By Lynnie Stein / October 11, 2018

Why Burmese Cuisine

Here is why you need to get to know Burmese food. 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. It is an eclectic mix of flavours 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.

Burmese food, like most national cuisines, is the sum of many regional parts.

Myanmar is a country made up of many ethnicities, and each one has its own special dishes and styles of cooking.

A few unifying factors that span this diverse country are the overwhelmingly sour and savoury flavours that dominate the food, as well as the tendency for dishes to be served with a ton of accompaniments — be they soups, boiled vegetables, herbs or dipping sauces and pastes.

The emphasis is on strong, pungent flavours, not sweet or spicy flavours like you might find in neighbouring countries like Thailand or India.

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 centre 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.

Beyond the tea leaf salad, Burmese salads can be found in any shape or form.

Tomato salads — mixed with onion, peanuts, garlic, and sesame seeds, to name a few — are popular, as are cucumber salads and noodle salads.

The Burmese even turn samosas into salads, which is totally brilliant.

If it can be tossed with peanuts and spices and served cold, you’ve got a Burmese salad.

  • Ngapi is a fermented fish or shrimp paste used heavily in southern and western Myanmar.
  • It can be used as a condiment or can be mixed into a dish.
  • Like most dishes, there are regional variations of ngapi: it might be very salty or not salty at all, watery or thick, made with ocean fish or freshwater fish depending on the location.

သည်ပုတ်ထဲက သည်ပဲ – Beans from the same pot are fermented alike.

This POPULAR BURMESE saying is similar to the English proverb ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’ and means that children often show similar behaviors to their parents.

Myanmar’s tropical climate produces an array of exotic fruit, which can be found at street markets all over the country.

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