Tea is highly revered in Myanmar, the source of Shan Valley teas. Green tea is drunk with every meal. In Buddhist countries, devout Buddhists do not drink alcohol of any kind. Therefore, green tea is seen as the national drink. Many households grow and roll their own tea for their own use. However, they don’t do it just for drinking.
Tea leaves are used in the creation of a dish called Lahpet Thoke (lah-pay toe), or pickled tea leaf salad. In Myanmar, you can find people serving this dish out of stalls and homes throughout the country. It is a very popular way to end a meal, and it’s quite tasty as well. It’s also almost impossible to find in the US. Myanmar is one of the few places where tea leaves are eaten as well as made into tea. In fact, the best tea leaves are reserved for Lahpet Thoke.
There are recipes online, but here’s the general process. Start with fresh tea leaves, or soak dried whole leaves in hot water until they are soft. Remove any stems, then squeeze any liquid out. Place the leaves in lukewarm water and mash with your hands. Pour the water out, then pour cold water on the leaves and let it stand for a few hours. All this soaking removes the bitterness in the leaves.
Drain and squeeze out the water again, then chop the leaves up finely. Mix some fine-chopped spices or other greens into the mix. Popular blends include ginger, chilies, scallions, garlic, salt, and lime. Cover the dish tightly and let it ferment for two days in a dark place, then store in the refrigerator.
When this dish is served, it’s traditionally surrounded by various condiments like roasted sesame seeds and peanuts. This lets guests pick the flavor combinations they want to use. For a dressing, try frying some garlic in peanut oil, then pour that onto the leaves along with a bit of fish sauce and a squeeze of lime. Finish with salt.If you can find whole tea leaves, or know a Burmese friend, you’ll want to give this national dish a try. But don’t forget to drink some green tea afterward!