Lephet thoke

Lephet thoke, Burmese tea leaf salad, at a restaurant in Mae Sot, Tak Lephet thoke is a popular Burmese dish based around pickled tea leaves. The sour, slightly bitter leaves are mixed with shredded cabbage, sliced tomatoes, crunchy deep-fried beans, nuts and peas, a splash of oil and pungent slices of chili and garlic. The dish is versatile: it can be a snack, an appetiser or a palate cleanser. Allegedly it's also a stimulant; a Burmese waiter in Mae Sot, Thailand, told me that I'd be up all night if I ate too much lephet thoke.

I've had some interesting experiences eating this dish. Once, several years ago, I ordered the dish at a street stall in downtown Yangon. The woman mixed the dish, in the traditional manner, with her bare hand, squeezing and squelching the mixture thoroughly. After serving me the lephet thoke, she then stared at me while I ate it, licking her fingers the entire time.

I recall that the lephet thoke was tart from the tea leaves and crunchy from the fried peas.

Another time, on a boat on the Irrawaddy River, I was ordering a dish of lephet thoke while a drunk man started screaming at me in Burmese. Another man nearby was kind enough to translate for me. "He says he hates foreigners and wants to kill you," the man said, without a hint of emotion.

The lephet thoke was rich with oil and had thick slices of raw garlic, which I loved.

Compared to previous dishes, the lephet thoke above, consumed in Mae Sot, was uneventful. Unlike in Burma, the dish was served with little or no oil, and the garlic and chilies were served on the side. Nonetheless, the dish seemed to be just about everywhere in Mae Sot, not surprising given how many Burmese now live there. I was able to eat the dish at four different restaurants and even brought some pickled tea and crunchy nuts back home to Bangkok.