Recently, a British woman who has been living in Burma came to stay with us. She brought us some gifts from Burma; among them were two packages of lahpet mix. The ingredients and instructions were written in Burmese, but she explained that we were to soak the contents in water and then mix them all together. I was surprised to learn that the mysterious packages were for a pickled tea salad.
Tea is native to Burma, where it is drunk as well as eaten. The leaves are picked in the spring when they are young and fresh. They are then steamed and stored in bamboo vats where they are allowed to ferment, thus giving them the "pickled" state.
Lahpet is considered one of the national dishes of Burma and is a pickled tea salad mixes with ingredients such as crisp fried garlic, peas, peanuts, fresh tomatoes, fish sauce, toasted sesame, crushed dried shrimp, preserved shredded ginger and/or fried shredded coconut. Almost every Burmese meal, whether a simple one or a meal served at a special occasion, has lahpet.
Lahpet is served in one of two ways:
1. A-hlu lahpet (shown in photo below) is served in a shallow lacquerware dish that is divided into small compartments. The pickled tea goes in the central compartment and the other ingredients go in the encircling compartments.
2. Lahpet thouk (shown in photo above) is pickled tea salad very popular all over Burma and is served in many teashops and restaurants. It is prepared by mixing all the ingredients together with fish sauce and a squeeze of lime.
I knew most readers would ask me where they could buy this, and let me tell you, it took some searching, but I managed to find one online source. Unfortunately, it's in the UK, but I believe they ship to the US. I asked around at the Burmese restaurants in San Francisco, and they would only tell me that they got their lahpet via "special delivery." I'm not sure why it's so difficult to find Burmese products in the US. Does anyone know?
Anyway, I did make the lahpet in the lahpet thouk style, and it was delicious. If you'd like to try it, you can buy your own lahpet here.