When anyone thinks of Myanmar or what we commonly call the country – Burma, we think of the legendary Aung Sann Syu Kyi and I personally think about one of my favorite novels, the classic 1926 Bengali novel Pather Dabi written by the Legend Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. We don’t really associate ourselves with the interesting tea culture of Burma, albeit tea plays a big portion in the daily lives of Burmese people and off course the tea culture and the Burmese Pickled Tea Salad are so unique that you can’t compare with any country.
Origin of Tea -The Burmese Folklore:
An old Burmese tale says that tea was discovered by a king who always had his drinking water boiling hot. But the king got bored with his regular hot drinking water and he decided to set out to the forest all by himself looking for a flavor. That very night while trying to boil his own water he bumped into a tree and some dry leaves from the tree fell into the pot of the boiling water. Astonished by the aroma of the water, he decided to give it a try and he was blown by the taste and flavor of the water. The king was overwhelmed by his new discovery and decided that his people know of this tree.
Though, the history says otherwise. The tea plant, known as Camellia Sinensis was originated in the South-East Asia and around the 8th century, the culture of drinking it like a beverage was established. May be the rest of the south Asian countries learned to drink tea from China, but in Myanmar, drinking and actually eating tea is a part of its own cultural identity.
How much Burmese love tea?
When I visited Myanmar, I found people of different age groups sitting idly by the road sides on plastic stools and sipping tea. Over the years, the Myanmar capital Yangon has seen the birth of many new-age fancy air-conditioned restaurants, but the roadside tea stalls with a plastic table and a bunch of plastic stools around it have the soul of the country. People still come to these roadside tea stalls and talk their hearts out. Some people even admitted that they could see what going on in the outer world by sitting in these tea stalls.
If you sit on any of these plastic stools and talk to the small-time roadside tea vendors, you would know about the days of the violent war of military people with the civilian protesters. You would know all about the tense history of the common Burmese people who used to live their days in fear and the sound of gunshots. No matter how much beating they took or how much the protesters were hurt, they would gather around in these roadside tea shops and to unwind from the stress and share a few laughs.
These stories would let you know how important those roadside tea stalls are. You would realize that these tea stalls are practically community centers where common people gather around and talk about their everyday lives. When you’ll walk around the streets you’ll see these tea shops are never empty, be it morning, evening and afternoon. Many families and friends meet thereafter doing every day work for a cup of some hot fresh and sweet milky tea or green tea.
There is a new trend among the Burmese city dwellers that they love to have their breakfast at the tea shops, and more and more people loving it, so more or less every tea shops are started to serve breakfasts such as mohinga, fried rice, coconut noodle, spring rolls, samosa and other snacks.
To get a taste of a pure Burmese life, you have to sit in one of these tea shops and watch their daily lives.
The Shan state is called the official Tea headquarter of the country as it is the home of the most of the tea gardens in Burma. Burma is a country with very conservative outlook about alcohol of any kinds, tea found its foothold to be the strongest drink found here. They found the substitute of a glass of good wine with a glass of yummy tea.
The local vendors prepare the tea by pot roasting it first, and then they soak the tea leaves in hot water for several minutes. That kind of tea they find not strong enough, are typically distributed to the restaurants at free of cost. And of course, it is used as a starter course as it prepares us for the big cup of frothy, milky and strong Burmese cup of tea.
The idea of adding milk to their tea came directly from the immigrants of India who used to come here in Burma for working. The black Burmese tea, however, is influenced by the British origin. Actually, you may know but Burmese tea has some different variations-
- Lah Patyei: It’s their normal tea, mixed with milk and sugar. They make it with 3 tbsp of Assam or Burmese Tea leaves which they add to the boiling water seasoned with a pinch of salt, then they turn the oven down to a low simmer until the tea is becoming dark liquor-ice brown. Add 4 tbsp of water into the milk and heat up the milk to evaporate. Put one tablespoon of condensed milk at the bottom of your cup, then pour a quarter of hot tea into your cup and fill up the cup with evaporated milk. Stir gently as you won’t be mixing the thin layer of condensed milk to your cup. That’s your treat the last sip.
