Lahpet Thoke – In Myanmar, You Can Eat and Drink Tea

By Mark Wiens 29 Comments
Burmese tea leaf salad
Drinking tea and eating tea in Yangon, Myanmar

In most of the world, mention the word “tea”, and it’s immediately recognized as a beverage.

In Myanmar however, mention tea, and it can be associated with either a drink, or a food.

Along with the ever-present dish of mohinga, lahpet thoke (လက်ဖက်သုတ်), or Myanmar (Burmese) tea leaf salad, is one of the most well known and popular dishes throughout the country.

Among the mixture in the dish, tea leaves, which are preserved by pickling and are slightly fermented, are the most fundamental ingredient.

In Myanmar, you don’t want to miss eating tea!

Burmese street food
Street food in Yangon, Myanmar

History of tea

Tea is a hugely popular beverage around the world, but the origins of the plant are traced back to the area of northern Myanmar and southern China, including the Yunnan and Sichuan provinces, bordering Myanmar.

Tea has been a major part of the culture in Myanmar for a very long time – I’m not sure exactly how long, but I do know tea is highly important throughout Myanmar.

Myanmar is in fact one of the few, if only countries in the world, that has a tradition of both eating and drinking tea.

lahpet thoke (လက်ဖက်သုတ်)
At a stall like this, you’ll find lahpet thoke (လက်ဖက်သုတ်)

Where to eat lahpet thoke (လက်ဖက်သုတ်)?

I’m not fully sure about other parts of Myanmar, but in Yangon, if you’re looking to eat some lahpet thoke (လက်ဖက်သုတ် Burmese tea salad), there are two different places to find it.

Number one is at a sit down restaurant. It’s a very typical Myanmar dish, and can usually be found at nearly all Burmese restaurants – places like Feel Restaurant (more on this place soon).

Number two is at street food tea stalls. The indicator that you need to look for is a bunch of plastic tupperware looking tubs at the stall (like in the photo above, right side table), which is an indicator that they serve a variety of Burmese salads.

The salads served at places like this, are a little more complex, and take a few more ingredients, than the salads like tofu thoke (coming soon) that you can order from the carrying pole mobile street food carts.

pickled ginger
Plastic tub of pickled ginger

I didn’t get to take photos of the ingredients when she was making my plate of lahpet thoke (လက်ဖက်သုတ်) as I was making a video, but I did snap some shots of the next salad I ordered: gyin thoke (ဂျင်းသုပ်‌ ginger salad).

The ingredients for both salads, as well as the preparation method, seemed to be quite similar, but instead of pickled tea leaves, pickled shredded ginger was used.

Burmese salads
Mixing up salads in Yangon, Myanmar

For salads in Myanmar, the ingredients are usually all tossed into a metal mixing bowl, and then hand mixed.

On my last trip to Myanmar a few years ago, I don’t remember any vendors using plastic gloves to mix the salad, but this trip seemed like almost all the street food vendors I ate at, used a plastic throw-away glove for mixing the salads.

I think that’s a good step in improving sanitary conditions of street food eating in Myanmar.

But anyway, after she tossed in all the ingredients for my salads, and mixed them up thoroughly, she then plated them on small metal saucers.

Lahpet thoke လက်ဖက်သုတ်
Lahpet thoke (လက်ဖက်သုတ်) – Myanmar tea leaf salad

Lahpet thoke (လက်ဖက်သုတ်)

The main ingredients in most plates of lahpet thoke (လက်ဖက်သုတ်) include pickled tea leaves, slices of tomato, shaved cabbage, fried peas, roasted peanuts, sesame seeds, ginger, and garlic.

The dressing is oil based, usually peanut oil, combined with a bit of fish sauce and lime juice.

On the streets, I noticed they also added some powder, which looked like Knorr flavoring, which was surely a combination of flavoring and MSG. At restaurants perhaps they don’t use this type of flavor enhancer, which is surely not part of the traditional recipe.

Gyin thoke ဂျင်းသုပ်‌
Gyin thoke (ဂျင်းသုပ်‌) – Myanmar ginger salad

Gyin thoke (ဂျင်းသုပ်‌)

Along with Burmese tea leaf salad, being a lover of ginger, ginger salad has always been one of my favorites as well.

