Lahpet, also spelled laphet (Burmese: လက်ဖက်သုပ်; MLCTS: lak hpak, pronounced: [ləpʰɛʔ], is Burmese for fermented or pickled tea. Burma is one of very few countries where tea is eaten as well as drunk. Its pickled tea is unique in the region, and is not only regarded as the national delicacy but plays a significant role in Burmese society. Its place in the cuisine of Myanmar is reflected by the following popular expression: "Of all the fruit, the mango's the best; of all the meat, the pork's the best; and of all the leaves, lahpet's the best".
- Lahpet chauk (လက်ဖက်ခြောက်) or dried tea leaves, also called a-gyan gyauk (အကြမ်းခြောက် crude dry), are used to make green tea - yei-nway gyan (ရေနွေးကြမ်း, plain/crude hot water) or lahpet-yei gyan (လက်ဖက်ရည်ကြမ်း, plain/crude tea); it is the national drink in a predominantly Buddhist country with no national drink other than the palm toddy.
- Acho gyauk (အချိုခြောက်, lit. sweet and dry) or black tea makes sweet tea (လက်ဖက်ရည်ချို, lahpetyei gyo) with milk and sugar.
- Lahpet so (လက်ဖက်စို) means wet tea to distinguish it from dried tea and indicates pickled tea although lahpet is generally synonymous with pickled tea.
Tea is native to Myanmar, as in Bangladesh, Northeast India, Laos and China, both Camellia sinensis and Camellia assamica, and grown mainly on the hills in northern Shan State around Namhsan in the Palaung substate of Tawngpeng, but also around Mogok in Mandalay Division, and Kengtung in southern Shan State. Zayan leaves, which make up about 80% of the harvest, are best picked in April and May before the onset of the monsoons, but they can be picked until October. Another old adage goes thus: "For good lahpet let the Palaung take their time up the hills".
Over 700 square kilometres (270 sq mi) of land are under tea with an annual yield of 60,000-70,000 tonnes. Of this 69.5% is green tea, 19.5% black tea and 20% pickled tea. Annual consumption runs at 52% green tea, 31% black tea and 17% pickled tea.
Burmese tea leaf salad (လက်ဖက်သုတ်) is served as two main forms. First is mainly used to serve in ceremonies and is called A-hlu lahpet (အလှူလက်ဖက်, လက်ဖက်သုတ်လူကြီးသုတ် or အဖွားကြီးအိုသုတ်) or Mandalay lahpet. The second one is mostly served with meals and is more popular.
The best tea leaves are selected for fermenting and the rest for drying. They are steamed for about five minutes before either drying or fermenting. Young leaves are packed into bamboo vats set in pits and pressed by heavy weights; the fermentation process is checked at intervals and the pulp may occasionally require re-steaming.
A-hlu lahpet (အလှူလက်ဖက် or လက်ဖက်သုတ်လူကြီးသုတ်) or Mandalay lahpet is served traditionally in a shallow lacquerware dish called lahpet ohk with a lid and divided into small compartments. Pickled tea is laced with sesame oil in a central compartment surrounded, in their own compartments, by other ingredients namely crisp fried garlic, peas and peanuts, toasted sesame, crushed dried shrimp, preserved shredded ginger and fried shredded coconut. A rare treat in Mandalay may be a delicacy, dried and lightly pan-fried, called twin poh — a species of aquatic grub that is found only in a lake in the crater of an extinct volcano called Twindaung near Monywa.
No special occasion or ceremony in Myanmar is considered complete without lahpet. A-hlu means alms and is synonymous with a novitiation ceremony called shinbyu. Lahpet is served in this form at hsun jway (offering a meal to monks) and weddings. Nat (spirit) worship features lahpet offered to the guardian spirits of forests, mountains, rivers and fields. Invitation to a shinbyu is traditionally by calling from door to door with a lahpet ohk, and acceptance is indicated by its partaking.
It may be served as a snack or after a meal holding centre stage on table with green tea; it may be just for the family and visitors. Apart from its bittersweet and pungent taste and leafy texture, many believe in its medicinal properties as beneficial for the digestive system and controlling bile and mucus. Its stimulant effect to ward off tiredness and sleepiness is especially popular with students preparing for exams, pwè goers at all-night theatrical performances, and helpers at funerals who keep watch overnight.
Lahpet thohk (လက်ဖက်သုတ်) or Yangon lahpet is pickled tea salad which is very popular all over Myanmar, especially with women. Some teashops would have it on their menu as well as Burmese restaurants. It is prepared by mixing all the above ingredients without the coconut but in addition includes fresh tomatoes, garlic and green chilli, sometimes shredded cabbage, and is dressed with fish sauce, sesame or peanut oil, and a squeeze of lime. Many would have lahpet together with plain white rice, again a student favourite. This form is traditionally served at the end of every meal.
Some of the most popular brands sold in packets include Ayee Taung lahpet from Mandalay, Shwe Toak from Mogok, Yuzana and Pinpyo Ywetnu from Yangon. Mixed ingredients of fried garlic, peas, peanuts and sesame have become available as Hna-pyan jaw (literally twice fried) for convenience although traditionally they have been sold separately. Ayee Taung has been around for over 100 years and its new recipes such as Shu-shè (extra hot) and Kyetcheini (Red Cross) are quite popular. Zayan lahpet is mixed with carambola (star fruit), and pickled young leaves may be cut together with coarse leaves. Many prefer Mogok lahpet as it uses only young tea leaves.
In the Northern Thai provinces of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son, lahpet thohk can be found at restaurants where Shan ethnic food is served. In Thai, it is called yam miang (ยำเหมียง), from Shan neng yam (ၼဵင်ႈယမ်း).
A formal dish (small size) of lahpet contains 200 calories with 12 g of total fat, 50 mg of sodium, 4 g of dietary fiber, 10 g of protein (varies depending on amount of dried shrimps, fish sauce, fried beetle larva (Eretes sticticus, တွင်းပိုး), fried peanuts and fried beans as ingredient) and vitamins (depending on whether tomato, garlic, green chili, toasted sesame seeds, Napa cabbage, juicy lime or other vegetables are added or not).
On 12 March 2009, the Ministry of Health announced that 43 brands of lahpet including the popular brands contained a banned chemical dye called Auramine O which could cause liver and kidney damage and possibly cancer. This was believed to arise from wholesale dealers using cheaper chemical dyes instead of the traditional food dyes. Singapore ordered a ban on 20 brands of lahpet from Burma, including eight varieties marketed by Yuzana, which were not declared unsafe by the Burmese authorities. Businesses were hit by a dramatic drop in sales of this popular food considered indispensable at social gatherings and on special occasions. Malaysia joined the ban but not Thailand, which has a sizeable Burmese population.
Lahpet was an ancient symbolic peace offering between warring kingdoms in the history of Myanmar, and is exchanged and consumed after settling a dispute. In pre-colonial and colonial times, lahpet was served after the civil court judge made a verdict; if the arbitrators ate the lahpet, this signified formal acceptance of the verdict.
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