Citizens, “Ants Climbing a Tree” is a classic Sichuan recipe in the Chinese cuisine canon. The dish consists of ground meat, such as pork, cooked in a sauce and poured over Chinese cellophane (bean thread) noodles.
It is called this poetic name because the bits of ground meat clinging to the noodles evokes an image of ants walking on twigs, while the scallion bits are reminiscent of green leaves on the twigs.
An old story recounted on chinasichuanfood.com tells the tale:
“In Guan Hanqing’s Dou E’s Injustice, the heroine’s mother in law was old and sick, lying on bed all the day long. Dou E shouldered the responsibility of taking care of her. Although they were very poor, Dou E still wanted to cook delicious dishes for her mother in law with the wish of helping her recovery. One day, she did not have enough money to buy pork but only for a small piece.
Backing home, Dou E minced the small piece of pork and stir fried with Chinese vermicelli. When serving this dish, the old lady asked why there were so many ants on it. The ants actually were the minced pork. After explanation, the old lady gave the dish a name as Ants climbing a tree.”
Other ingredients in the dish may include rice vinegar, soy sauce, vegetable oil, sesame oil, scallions, garlic, ginger, and chili paste.
To make the “ants”, meat is marinated for a short time at room temperature while the noodles are soaked to soften. In a wok, oil is heated until almost smoking. The scallions, garlic, and ginger are cooked slightly in the wok before the marinated meat is added. The softened noodles are added to the wok to soak up the flavor and juices.
Citizens, my version of the recipe is quite traditional though I have kicked it up a bit with some Sichuan Peppercorn oil – I think you will enjoy this easy and delicious recipe!
Battle on – The Generalissimo
2 one-ounce packages cellophane noodles
2 Tablespoons corn oil
1 scallion, white part only, sliced thin
1 Tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
¼ pound hand chopped fatty pork
1 ½ Tablespoon chili paste with garlic
½ Tablespoon fermented black beans, rinsed, dried and minced
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 chicken bouillon cube mixed with a scant ½ cup boiling water plus three tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine added (optional on the Shaoxing)
1 teaspoon Sichuan Peppercorn oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil (Kadoya brand preferred)
1 scallion, green part, sliced thinly and on an angle
Soak cellophane noodles in two quarts of very warm water for half an hour, then drain.
Heat corn oil and stir-fry scallion and ginger for 30 seconds, then add chopped pork and stir-fry an additional minute.
Add chili paste and minced black beans and when hot, add soy sauce, chicken bouillon, Sichuan Peppercorn oil and sesame oil and mix well until it boils, then continue mixing and add cellophane noodles.
Add scallion greens and stir well, then serve.