Tea has been known as one of the social drinks in many cultures for centuries.  It’s firstly noted as medicinal drink in China. It became popular in Europe after the Portuguese merchants, who went to China in the 16th century, brought it back in the 17th century. It gained huge popularity in Britain the 18th century, leading to widespread smuggling and adulteration.

Nowadays, it one of popular drinks after meals in Western countries. In China, people drink tea regularly for health benefits. Besides, tea leaves are used as an ingredient in various cuisine.

Tea...favorite drink of all time

Tea…favorite drink of all time

In the north of Thailand where is the largest tea plantation region of the country, the northern people do not only drink tea but also use tea leaves in their local dishes and for oral healthcare. Known as ‘Bai Miang’, tea leaves are steamed and, then, eaten with salt as a remedy for nice breath.

In cooking, tea leaves are an important ingredient in ‘Yum Bai Miang’ dish or ‘Spicy Tea Leave Salad’. It is a simple dish that mixes sliced fresh tea leaves, chili pepper, shallots and tomatoes, seasoned with fish sauce, sugar and lime juice. It is topped with fried garlic before serving. You can also add steamed fish if you like.  But, don’t eat it too much as it will keep you awake all night!

Many people, including myself, are not usually happy with a typical dish. Therefore, we sometimes modify it a little to please our taste buds. You can make a delicious spicy Thai Style Tuna Salad by adding tea leaves to it. For this dish, I rinse canned Tuna ( I usually use canned Tuna chunks in brines) and put the fish meat in a bowl in brines to cook. I mash it a little to soften the meat before adding sliced tea leaves, chopped bird-chilies (1-2 pods or more if you like it hot and spicy), chopped shallots or onions, sliced tomatoes, 3 teaspoons of lime juice, 2 teaspoon of sugar and 2 teaspoon of fish sauce. Toss it up and serve it with fresh vegetable like lettuce.

Let eat tea 1

Another dish from tea leaves is ‘Deep Fried Tea Leaves’ or ‘Tea Leaves Tempura’.  This easy dish is easy and certainly everyone’s favorite. There are many brands of tempura flour in the supermarkets. Get one and follow the direction stated on the package. Wash tea leaves and dry them well then dip into the Tempura batter and deep fried.  You can eat it as a starter or a savory snack by dipping it in chili sauce or sweet fried-chicken sauce.

Image courtesy by Tea Institute, Mae Fah Luang University

Image courtesy by Tea Institute, Mae Fah Luang University

Alternatively, you can make spicy tea-leave tempura salad. Fry the tea leaves and separate them in a bowl. To make a spicy dressing, put 4 tablespoon of fish sauce, 3 tablespoon of sugar, 6 tablespoon of lime juice, 1 teaspoon of crushed bird-chili, 1 teaspoon of crushed garlic. 1 tablespoon of chopped shallots in a separate bowl. Mix all ingredients together or blend them in a blender.  You can add fried peanuts in the dressing if you like.

For serving, you may pour the dressing over the tempura or eat it separately (I prefer not to put the dressing on top of the tempura because I like the tempura crispy.)

Next time on your visit to a Tea Plantation, Don’t just drink tea… Let’s eat Tea!