Lahpet thoke - a Burmese salad that will give your taste buds a wild ride
By Bao Nguyen
January 16, 2018
Besides amazing memories of the culture and people of Burma, I returned from my trip there with an insatiable craving for more lahpet thoke, a popular dish commonly known in English as tea leaf salad.
I remember my first bite clearly because I had never tasted anything like it before. The dish is a combination of so many different flavors and textures that every spoonful activates all your senses. Soft, crunchy, salty, sour, spicy, fishy, earthy, savory, and even a hint of sweetness. Yet they all work in perfect harmony, leaving you wanting more. I’ve been making my own version of it and here’s how you can too.
While the salad is a mixture of widely used ingredients, the pickled tea leaf is what makes it stand out. It is quite pungent, salty, and spicy, but that’s also what makes it so good! Give your palate the exercise it needs.
Although there is now a sizeable Burmese community in King County, it’s still not easy to get your hands on some of these ingredients. Fortunately, one store in Kent, WA called Asian Planet Food Market carries the necessary products. It’s worth the trip to try this amazing dish!
Note: There is no quantity listed for each ingredient because I do a lot of things by taste and feel. That is to say, I’m not a professional cook. Just do what feels right!
Making the dressing:
- Pickled tea leaf (comes in a small green/red bag)
- Canola / peanut oil
- Fish sauce
- Heat a little bit of oil and fry the garlic until golden brown. Don’t burn them!
- Combine the garlic + oil with the tea leaf paste and fish sauce. Add more oil to help loosen up the tea leaf.
Making the salad:
- Cabbage (romaine / iceberg lettuce for a softer bite): Finely julienned.
- Tomatoes & cucumber: Cubed.
- Fried beans & nuts: The tea leaf package already includes this but I prefer a separate kind shown here because it has more variety and tastes better to me.
- Lime: season to taste.
- Pepper: season to taste.
- Jalapenos / Chili flake: for additional spiciness. The tea leaf is already somewhat spicy.
- Thoroughly combine the dressing, vegetables, and nuts together. The dressing has a strong flavor so a little goes a long way. Don’t add all at once!
- Finish it off with a squeeze of lime, freshly ground pepper.
- Burmese food is notoriously spicy. Add Thai chilies or chili flakes to kick it up a few notches.