- Bone Mahn: It’s their modification of the first kind of tea. They mix it with extra evaporating milk. If you don’t like the strong normal tea, this is the one for you.
- Cho She: It’s another kind of sweet tea with extra sugar and condensed milk. It’s almost syrup.
The Burmese also eat their tea: The Burmese Pickled Tea Salad
Lahpet is the Burmese Pickled Tea Salad. As, you know Burma is one of the few countries who literally eat tea over any meal. Though it is not regarded as the National Delicacy, it plays an important role in Burmese culture. Lahpet has many forms. Namely,-
- Lahpet Chauk: Literally means dried tea leaves, are mainly used to make green tea.
- Lahpet so: It means wet tea and used in Pickles.
- Acho gyauk: it is the traditional black tea made with milk and sugar.
The Burmese Picked Tea Or The Tea Leaf Salad:
It has two different forms, the first form is used to serve in the ceremonies and the second form is most widely known and is served with every meal. For this pickled tea leaves, the best tea leaves are first chosen. Then the tea leaves are divided into two batches, one for fermenting and another for drying. Both the batches are steamed for 5 min before fermenting and pickling. The leaves are then placed into a hollow bamboo pits and pressed by heavy weights. The fermentation process needs to be checked from interval to interval and the tea pulp needs occasional steaming.
The traditional Lahpet is usually served in a traditional Lacquer-ware dish called Lahpet Ohk which comes with a lid and is divided into several compartments. The center compartment holds the pickled tea leaves mixed with sesame oil, however, the other compartments hold crisp fried garlic, peas and peanuts, dried shrimp, toasted sesame and shredded ginger and coconut.
Sometimes the Lahpet delicacy includes a special dish in one of its compartments, called twin Poh, which is actually an aquatic grub that is found only in a lake near an extinct volcano called Twindaung. Every special occasion in Myanmar considered incomplete without Lahpet, be it weddings or shinbyu, hsun jway (meal offering to the monk’s ceremony)or Nat (spirit)worships. Lahpet is usually served as a snack after a meal with a cup of green tea.
The Burmese are really fond of its pungent bittersweet taste and eats it as they believe in its medicinal properties. They believe it is good for the digestion as it controls the bile and mucus. The stimulant property of tea is also present there as it helps the people get rid tiredness and sleepiness. For these effects, Lahpet is extremely popular in Burma among the young students.
Another form of Lahpet is named Lahpet Thohk is extremely popular among the women. More or less every restaurant including the tea shops and big restaurants have this on their menu. This variety of Lahpet has all the ingredients mentioned above except coconut and comes with fresh tomato, garlic, green chili, shredded cabbage dressed with fish sauce, peanut oil, and lime juice. Many people also like Lahpet with plain rice and are served traditionally after every meal.
A normal plate of Lahpet Thoke contains about 200 calories with 12 grams of fat, 50mg sodium, 4 gms of dietary fibers, Vitamins and depend on and 10gms of protein. Albeit the amount of protein totally depends upon the amount of dried shrimp, fish sauce, fried beans, fried peanuts and fried beetle larva present in the plate of Lahpet and a number of vitamins depends on the variety of vegetables. Burmese people always choose the best tea leaves for fermenting.
Packaged and branded form of Lahpet is also available in the Burmese market. Some of these brands are very popular like Ayee Taung Lahpet from Mandalay, Shwe Toak from Mogok, Yuzana and Pinpyo Ywetnu from Yangon. The mixed ingredients of fried lentils, garlic, prawn, peas, and peanuts are also sold under the brand name of Hna-pyan jaw (means twice fried), although you can buy it separately from the market.
A brand called Ayee Taung is on the market for over 100 years and it has invented many Lahpet recipe like Shu-shè (extra hot) and Kyetcheini (Red Cross). The Zayan Lahpet is the pickled mix of young tea leaves and coarse tea leaves mixed with starfruit. The Mongok Lahpet only uses young tea leaves.
