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Laphet Thote: Burmese Tea Leaf Salad

Burmese Tea Leaf Salad
Tea leaf salad in a traditional Burmese container

My first encounter with Laphet Thote, tea leaf salad, was at the Burmese restaurant Village Mingala in the East Village.  There’s something about the sharp zing and pronounced flavor of fermentation that really speaks to me.  While the namesake tea leaves were the star of the show, the roasted peanuts, along with a smattering of nuts and seeds stirred into the dish, played a strong supporting role, offering a rounded, nutty contrast to the sharp, pronounced flavor of fermented tea leaves.  But before I could return to Village Mingala for a second taste, I was sad to learn that the restaurant had closed down.

Eaten the authentic Burmese way, Laphet Thote challenges the conventional concept of salad. The first thing that comes to mind when you think “salad” is some sort of leafy green.  Well, in a Laphet Thote, there are none.  The laphet, the Burmese word for these fermented tea leaves, is served in the center of the a dish with other assorted ingredients, which differ according to your preference, encircle the star of the dish.

Typically, a telltale sign of a good salad is a balanced distribution of salad components and dressing in each bite, commonly mixed together in a larger portion then served.  On the other hand, tea leaf salad is served in a compartmentalized container, making it possible to adjust the proportion of the ingredients of each handful according to your taste.

I was able to recreate tea leaf salad at home thanks to my Burmese friend Sophie, who not only serves as my resource for all things Burmese related, but also kindly supplies me with laphet, which is apparently illegal to import and distribute here in the United States.  I didn’t have a cool compartmentalized platter handy, but here’s Laphet Thote, done my way: A scoop of laphet surrounded by roasted peanuts, fried yellow lentils, toasted sesame seeds, fried garlic, and some more nuts

Tea leaf salad

Tea leaf salad

The import of laphet has been banned because certain brands have been found to contain traces of Auramine O, a yellow dye used for coloring silk, cotton, paper and leather, was found.   I’m not sure if this is still the case, but I’m hoping that with a gradually growing Burmese community in New Jersey and Queens, there’ll be more chances for laphet thote to emerge on more menus and restaurants.

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13 Responses to Laphet Thote: Burmese Tea Leaf Salad

  1. Judy says:

    That’s really interesting! The tea leaves look like they have a pasty consistency that would go well with dry stuff.

    • Veronica says:

      Yes, it does go really well with dried stuff! The funny thing is that I didn’t even realize that dry stuff was all I had to accompany the laphet until you mentioned it.

  2. Jared says:

    Did you ever get to try this dish at the short-lived restaurant on Roosevelt Avenue? It was about ten times better than Mingala (as were all their dishes)… oh my gosh so good. I really look for this first at all the Burmese events and sadly it is rarely available. I want an invite next time you make it!!

    • Veronica says:

      I think you were the first person to tell me about the restaurant on Roosevelt Ave! I still have some laphet in my fridge, but I’m not sure if it’s still good though. My friend Sophie is in Burma right now, let’s hope she reads this comment and brings some back with her!

  3. James says:

    Oh man — illegal salad! I’ve had a watered-down tea leaf salad before (and it was delicious), but I’ve never had true laphet. Your rendition sounds tasty :]

  4. Jessica says:

    Long time! I’ve never had Burmese food before, but sounds delish. The Korean in me is all for fermented foods! Hope all is well! Congrats on the “new” job.

  5. Veronica says:

    Thanks, Jessica! Hope things are well across the pond. How are things in Paris!

  6. Madeline says:

    Veronica – your post got me really curious about laphet thote. So, I did a quick search for Burmese restaurant and came accross Cafe Mingala in the UES. I’m looking forward to trying it there for lunch! Thanks for sharing.

  7. joel says:

    Hi thanks for these posts…

    Has anyone had any luck finding laphet thote lately in the NY area?

    I am on the hunt for a consistent supply and would be more then grateful to any leads?

    thank you

    • Veronica says:

      I haven’t found a market that sells them, but if I do I’ll let you know. I get my stash from my Burmese friend!

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