Just like the tea leaves, the ginger is pickled and preserved. A similar mixture of ingredients go into gyin thoke (ဂျင်းသုပ်‌), and also a similar dressing coats the salad.

The ginger has a beautifully mild taste–it’s still very much ginger–but it’s sweet and spicy, and not too harsh to handle. I’m a huge fan of ginger salad.

Myanmar street food
Raw chilies and garlic, the universal condiment

Salads that I’ve eaten in Myanmar are not normally overly spicy from the start, but the good news is, there’s always a small plate of chilies and garlic on your table.

I like to eat a few bites of salad and then supplement with a bite of chili, which not only adds a bit of heat, but a nice pungency. The garlic, which you can eat the skin of, also tastes fantastic, and is mild in comparison to bigger cloves.

Burmese tea leaf salad
Glistening tea leaf salad in Yangon, Myanmar

Back to the laphet thoke…

Honestly, if I didn’t know it was pickled green tea leaves, and I tasted it, I probably wouldn’t guess it was tea leaves.

The leaves have a slight bitter herb flavor, but when they are pickled they have more of a sour pickled taste. Combined with the dressing and other ingredients they really blend into everything else, to create a magnificent mixture.

But once you know it’s tea, you can sort of the taste the flavor of tea at the back of your mouth.

lahpet thoke (လက်ဖက်သုတ်)
Leisurely eating lahpet thoke (လက်ဖက်သုတ်)

I love the contrast of textures in a plate of lahpet thoke (လက်ဖက်သုတ်), the fresh crispness of the cabbage and tomato, the soft pickled tea leaves, and the hard crunch from the peanuts and fried peas.

Monsoon season in Myanmar
It rains, A LOT!

Monsoon season in Myanmar

I visited Yangon in the middle of July, right in the heart of rainy season, or the monsoon.

It rained a lot.

It would rain for 30 minutes, then stop for 15 minutes, then rain again for 30 minutes, and stop again for 15 minutes in a nearly perfect cycle.

Whenever I had a 15 minute break from the rain, Ying and I would run to the next street food stall, in an attempt to beat the next downpour.

We sat down at this particular tea stall and salad shop when it was almost sunny. 15 minutes later the clouds seemed to come from nowhere, and all of a sudden, the rain started pouring.

Rainy season in Myanmar
Our little table flooded and about to float away…

At first things were fine, but after a few more minutes of intense rainfall, our toy plastic table and chairs became an island in a rushing flash flood.

Ok, it wasn’t that bad… but when you’re sitting on a miniature plastic stool that’s 20 cm off the ground and there’s an extra 10 cm of water on the road, it’s time to stand up.

Luckily, our table didn’t float away!

Yangon street food
A typical street food tea stall in Yangon, Myanmar

Conclusion

Salads are a major part of the food in Myanmar, and there’s no salad that’s more popular and widely beloved than lahpet thoke (လက်ဖက်သုတ်) or pickled tea leaf salad.

Lahpet thoke (လက်ဖက်သုတ်) makes a wonderful accompaniment to a full meal, or is a wonderful light snack to enjoy while sitting on the side of the street drinking cups of hot tea.

Whatever setting you choose, make sure you don’t miss eating tea leaf salad when you’re in Yangon, Myanmar.

Salad stalls in Yangon

You’ll find identical tea and salad stalls, like the one pictured above, scattered everywhere throughout Yangon. But that being said, not all tea stalls have it.

Look for a tea stall that has a table set up with a variety of ingredients in plastic tubs, and then you can be quite certain they will have lahpet thoke (လက်ဖက်သုတ်) waiting for you.

This particular stall pictured, is near Sule Pagoda on the corner of Maha Bundala and 19th street.

29 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • Vishal

    8 months ago

    Well done !! I really appreciate your content and writing skills. Keep it up man…

  • Vishal

    8 months ago

    Keep it up man.

  • Madame in Bangkok

    5 years ago

    Tea leaves salad is one of my favorite asian dish . It is fabulous

  • Bama

    6 years ago

    I’m a very tea-person, even though some tried to convert me into a coffee-person. But I haven’t tried any dish with tea leaves in it. So the next time I come to Myanmar I think lahpet thoke is a dish I really shouldn’t miss. Thanks for introducing this dish, Mark! (and probably making me even more deeply in love with tea) 🙂

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Hey Bama, great to hear from you, glad you love tea, and hope you can try some laphet thoke in the future. Hope you are doing great!

