Burmese Tea Leaf Salad or Lahpet Thoke (pronounced “la-pay toe”) or tea-leaf salad, is considered by many to be the Burmese national dish.
is an eclectic mix of flavors and textures, including soft, fermented tea leaves, crisp nuts and other crunchy mix-ins … beans, sesame seeds, fried garlic and, if desired, dried shrimp and chopped tomato.
Lahpet “green tea” and thoke “salad”
It’s meant to be served with all the ingredients in separate piles so that guests can pick out a combination to their own preference each time they grab a handful.
Today the salad is typically served as a final course at the end of a meal, historically lahpet was an ancient symbolic peace offering that was exchanged and consumed after settling a dispute between warring kingdoms.
Lahpet is so important to the culture that when tea leaves are harvested, the best of the crop is set aside for fermenting, while the rest is dried and processed for drinking tea.
The freshly harvested tea leaves are briefly steamed, then packed into bamboo vats and set in pits, pressed by heavy weights to encourage fermentation.
If you do not have access to fresh tea leaves, dried green tea leaves, Yerba Maté or any edible wild bush leaves (lemon myrtle or dried and crushed mulberry leaves) make a perfectly acceptable substitute.
Fermenting tea leaves
Pour 4 cups of hot water over ¾ cup organic, green tea leaves, stir, and let soak until the leaves have expanded and are quite soft, about 10 minutes.
Then drain, pick through the leaves, and discard any tough bits.
Squeeze out any remaining liquid from the tea leaves as thoroughly as possible.
Next place the tea leaves in lukewarm water and mash with hands a little.
Drain and squeeze out extra liquid.
Repeat and rinse once more
Add cold water and let stand overnight.
Drain and squeeze thoroughly to remove excess water. Discard any remaining tough bits.
Chop the leaves finely and mix together with about 1 cup finely chopped kale, 1 loosely packed cup mixed chopped parsley and shallot greens, 2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger, 1 tablespoon of garlic paste, a generous pinch of salt, and the juice of 1 lime.
For an extra kick include two minced green chilies. Cover the dish tightly and allow to ferment, untouched, for two days in a dark, cool space.
After two days, place the container in the refrigerator. It’s ready to serve!
Serving the salad
Place the leaves in a neat pile in the center of other crunchy mix-ins.
Chop lettuce or seasonal greens and place in an even layer on the bottom of a large plate.
Add a large scoop of the fermented tea leaves to the centre of the plate.
Place small piles of ingredients on top of the lettuce. Add chopped tomatoes, lemon wedges and a handful of pea shoots or micro greens. Add a mixture of crunchy, savoury bits like chick peas, sesame seeds, and moong dal.
The finishing touch is fried garlic / use the brine from fermented garlic
Fry garlic-12 cloves garlic, minced (Yes, 12.) In a small pan, heat 2 tablespoons oil and chopped garlic on medium heat. DO NOT preheat the oil. The garlic burns easily, so be careful with your technique. Remove the garlic from the pan just as it starts to turn golden brown and drain on a paper towel. If the garlic tastes bitter, it’s burned. Squeeze lemon over the salad and toss tableside for guests.
Toss the fermented tea leaves with the garlic oil, a few splashes of fermented fish sauce (optional), and fresh squeezed lemon/ lime juice to give an extra sour note.
Or, serve the salad unmixed, arranging small piles of all the ingredients on a platter.