I have a lot of feelings about Burmese Tea Leaf Salad, most of them good but tinged with acrid disappointment. It’s a complex salad with lots of ingredients that are hard to find. I’m fairly certain that it’s actually against the law to import Burmese tea leaves to re-sell here in the US, which is why they are so hard to find. There are Burmese restaurants in many major cities, so those tea leaves are coming from somewhere. What makes these tea leaves so special? Fermentation.
Tea leaves are harvested in the mountains of Burma (or Myanmar) and then preserved in a pickle-like brine. Tossed together with lettuce, fried lentils and other traditional ingredients they make up laphet or tea leaf salad.
My disappointment stems from the fact that it’s so hard to find a good Burmese tea leaf salad. Burma Superstar in San Francisco makes a good one, a really good one.
Where can I find Burmese tea leaf salad in New York City?
1. Cafe Mingala – Mediocre Burmese on the UES.
2. Crazy Crab – Fresh seafood place in Flushing with a very nice fried Burmese tofu dish. Their tea leaf salad is just okay.
Inle Lake in Cliffside New Jersey looked promising. But a notice on their facebook page says they are closed for good. Also, this NY Times article claims you can find them at Foragers, but you can’t. I’ve called them three times. They don’t have em.
There are a few websites that will mail fermented tea leaves to you but I was the victim of a tea leaf fraud scandal so I won’t be the first to encourage you. Seriously, I sent them $35 via Paypal and my tea leaves never showed. My phone calls and emails fall on deaf ears.
The salad pictured here is a doctored up version of my leftovers from dinner at Crazy Crab in Flushing, Queens. This version is simple and straightforward but if you want to go big, try this recipe from Burma: Rivers of Flavor or try this video.
Burmese Tea Leaf Salad
2 cups Napa cabbage, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons roasted peanuts
1 tablespoon cashews
1 roma tomato, diced
1 teaspoon chopped shallot or red onion
2 tablespoons fried yellow peas (skip if you can’t find them)
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon canola oil
2 tablespoons fermented tea leaves
3 teaspoons sesame oil
1 tsp fish sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice
1. Heat 1 teaspoon of candola oil in a small pan and fry the chopped garlic for two minutes. Drain on a paper towel.
2. Mix the dressing by adding the tea leaves, sesame oil, fish sauce and lime juice together.
3. Arrange the remaining ingredients on the plate, spoon the fried garlic on top, add the dressing and serve without tossing.
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