Lahpet as the subject of peace offering:
The ancient Burmese warring kingdoms used to offer peace to each other with Lahpet. They used to consume it after settling a dispute. In the precolonial and colonial times, the court used to offer Lahpet to the arbitrators after giving a verdict. If the arbitrators accepted and ate the Lahpet, it was assumed that they had accepted the verdict.
Tourist attraction- The cultural heritage of Burma:
Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon)continues to be the main tourist attraction of Burma with many interesting ancient pagodas, beautiful parks, museums and stunning views. The Shwedagon Pagoda, the Sule pagoda, the Botahtaung Pagoda, Bogyoke Aung San Market, the Myanmar Gems Museum, Htauk Kyant War Cemetery, National Races Villages and the National Museum being the center of all the tourist’s attraction here. You will never regret visiting Shwedagon Pagoda as you will be bewitched by the beauty of this ancient 2500 years old pagoda. This Pagoda with amazing architecture stands magnificently with its pure-gold encrusted body enshrining the sacred relics.
In the National Museum, you also have to learn about the ancient Burmese calligraphy and epigraphy from the prehistoric and the historic period like Royal Regalia or Royal decorations, Burmese folk art, the ancient Throne of the Burmese king. You can also find the miniature model of Mandalay Royal Palace.
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If you visit Myanmar, Mandalay is the place you never go to forget ever in your life. Known as the historical capital of Myanmar, Mandalay is the home of the ancient Buddhist sasana and many of the ancient sites, cultural monuments, and Buddhist edifices. Mandalay is now the main commercial, health, and education center of their whole country. The other attractive places to visit in Mandalay are the Maha Myat Muni Pagoda, Mandalay Hill, Kandawgyi Lake, Atumashi Monastery, Mandalay Palace, and Eindawya Pagoda. There is a beautiful hill station near Mandalay named Pyin Oo Lwin near about 2 kilometers away with a pleasurable weather all year around. You can pleasure your sore eyes in here with the serene beauty of this town with the colonial era buildings, pine trees, eucalyptus, and silver-oaks.
This city was earlier known as Myohaung which literally means ancient city. It was founded in 1433 and was once a very powerful kingdom. In this place, there are as many as seventy unnamed ancient pagodas. The major attractions of Mrauk U are the Royal Palace, Shittaung Pagoda, Koetaung Pagoda, Andaw Pagoda, Yadanabon Pagoda, Dukkanthein, Pitakataik, Sakkyamanaung.
A renowned World Heritage Site, Bagan, was formerly the capital of the first empire located on the east bank of the Ayeyarwaddy. The vast plain of 25 km square has as many as 3000 monuments which were built mostly from the 11th to 13th century AD by the long line of 55 kings who ruled over Burma. Many of these monuments are in the stage of decay and many of it has even disappeared. Bagan was famous for the murals, paintings, replica arts, stone inscriptions, and museum.
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The Inle lake is situated in the Shan state which shares border with Thailand and Laos. It climbs up to over 900 meters above the sea level into the mountain, thus you would get a beautiful breezy weather. The main attraction of the lake is the Phaungdawoo Pagoda, which is literally floating on the Inle lake. Traveling here during the time of the Phaungdawoo Pagoda boating race would create a great experience for the tourists. Taunggyi hot air balloons’ festival is another entertaining festival that goes around here. You can visit the Pindaya cave, which has different types of Buddha images of different size. If you visit Kakku Pagoda there, you’ll be mesmerized seeing these untouched ancient architectures.
Myanmar is a beautiful place to visit. You can taste a different kind of life here, so raw, so untouched from the rest of the world, but so beautiful and lively. The food lovers can taste somewhat a whole different kind of taste palette here. And nature and history lovers would find their soul here.
So it’s great to plan your vacation to Burma in a Burma group tour in the days to come. And the experience of tea culture in Burma is never be forgotten for your entire life.