Known locally as the king of leaves for its taste and versatility, lahpet (pickled tea) has been at the heart of Myanmar’s cuisine and culture for centuries.
In the ancient times, lahpet thoke, or pickled tea leaf salad, is a symbol of peace between two warring nations or settlement in legal disputes. Nowadays, tea leaf salad serves as an appetiser or late-afternoon snack to pair with green tea (yes, we also drink it!). If you have been in Myanmar for more than six months and haven’t tried lahpet thoke, are you really living in Myanmar?
So, get out of the “expat ghetto” and start exploring this salad. We can advise you where to start.
The best way to enjoy lahpet thoke is making it yourself and it’s very easy. First, get the main ingredient, which is lahpet, of course. We suggest these brands:
The pride of Mandalay. It’s been a household name for over two decades. Millennials in Myanmar grew up watching Ah Yee Taung’s TV commercials. If you’ve ever been to Mandalay, stop by their restaurant on 86th street. Their ready-to-eat lahpet packets can be bought at almost every supermarket in Yangon.
Yangon branch: No. 265, Rm 5, Kon Zay Dan St., Upper Middle Block, Pabedan, Yangon
Mandalay branch: No. 181/5, 86th Street, 24th and 25th Streets, Yae Kyi Ward, Mandalay
Behind the brand is a visionary couple who wants to produce export-quality lahpet. They also revolutionise the ways of preparing lahpet thoke. You can try the salads mixed with apples and dragon fruits at their shop in Mandalay. You can directly order the lahpet and assorted fried beans on their Facebook. Also, you may find them in CityMart and Ocean Supercentre in Yangon.
The brainchild of a young Myanmar entrepreneur Cho Lei Aung, Tree Food is a proof of what the soil of Myanmar can provide. From jaggery to tea leaves, the products are neatly packed in environmentally friendly ways. Its nutty, savoury cashew lahpet is available at Marketplace, City Mart and Ocean Supermarkets.
No. 5, Building 5, U Wisara Housing, Minmanaing Ward, Dagon Township, Yangon
If you got the lahpet, the next step is to choose the ingredients. The basic three are sesame seeds, dried shrimps and fried garlic. You can also add varieties of nuts but be careful not to overwhelm the taste of pickled tea leaves.
Restaurants where you can enjoy lahpet
Lahpet can be paired with meat and fish. House of Tea has fashioned special lahpet platters with fried fish and grilled chicken and mutton.
You can also enjoy Tree Food’s lahpet at Old Eain Cafe. The owner Cho Lei Aung gets creative with timeless Myanmar ingredients in her coffee brewed with jaggery powder and lahpet toasts.
Inventive as always, Shwe Sa Bwe serves the tea leaf focaccia with grilled Myanmar paneer cheese and roasted tomato, bringing the recipes from the East and the West in the same plate. It’s part of their vegetarian tasting menu.
**For vegans and vegetarians: Lahpet thoke is vegan if you remove the dried shrimps. When you order it, tell the staff “pazun chauk ma sarr buu” (no dried shrimps).
What they say about lahpet
We also asked two chefs about their views on lahpet to get an expert’s opinion.
Chef Htun Htun of Le Cellier says: “I would say fermented tea leaf has a little strong and strange flavour – this is the most important thing you need to know before combining it with other ingredients. Tea leaf itself is beautiful and nice to have it traditionally on any occasion and I love it, too, as I am Myanmar. In my village, every house has 24/7 tea leaf salad to host the visitors.
“However using it in fine dining or other purposes, you need to be careful to make sure to match with other combinations as well as your client’s palates.
“Could be used in creating snacks, canapés before dinner, cocktails party, etc. Could be also used as a seasoning rub for grilling, barbecuing meat, fish. And also can be used in brine, cured or infused method as supporting ingredients. I prefer to use dried tea leaves in smoking meat or fish.”
When asked how he likes to eat lahpet, Chef Christophe Buzare of Le Planteur says: “I like to eat it with grilled sea scallop.”