Posted in Kafevend Blog
Most of us here in Britain drink tea, but of course tea can be a meal too. There's afternoon tea, that delicious spread of dainty sandwiches, scones with jam and cream and mouth-watering cakes. Then again there's high tea, basically the meal we now tend to refer to as dinner, served at the end of the working day. Cups of tea are invariably served alongside, but that tea will most assuredly only be putting in an appearance as a beverage. Absolutely no one is likely to sit at the table and tuck into a pile of tea leaves... unless they're fond of loose leaf and forgot to use a strainer! However, it would seem that on further investigation, we could well be missing a trick; let us transport you now to another part of the world, where you can drink your tea... and eat it too.
Myanmar, the nation that we still commonly refer to as Burma in the UK, is located in that part of the world where tea first originated, as we discovered in a recent blog. Most Burmese tea is cultivated on the Shan plateau and as well as producing plenty of green, black and oolong, there is another distinct processing method which results in an edible tea called Lahpet.
Lahpet is a fermented or pickled tea. Considered a national delicacy, it's immense popularity ensures that it can be served up as a dish for any occasion, no matter how formal or casual. Pickling tea, perhaps unsurprisingly, is a rather more involved procedure than pickling onions. The highest quality fresh, tender tea leaves are carefully harvested and steamed before undergoing a fermentation process which involves packing them into bamboo vats that are stored in pits in the ground and pressed down with weights. These are monitored regularly and the pulpy leaves are re-steamed as and when necessary; the process can extend over several months. The resulting pickled tea takes a starring role in the centre of a variety of lahpet thokes, or tea salads. Common accompaniments to the tea are chillies, garlic, ginger, lime, shredded coconut,sesame seeds, peanuts, shrimps, even peas and cabbage. If pickled tea sounds like a taste sensation you'd like to try and you have no Burmese restaurants to hand, we've had a look online and discovered it can be sourced from the Burmese food company, 'Mum's House'.
China, with its equally long history of tea cultivation is the inspiration behind a rather different tea-based delicacy; if the idea of a pickled tea salad doesn't grab you, what about marbled tea eggs? These are a firm favourite as a savoury snack in China, whether prepared at home or purchased from a street vendor. Hard boiled eggs are left to cool before being carefully cracked but left in their shells. Immersed for a second time in tea, to which is added a little soy sauce and a variety of spices, they are brought to the boil again. Then, after a long second simmer, the eggs are left to steep thoroughly in the marinade, prior to peeling which reveals their delicate marbled designs.
Now this is definitely a tea-based food idea we could all try at home. Dare to be different! The artistic results could prove an interesting talking point when you serve up your next summer salad too.