Burmese lahpet (လက်ဖက်သုပ်) is a popular dish that comes in two main forms. The first form is primarily used for ceremonial purposes and is called A-hlu lahpet (အလှူလက်ဖက်, လက်ဖက်သုပ်လူကြီးသုပ် or အဖွားကြီးအိုသုပ်), or Mandalay lahpet. The second form is more commonly served with meals.
Mandalay lahpet is traditionally presented in a shallow lacquerware dish with a lid and several compartments called a lahpet ohk. The central compartment holds pickled tea flavored with sesame oil, while other compartments may contain ingredients such as crisp fried garlic, chickpeas, butterfly peas, Australian peas, toasted sesame and peanuts, crushed dried shrimp, preserved shredded ginger, and fried shredded coconut.
Lahpet is served in this form for hsun kyway (offering a meal to monks) at Buddhist novitiation ceremonies called shinbyu and at weddings. Mandalay lahpet is an essential part of any special occasion or ceremony in Myanmar, and it is also offered to the guardian spirits of forests, mountains, rivers, and fields during nat (spirit) worship. Invitations to a shinbyu are traditionally extended by presenting a lahpet ohk, and acceptance is indicated by partaking in it.
Lahpet may be served as a snack or after a meal for family and visitors. It is usually placed in the center of the table with green tea. It has a bittersweet and pungent taste and a leafy texture. Many believe in its medicinal properties for the digestive system and for controlling bile and mucus. Its stimulant effect (from the caffeine in tea) is especially popular with students preparing for exams, pwè goers at all-night theatrical performances, and funeral aides who keep watch on caskets overnight.
Lahpet thohk (လက်ဖက်သုပ်) or Yangon lahpet is a pickled tea salad that is very popular across Myanmar, especially with women. It is made by mixing the ingredients of Mandalay lahpet (except for the coconut) and adding fresh tomatoes, garlic, green chilis, and shredded cabbage. It is dressed with fish sauce, sesame or peanut oil, and lime juice. Lahpet with plain white rice is another student favorite, traditionally served at the end of every meal.
Some of the most popular commercial lahpet brands include Ayee Taung lahpet from Mandalay, Shwe Toak from Mogok, and Yuzana and Pinpyo Ywetnu from Yangon. Fried garlic, peas, peanuts, and sesame mixed ingredients are available as Hna-pyan gyaw (twice-fried) for convenience, although they are traditionally sold separately. Ayee Taung has been in business for over 100 years, and its new recipes, such as Shu-shè (extra hot) and Kyetcheini (Red Cross), are quite popular.
Zayan lahpet is lahpet mixed with carambola (star fruit) and pickled young leaves 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 in restaurants that serve Shan ethnic food. In Thai, it is known as “yam miang” which comes from the Shan language “neng yam”.
In the town of Pyay, also known as Prome, there is a unique variation of lahpet known as taw laphet or Nibbinda laphet. This local delicacy is made from fermented leaves of the naywe or kyettet plant, tightly wrapped in dried banbwe leaves and soaked in regularly changed water for up to 2 years before being consumed. Despite its unique preparation, taw laphet is still enjoyed in a similar way to traditional lahpet.
Overall, lahpet is an integral part of Burmese cuisine and culture, served in different forms for special occasions, ceremonies, or as a snack or meal accompaniment. It is beloved for its bittersweet and pungent taste, leafy texture, and is believed to have medicinal properties for digestive health. With many popular commercial brands and variations available, lahpet remains a staple in Myanmar and beyond.