If you thought, tea is only for drinking, you have probably never been to Burma. There you can find Lahpet Thoke – a traditional salad made of fermented tea leaves – in most restaurants. The tradition of serving Lahpet Thoke roots deeply back in Burmese history. This article sums up all you need to know about this the traditional tea leaf salad and hands out a recipe for true cooks keen to experiment!
What is Lahpet Thoke, the Burmese Tea Leave Salad?
Lahpet, also laphe, leehet, letpet or leppet, is fermented or pickled tea leaf. In a typical Burmese tea leaf salad you will find a whole variety of ingredients: Fried legumes such as butter beans or yellow split peas, toasted sesame seeds, fried garlic, roasted peanuts, dried shrimp, chili, sliced tomatoes, shredded cabbage and oil, as well of course the pickled tea leaves, the Lahpet. Often people also add fresh lime juice or fish sauce.
Traditional Ways of Eating Tea Leaf Salad in Burma
Travelling Burma you would find lahpet thoke probably on the menue of most local restaurants. But besides being a popular every day dish, there are two main traditional ways of consuming it. A Lahpet tray nowadays is a traditional expression of hospitality offering to houseguests. This goes back to ancient times, when fermented tea leaves symbolized peace or were used as a peace offerings between kingdoms at war.
The Burmese tea leaf salad is either as a main dish often paired with plain rice or a snack. In case of the latter it is called Ahlu Lahpet – ‘ahlu’ means ‘donation ceremony’. The Burmese often serve Ahlu Lahpet at ceremonies such as engagements, weddings or funerals, all the ingredients being split seperately in a tray.
As the main ingredient of this salad is tea, it of course also contains the good old pick-me-up teein. The stimulating effect is therefore a nice side effect and very popular in the Burmese society to keep awake during long lasting wakes. The comsumption of tea leaf salad among students is also said to be highest when studying for hard exams.
The Importance of Tea and Lahpet Thoke in Burma
Burmas mountain region strikes with sufficient humidity, appropriate sunshine and fertile soils. In other words: They offer the perfect climate to cultivate tea plants! In the ranking of the world’s biggest tea cultivation areas it strikes on 7th position, which is pretty remarkable considering its comparatively small landarea.
Of course a whole lot of that gets exported to other countries that go nuts about tea. But as the Lahpet is immensely important to the Burmese culture, during the harvest the best of the crop is set aside for fermenting. To ferment that green gold and get the most important ingredient for Burmese tea leaf salad, the freshly harvested tea leaves are briefly steamed. After this they are packed into bamboo vats and set in pits. To encourage the fermentation process they are pressed by heavy weights.
In Burma as well as in some other nearby regions of northern Thailand you can buy packages of ready-to-be-eaten Lahpet on most local markets. In most western countries it is not very easy – or rather impossible – to get to buy the fermented tea leaves. But this should not keep you from the culinary experience of eating Burmese tea leaf salad! Fermentation is not exactly rocket science and the following recipe will explain step by step, how to prepare Laphet Thoke at home.
How to make Lahpet Thoke, the Burmese Tea Leaf Salad
This recipe is from 196flavors, check out their rather informative blogpost about Lapeht Thoke!
To prepare 1 serving of tea leaf salad you will need following ingredients:
For the fermented tea leaves, the Lahpet:
- 1 cup of dried green tea leaves
- 1 cup finely chopped cabbage
- 3 finely chopped scallions
- 1 bunch of finely chopped cilantro
- 1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 cloves of crushed garlic
- 1/2 finely chopped Thai chili pepper
- Zest and juice of 2 limes
- 1 cup vegetable oil
For the Lahpet Thoke, the tea leaf salad:
- 3/4 cup fermented tea leaves (the beforehand prepared Lahpet)
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
- 3 tablespoons roasted peanuts
- 1 tablespoon each of
- thinly sliced and fried garlic
- fried yellow split peas (after soakin overnight)
- 1 tomato, sliced in thin wedges
- 2 tablespoons dried shrimp, soaked in water for 10 min (this is optional)
- 1 sup shredded cabbage
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1 teaspoon each of sugar, fish or soy sauce and garlic oil
To prepare the Lahpet (you should do this 4-5 days before so that the fermentation can take its time):
Infuse the dried green tea leaves in hot water for 10 minutes. Discard the liquid and cover the tea leaves with lukewarm water. Then drain and press the leaves thoroughly to get rid of the bitter taste. Repeat this step at least 2 more times. Then cover the drained leaves with cold water and let it soak for at least 2 hours. After this drai out the excess liquid by squeezing the leaves one handful at a time. After this, finely chop the leaves or blend them in a food processor. Mix the shredded tea leaves with the cabbage, cilanto, scallions, ginger, garlic and Thai chili. At the end add the lime juice and zest, mix well und place the mixture in a lass or earthware container which covers tightly. Make sure to cover everything in fluid and let it ferment for 2-4 days. After this add the oil to preserve the Lahpet and keep it in the fridge.
To finally prepare the Burmese tea leaf salad, the Lahpet Thoke:
Mix all the ingredients except the garlic oil. Drizzle the oil on top of the salad to finsh it.
And finally: Enjoy!
If you are interested in more fermented Asian foods check out our Blogpost about Kimchi!