Did you know? Burmese Tea can be eaten as well as drunk
In Myanmar, tea is a not just a normal beverage. It could even be eaten. Burmese has created many dishes out of tea leaves, some of them became the signature national staplers, like the tea leaf salad. Tea is a part of Myanmar culture and important in daily life.
Burmese really treasures tea. It is one of the important products of the local agriculture. The Irrawaddy river delta, or in the north of the Shan, Chin and Kachin are famous regions for growing the best tea.
Most of the Burmese enjoy a cup of tea for their morning breakfast. Tea could be served in different ways. It could be drunk before main meals, accompanied with snacks. Most of the tea types are sweet, which is created by mixing tea with condensed milk. Tea shops always offer the snack to be served with tea.
Myanmar is one of very few countries where tea is eaten as well as drunk. There’s a saying in the country that awkwardly translates to this: If it’s meat, it’s pork; if it’s fruit, it’s mango; if it’s leaves, it’s tea. This saying probably relates to “laphet”, Burmese pickled tea eaten straight or mixed into a salad. Its pickled tea is unique in the region, and is not only regarded as the national delicacy but plays a significant role in Burmese society. In the West, “laphet thoke” is most commonly encountered in tea leaf salad. Laphet is a national tradition and all special occasions such as festivals and weddings will include it.
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. Packages of prepared “laphet thoke” ingredients are readily sold in Myanmar. Finding fermented tea leaves outside Myanmar and northern Thailand, however, isn’t very easy. The other option is to try fermenting the leaves yourself.
People of all ages and backgrounds enjoy this tea. Boiling laphet tea is a daily morning routine in most Burmese households and guests can expect to be served a cup while visiting.
While nowadays 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. Letting each person customize his or her salad toppings, sounds like a perfectly democratic way to stop an argument! That way everyone is at least somewhat satisfied in the end.