  • Frank

    6 years ago

    I can’t mentally conceive of eating tea, but the pictures you posted definitely have me wanting to try it. I’ll be in Burma next winter, so I’ll have to indulge in it then!

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Hey Frank, cool to hear that, I think you’ll enjoy it. I think if I just tasted it, I might not even know it’s tea, but once I know it’s tea leaves, then you can sort of taste the tea in it. It’s a great dish!

  • Mal

    6 years ago

    Another great article Mark. I’m really looking forward to a visit to Yangon – hopefully in a dryer season. lol I like all your posts and photography and I’ve looked at dozens of your posts…. bought one of the guides which was excellent too… just wanted to mention I for one prefer images that are all in focus. Regards !!

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Hey Mal, great to hear from you, thank you very much for getting my guide, and for your kind words. Thank you for the feedback as well.

  • Maria Falvey

    6 years ago

    Those dishes look amazing Mark – love the bright colors they use in seating too.

  • sacha @ The Beautiful Travel Hangover

    6 years ago

    I’ve never heard about a tea leaf salad before, but it looks really good! I definitely want to try it.

  • Sigurdur Bjorgvinsson @redheadexplorer

    6 years ago

    Great Post Mark, these pictures make the food look really delicious. I am thinking about getting on a flight to Myanmar just to taste this delicious food, I think the especially the lahpet thoke would be interesting.

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Hey Sigurdur, thank you for the comment, glad this looks interesting to you. Getting on a flight to Myanmar to eat is a great idea, I like the way you think!

  • Anil Mahato

    6 years ago

    Road side of Yangon looks pretty much like Mumbai & Delhi street. Thanks Mark for sharing with us. 🙂 Have a lovely day. And I am drinking Indian Masala Chai now, hehe, Have you tried it brother ?

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Hey Anil, great to hear from you. Yah, it definitely does have some similarities. Yes, masala chai is wonderful. Enjoy!

  • Lindsay

    6 years ago

    We were in Myanmar earlier this year and I was so excited because I’d read that it was easy to get interesting salads there. Salad is my favorite! But I was really disappointed in the salads we got in Myanmar. there’s more than the tea salad – you can get tomato salad, lemon salad, sea weed salad and I think a few others. But they’re usually swimming in grease and supplemented with plenty of fried condiments and far too much salt.

    But I’m glad you enjoyed the tea salad! It’s definitely interesting, if not quite delicious IMO

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Hey Lindsay, thank you so much for sharing. Yah I agree, they can sometimes be a little on the oily side.

  • Stephen

    6 years ago

    I was surprised the first time I ate the tea leaf salad in Myanmar…but it tasted great, so I ate it often. Yangon is a fantastic city to eat, especially out on the street!

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Hey Stephen, I was definitely surprised my first time too, it’s so unique and so tasty. Glad you loved the food in Yangon too.

  • Gary Stamey

    6 years ago

    Thanks again Mark for another wonderful and in-depth article about the street foods of the world. We look forward to all your entries, they have us salivating with thoughts of splendor and travel. Eating our way around the world, like you do, WOW, it’s a great life!

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Hey Gary, you’re fully welcome, thank you for reading. Hope you’re doing well.

  • Neila

    6 years ago

    Hi Mark,

    Thanks for the post of my country’s food Lahphat Thoke. We usually don’t eat this tea leaf salad at restaurants, we buy from the market and just mix it with oil and it’s ready to eat. In Bangkok, there are so many Burmese/Myanmar people live. I think you can buy Lahphat Thoke packets in Bkk if you have carving for it 🙂

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Hi Neila, you’re welcome, and thank you very much for the comment and for reading. Yah, I might have to look for some laphet, I think I’ve seen it in the market before. Will have to try making it. Thanks!

  • Arti

    6 years ago

    Never knew one could eat tea too! Those variety of salads looks pretty inviting, what with so many ingredients, I would love to taste some of it. Yummy post Mark 🙂