I first visited Myanmar in 2013, and one of the first dishes I tried was called lahpet tho (click for image) or what speakers of English would call pickled tea leaf salad. I loved it, and ate plenty of it.
There are a variety of ways in which lahpet tho is served, but it is almost always brought to the table at the end of a meal. It will come on a neat little plate with separate piles of roasted peanuts, fried beans, chopped green or red tomatoes, roasted sesame seeds, fried garlic, and of course, the crown jewel: a nice cluster of fermented tea leaves. There will be a tiny spoon on the edge of the plate, and all who are dining can scoop from the different piles to make their preferred combination of flavors. There are a variety of other greens that accompany this plate, my favorite being chopped cabbage and cilantro; they add a nice texture, and soften the strong flavor of the tea leaves. The requisite tomatoes in this dish add a perfect level of acidity and for those who like crunch, the peanuts and fried beans are essential. Lahpet tho is one of the most unique things I’ve eaten in Myanmar; there is something floral and fermented about it all at once, and with the fresh vegetables added in, it can be a wonderful combination of fresh and aged food. (A fun fact: a shared dish of lahpet tho was at one time an ancient symbol of a peace agreement between rival kingdoms.)
While Jim and I prepared to return to Myanmar, I decided that food blogging could be a great language learning project, and as I thought of titles, I couldn’t forget my previous good experiences eating laphet tho, aka pickled tea leaf salad. A month before we left for Myanmar, I purchased the domain name and began preparing for my food blogging endeavors.Yes, you’re right–this is cilantro, not pickled tea leaves. Read on to find out about the absentee pickled tea leaves…
So now you know a little bit about the background behind this blog’s eccentric name. The question remains: why has the author not made it a goal to inscribe Lahpet Tho/Pickled Tea Leaf Salad as the inaugural recipe on this blog? Isn’t something missing?
An excellent question. And were the circumstances of my life different, I may perhaps blush to give an honest answer. As it is, I have no shame in telling you my reason.
Within a week of arriving in Myanmar, I delved into a serving of rice and pickled tea leaves. This was hardly a risky gastronomic decision, but for some reason, it turned out to be disastrous in my case. Four hours after eating, I woke up in abdominal agony. One week later, my digestive system still wouldn’t forgive me, and I had to resort to a pregnancy safe drug to help keep food down. Two weeks later I was still incredibly fatigued from fighting off the food poisoning, and I now have the memory of those fateful bites of tea leaf seared into my mind.
As I write this, I’m nearing the three month anniversary of my arrival in Myanmar. I think one of the challenges of moving to a new culture is that you realize how your digestive health is integral to your ability to function on any other level. Out of the past three months, I’ve spent about 6 weeks with my stomach teetering on the edge of calm (sometimes already over the precipice and tumbling to choppy waters below). With every good week that passes, I feel my courage rising in regard to my fermented friends. I plan to invite them into my diet again, but I’m taking my time about it. I do promise you, though, that when I do, you will be the first to know.