This recipe ‘ants climbing a tree’ (蚂蚁上树) is written in response to the request from my readers.
Among all the well-known names like mapo tofu, dan dan noodles, and dry-fried beef, ‘ants climbing a tree’ is relatively less recognized outside of China, as it is tagged with a peculiar name that no one can figure out what is it unless you have tried it.
Ants climbing a tree is the name given to stir-fry glass noodles with minced pork and garlic sprouts (or other similar vegetables). The name is derived from its resemblance to the ants (the bit and pieces of minced meat) climbing up the tree branches (the piled up glass noodles) passing by the leaves (the green scallions) along the way. The Chinese like to coin the name of dishes with an imaginary phrase, and for sure, unlike other special cuisines with real ants, there is none in this recipe!
The flavor of Cantonese cuisine is totally different from Szechuan as a result of the diversity of culture and eating habits between the two provinces.
As a Cantonese, I have somehow hooked on the hot and spicy combination of the essential seasoning ingredients in Szechuan cuisine, such as Doubanjiang, Szechuan peppercorns, and chili oil. This combination is so enticing and drool-worthy that I have learned how to cook Szechuan food so that I can enjoy it at home.
Ants climbing a tree is relatively mild among other hot and tongue-numbing Szechuan food such as hot-pot or mala noodles, and therefore easy to please every palate.
I ditch my trusted cast iron wok for cooking with a frying pan recently. This is because I realized that half of my readers are living outside of Asia, which may not be convenient (and not possible in some situations) to cook with a wok. The frying pan is as good as the wok for most of the Asian dishes except a few that specifically require to prepare with intense heat.
Different names for the glass noodles
Glass noodles are the main ingredient of ants climbing a tree, which there is no substitute for. It has a crunchy texture and turns translucent after cooking, which resembles mini glass tubes. That is why it gets translated in English as glass noodles or cellophane noodles. It is produced with mung beans and hence also called mung bean noodles or mung bean vermicelli. If you are new to these noodles, you can show the two Chinese words （粉丝）to the shop owner to ensure you get the correct item.
How to cook Ants Climbing A Tree
Here is the detailed information on how to stir-fry glass noodles.
1. Soak the glass noodles (cellophane noodles)
Glass noodles are dry and brittle. You need to prepare a pot of hot water and soak the noodles for fifteen minutes, then drain. The noodles will rehydrate and turn soft and translucent. Be careful not to soak it indefinitely in the water as the glass noodles will become soggy.
Note: Although ants climbing a tree is cooked with glass noodles, it is eaten with steamed rice due to its savory flavor instead of considering ss a stand-alone noodle dish, although you can treat it as a separate noodle dish.
2. Mince the meat
Pork belly with some fat is the best for ants climbing a tree because it is juicier and the oil render (along with the flavor of the pork) while the glass noodles will absorb stir-frying. However, you can use chicken meat if you do not eat pork.
It is easier to cut the meat in a semi-frozen state. Cut it into slices, then strips and then into small dice. Mince it for half a minute.
3. Prepare aromatics and vegetables
There are a few unique ingredients for this recipe, which I want to explain briefly.
Chili bean paste (also called Doubanjiang) is a unique sauce that is considered as the soul of Szechuan cuisine. The sauce is the result of prolonged fermentation of broad bean and soybean.
Here are the steps :
- Mince garlic and ginger coarsely. You do not have to mince it finely because it can burn quickly.
- Remove the seeds of the red chili and cut it into small pieces.
- Cut about three teaspoons full of thin scallion rings and set aside.
- Measure all the seasoning ingredients in the recipe.
Now you are ready to start stir-frying
4. Stir-fry the glass noodles
I will begin cooking by dry frying the meat. Dry frying is a standard cooking method, i.e., to fry the minced meat with minimum oil without adding other seasonings.
Dry fry the pork
This method serves two purposes. First, it browns the meat effectively to turn it aromatic. Secondly, it renders the oil from the fat, which to be used later to mix with the glass noodles.
There is no need to marinate the meat because minced meat will contact and absorb the seasonings during stir-frying.
High heat is counterproductive at this stage because it can burn the minced meat quickly. If you want to use high heat with the wok and high power burner like those in the Chinese restaurants, make sure to stir-fry swiftly and non-stop for only a short while, said less than a minute. However, I find that dry-fry over low to medium heat for a longer period yields a better result.
Add the garlic ginger and red chili when the meat is about to cook. The ginger and garlic will ultimately get burnt if you add them to the pan before meat.
Add the seasoning and water
Once the garlic and ginger become aromatic, add the seasoning. The chili bean paste and chili oil provide the foundation of the signature Szechuan flavor. The light soy sauce is to provide more umami, while dark soy sauce will add an attractive color to the dish. You also need some sugar to balance the flavor and add salt if necessary.
Now pour some water into the pan to combine all the seasonings. The amount of water depends on whether you want more sauce or prefer a dry version. I add 125ml (half a cup) of water to it, which is wet enough but not drenching with sauce when served.
Stir-fry the glass noodles
1. Place the drain mung bean noodles into the pan on top of the bed of minced pork and sauces. The glass noodles tend to stick to the pan or wok if you let them from touching the surface before absorbing the sauce (of course not the case if you use a non-stick pan.) It should be done over low heat and let the glass noodles absorb the gravy slowly.
2. When the glass noodles absorb most of the sauce, mix the noodles with the minced meat thoroughly.
3. Add the scallions to the pan and have a few quick mixes.
4. Check if there is still any sauce not absorbed in the pan. Dish out when there is still a small amount of gravy remaining, as the glass noodles will continue to soak up the sauce after serving.
- 100g glass noodles (dry weight)
- 120g pork belly
- 1 tsp Szechuan chili oil
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 thumb-sized ginger, minced
- 2 red chili, remove the seed
- 2 stalks of scallion, cut into thin rings
- 1 tbsp (20g) chili bean paste
- 2 tbsp (30 ml) light soy sauce
- 1 tsp (5ml) dark soy sauce
- 1 tsp (5g) sugar
- 1 tsp (5g) salt
- Water (or stock) 125ml (half cup)
- Soak the glass noodles in hot water for fifteen minutes.
- Loosen the noodles and drain.
- Mince the meat and set aside.
- Coarsely mince the garlic, ginger, and chili.
- Cut the scallion into thin rings.
- Place the minced pork to the pan and stir-fry to render the lard.
- Once the pork becomes fragrant, add the garlic, ginger, chili., chili bean paste and chili oil,light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, salt, sugar. Turn down the heat and stir-fry until the chili oil begins to separate from the bean paste.
- Add the water (or stock).
- Add the glass noodles and let it absorb the sauce. Stir-fry over medium heat for half a minute until the glass noodles are cooked and soft.
- Finally, add the scallions. Have a few quick stir.
- Ready to serve.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 1235Total Fat: 58gSaturated Fat: 17gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 30gCholesterol: 151mgSodium: 3625mgCarbohydrates: 119gFiber: 10gSugar: 57gProtein: 63g