Pickled tea

In Myanmar you can drink tea or you can eat it.

Wagaung at the English Wikipedia / CC BY-SA

I’ve written a few posts about coffee and tea (one vs. the other, or together at last) in my time, but this one takes the cake. In Myanmar, formerly Burma, you can drink your tea like most people, or you can eat it instead.

In the dish called lahpet (လက်ဖက်), tea leaves are steamed, pressed by weights to extract the moisture, and left for three months to pickle. Once they’re all nicely fermented the tea is washed and mixed with garlic, oil, and a few other ingredients. It’s ready to eat, typically as part of a salad.

This is not just simple cuisine, though: lahpet fulfils a number of religious, ceremonial, and official functions. If you want to invite the neighbours to Shinbyu, a Burmese Buddhist coming-of-age ceremony, you offer them lahpet. In pre-colonial times, if you’d reached an agreement in civil court everyone shared some lahpet; if you were at war, lahpet would be part of the peace offering. Weddings, funerals, or just having guests around… lahpet!

I don’t know what it tastes like. Herby, bitter, sour, and yet still a little like actual tea, apparently. I don’t drink tea, but I do like the idea of eating it.

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