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You should never refuse Burmese pickled tea leaf salad. Doing so would make you a tactless ignoramus in what is now Myanmar. “Anywhere you go, any meeting, anybody’s house, it’s a sign of hospitality to serve it,” says Toli Moli chef and co-owner Jocelyn Law-Yone. “Tea leaves are such a big part of the culture—you can never say no, even if you’ve had it three times that day.”
Good thing it’s delicious. The tea leaves that come from the northern region of Law-Yone’s home country carry the bitterness of an IPA beer, plus the sweet tanginess of bread and butter pickles.
Toli Moli, the food stall inside Union Market that Law-Yone owns with her daughter Simone Jacobson, serves its version of the salad ($6) with the pickled tea leaves plus sesame-roasted beans and peanuts, tomatoes, cabbage, lettuce, dry-roasted garlic cloves, fish sauce, scallions, lime, and ginger all mixed together.
But, like the American casserole, you can toss in just about anything.
“It can be whatever you have at home,” Law-Yone says. “There is no bad recipe. Everybody is going to make it the way they do in their own home.” That said, layering different flavors and textures is critical as with other Burmese dishes and desserts like the fruity faloodas for which Toli Moli is known.
Law-Yone says people have been clamoring for the dish, officially called “laphet thoke,” since Toli Moli first opened just over a year ago. “You don’t know how much you miss it when you don’t have it,” she explains. “People have been coming for months asking are you making it? Are you making it?”
Yes, at least on Saturdays and Sundays. The salad is part of Toli Moli’s new menu that launched this month. It’s a weekend special, along with two different Burmese rice bowls and a green mango salad. (Full menu below).
Consider pairing the laphet thoke with one of Toli Moli’s new drinks—butterfly limeade made with butterfly pea flowers native to Southeast Asia, cucumber-mint limeade, and slippery basil seeds. The flowers typically dye liquid a vibrant indigo, but once citrus is introduced, the color morphs into a more subtle purple. The drink is available whenever Toli Moli is open.
Toli Moli operates Tuesdays-Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Toli Moli in Union Market, 1309 5th St. NE; tolimolidc.com