. In fact tea leaves are used to make the country’s national dish which is a tea leaf salad, or in Burmese “Laphet Thoke”.
So why is this tea leaf salad so popular in Myanmar and what exactly is it?
Historically, tea leaves in Myanmar were used as a peace symbol, and were offered to warring kingdoms after the settling of a dispute. For this, fermented tea leaves were either just exchanged or consumed in the presence of your enemy, more often then not in the form of a Burmese tea leaf salad or “Laphet Thoke”.
Nowadays, the salad is a popular dish across Myanmar society, eaten as a snack while on the go, as a meal in the late afternoon or offered as a friendly gesture to guests as a means to show good hospitality.
Fermented Tea Leaves?
Yep, you heard that right. Not just your usual dried tea leaves, Laphet Thoke is made with fermented or pickled tea leaves.
In fact the dish is so important to Myanmar’s culture that during the harvest, only the best leaves or crop are sit aside to then be fermented, while the rest is dried and made into drinking tea. The fermenting in fact helps to reduce the bitter taste of the leaves.
The process of fermenting the leaves involves briefly steaming them, before packing the leaves into bamboo vats and placing them in pits, which are then pressed by heavy weights (usually rocks) to encourage the fermentation. All in all the process takes around 3 to 4 months.
Tea plants have traditionally been grown all over Myanmar, but the best plants are grown in the Shan mountains with Namhsan (close to Hsipaw) and Mogok (close to Pyin Oo Lwin) being the most famous locations, providing the best climate, sufficient humidity and sunshine and fertile soil.
What are the Ingredients?
The salad is pretty simple to make with the ingredients usually being served in separate piles, allowing the guest to pick and chose what combination of ingredients they prefer and the quantities. Nowadays in restaurants you will also find the salad served with all the ingredients combined.
There are quite a few different recipes out there, but usually the dish will consist of most of the following:
So when you’re next in Myanmar, or if you’re ever passing a Myanmar restaurant, be sure to sample the Burmese Tea Leaf Salad. You won’t regret it.