A Journey into the Exquisite World of Burmese Tea Leaf Salad

Burmese Tea Leaf Salad

Burmese tea-leaf salad, a vibrant assemblage of chopped greens and an array of crunchy elements harmoniously dressed in a savory and earthy pesto-like dressing, has long intrigued me. The complexity of the dressing, layered with subtle savory pungency, seemed mystifying. Additionally, the quest for authentic fermented tea leaves sourced directly from Burma only added to the challenge. However, a recent discovery at Mitsuwa market in San Jose sparked a renewed interest in making this salad at home.

The revered tea-leaf dressing, crafted by Burma Superstar, a renowned Bay Area Burmese eatery, beckoned me to explore the foundations of laphet thoke and indulge in a little experimentation. The dressing, available in both traditional (with fish sauce) and vegan versions, boasts a tantalizing mix of fermented tea leaf, garlic, ginger, and an umami symphony achieved through dried mushroom, tomato, fish sauce, and yeast extract.

Inspired by the convenience of the purchased dressing, I embarked on a week-long journey of creating tea leaf salad using it as my culinary muse. Surprisingly, I discovered that this seemingly intricate dish is imminently approachable. Much like the Thai miang kham leafy salad bites, the key lies in the dressing, allowing room for creative improvisation with the remaining components.

In the Burma Superstar cookbook, acclaimed authors Desmond Tan and Kate Leahy present a detailed recipe for the dressing using fermented tea leaves from Burma. However, nestled on the opposing page, a shortcut beckons, enticingly involving loose leaf tea. Curiosity got the better of me, and I delved into the technique, striving to develop a recipe to share with you. The photo below showcases the comparison between Burma Superstar’s dressing (top) and my homemade creation (bottom).

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Tea Leaf Dressing Comparison

Although my homemade tea leaf salad dressing may lack the fully fermented complexity of Burma Superstar’s, it delights the palate with its inviting flavors once combined with the abundant assortment of toppings. So, if you find yourself far from a source of Burma Superstar’s tea leaf salad dressing, fear not, and embark on the rewarding journey of creating your own!

To unlock the secrets of the tea leaf dressing, I embarked on a blending endeavor. To mimic the flavor profile of the purchased dressing, I opted for a 2-to-1 blend of green tea and bold oolong. A harmonious medley that tantalizes the senses and pays homage to the essence of this dish.

Tea Combination

Delving further into the realm of tea selection, the Burmese predominantly grow Assam tea. However, embracing the book’s recipe, I chose loose leaf teas from distinguished vendors known for their exceptional quality and ethically sourced products. Inspired by the flavors I had on hand, I blended IPT’s Bhutanese Thunder Dragon and CC’s Dragonwell for the green tea component, while infusing a deep note with Phoenix oolong.

To ensure the perfect infusion, each tea was brewed separately, sipped gracefully over the span of a day or two, and the remaining leaves were carefully stored for future use. This meticulous approach to tea preparation eliminates waste and maximizes the flavor potential.

What about those tantalizing garlic chips? These crispy morsels, brimming with umami, enhance the overall experience of the salad. Plus, the leftover garlicky oil adds a delightful dimension to the dressing! To guide you through the process, I’ve included a quick video below:

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Fried Garlic Chips

You can also repurpose these delectable fried garlic chips in munggo, a delightful Filipino mung bean stew.

Now comes the fun part—the toppings! Begin with a bed of crisp lettuce or cabbage, adding tomatoes for vibrant color, juiciness, and an extra dose of umami. While traditional Burmese tea leaf salad often features fried lentils, preparing them can be time-consuming. To simplify matters, I’ve substituted store-bought roasted chickpeas and soynuts. If you prefer, you can increase the quantity of peanuts and/or seeds, as suggested by Kate. According to Naomi Duguid, renowned author of “Burma,” this workaround is equally delightful.

Ground Shrimp

For a touch of nuttiness, consider incorporating toasted and roasted seeds. Experiment with various combinations, such as sunflower and pepitas, or sprinkle in sesame seeds for an enchanting twist. The ground dried shrimp, a staple ingredient, adds another layer of flavor. Simply process it using a dedicated coffee grinder (reserved solely for spices) or, if desired, substitute a drizzle of fish sauce with a touch of extra salt.

Once you have artfully arranged the toppings atop the vibrant greens, it’s time for the dressing to work its magic, weaving together all the delightful elements.

So, what libation pairs perfectly with Burmese tea leaf salad after all the time and effort invested in its creation? While beer is a popular choice at Burmese restaurants, Kate, a seasoned wine expert and accomplished author, suggests expanding your options. Consider an exquisite wine pairing to elevate your gastronomic experience.

Tea Leaf Wine Pairing

With newfound understanding and a wealth of knowledge, the once intimidating endeavor of crafting Burmese tea leaf salad now unfolds as an exciting culinary exploration. Embrace the challenge, savor the flavors, and embark on your own journey into the exquisite world of Burmese cuisine.

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More Burmese Recipes to Delight Your Palate:

  • Green Tomato Salad
  • Egg and Okra Curry
  • Pork Belly, Pickled Mustard Greens, and Tofu Stir-Fry

Now, let the culinary adventures begin!

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