Pickled Tea: The National Dish Of Burma

Tea isn't drunk in Myanmar (formerly Burma) - it's eaten. Known as lahpet, or pickled tea, it's an integral part of the country's cuisine and culture. The little information we have regarding the origins of pickled tea is that it was traditionally provided as a peace offering between the several warring kingdoms that existed in the past. Pickled tea consumption today still has a strong connection to its peaceful origins. In fact, lahpet, a meal that is served at almost every social event and is regarded as a national dish of Burma, has strong connections to the country's peaceful roots. 

What Is Pickled Tea 

Pickled tea is essentially what it sounds like: tea leaves that have undergone fermentation to alter and improve the flavour. The immature tea plant buds are harvested, wrapped in bamboo, transported to a riverside, and buried for a prolonged period of time is the traditional process for manufacturing pickled tea. Although the basic steps have changed a little, they still involve steaming the buds to release the tea's juices, which will be used as the pickling liquid, putting them in big vats with a heavy top, and lastly burying them. Three to six months are needed for the tea to ferment (as with any other pickle, the exact amount of time affects the pungency of the end result). Intriguingly, pickled tea is made using only the tea leaves; no vinegars or other starting chemicals are used; instead, the tea simply ferments on its own, giving it its most distinctive flavour. Using adjectives like "musty," "dry," "olive-y," and "similar to a grape leaf" to describe pickled tea's flavour doesn't do it justice. There isn't really a single flavour that you can associate with it; it's deep and dense yet also light. 

Weaving The Culture 

Pickled tea is used in Burmese cooking for a very specific purpose: it is the main component in the traditional dish tea leaf salad. The dish is served in a particular lacquered tray with compartments for each ingredient and is made up of little components including lahpet, lentils, chiles, tomatoes, sesame seeds, and peanuts (to name a few). Simply shape your own bite in your hands or in a dish to suit your tastes to enjoy it. Since tea leaves contain a lot of caffeine to help one stay awake during long hours of studying, Burmese students prepare a more granola-like variation of the tea leaf salad using only lahpet, peanuts, and seeds. Lahpet is almost mainly used for tea leaf salad, though there are a few variations on these dishes, like adding rice.  

Pickled tea is a staple of most ceremonies and is ingrained in the Burmese culture of hospitality. Whether you are at a temple or someone's house, it is customary to be given a tea leaf salad. The manner in which the salad is served with the many compartments is quite ritualistic since it is eaten together and serves as a sign of goodwill. The warmth and certain kind of openness that's woven throughout society—something that the people have been doing for a long time are what the tea eventually speaks to.