Berkeley's Thai Noodle Offers Great Tea Leaf Salad

It gives tea leaves something new to do.


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Think you love tea? Think you know exactly how to select it, store it, brew it, sweeten it (or not), and sip it? Think you know oolong from keemun, puerh from peppermint, Darjeeling from Dragon Well? Think you know just about everything about tea? OK. Next question. Have you ever eaten it?

At Berkeley’s Thai Noodle restaurant, tea-leaf salad arrives at your table as a fluffy tumult of seasonal lettuces—red oak, butter, romaine—tossed with diced tomatoes and fried broad beans. In separate dishlets are sweet ruby-red vinaigrette, paper-thin fresh ginger strips, and this salad’s sine qua non: a thick wedge of steamed green-tea leaves, which taste just as assertively bitter as you’d expect tea to taste when eaten with a fork. Toss it all together, squirt it with lime juice, and it’s a flavor-and-texture festival between the teeth, with big hearty beans hiding like prizes among the leaves. Because Thai Noodle keeps late hours, you can tuck into one of these well after midnight.

Thai tea-leaf salads are a regional variation on traditional Burmese lahpet, in which steamed tea leaves are compressed and fermented in bamboo vats, then served with an assortment of classic mix-ins such as shredded lettuce, fried garlic, boiled lentils, chopped tomatoes, and toasted sunflower seeds.

“Whether it is due to the flavor or health benefits, many cultures have used the tea leaf in ways beyond brewing a cup,” explains Ahmed Rahim, CEO of Oakland-based Numi Organic Tea, which produces a line of savory teas that can be sipped as beverages or cooked with rice or noodles as well as organic teas and herbal teasans.

“Tea as a food ingredient is one of my inspirations,” Rahim adds. “This trend is picking up in the United States, as we are seeing everything from dishes cooked with tea to tea cocktails.”

Thai Noodle, 1936 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-848-6531.

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