Ants Climbing a Tree
Chengdu: City of Gastronomy #1
Mǎyǐ shàng shù – 蚂蚁上树
Glass noodles in a delicious sauce with ground pork.
A lot of Chinese dishes come with a little story – this one is about a sick old lady being cared for by her daughter-in-law. The daughter went to the store to buy some pork, but could only afford a small piece, so she chopped it up and mixed it with glass noodles. When she served it to her mother in law, the lady said, “Why are there so many ants on my food?!” But the ants were actually just the small pieces of pork.
Glass noodles as tree branches, chopped scallions as tree leaves, and the little bits of ground meat as ants. It’s almost artistic and very much tasty.
The glass noodles or cellophane noodles are most often made from mung bean starch.
The sauce usually contains soy sauce, a bit of rice wine, chicken stock, and là dòubàn jiàng – spicy bean paste made from fermented broad beans with chilis, which gives the dish a rich umami flavor. This is one of the key ingredients in Sichuan food, and one that I’ll likely be mentioning over and over again in this series.
To make ants climbing a tree, you soak the meat in a sauce, and soak the noodles in water, then fire up the wok so it’s very hot and throw it all in.
Ants Climbing a Tree is a popular Sichuan dish that can be found in many Sichuan restaurants. The name might be a bit of a turn off, but the dish will turn your taste buds on.
I ordered it from a fairly nice restaurant and the price was only 16 RMB (about $2.40). It was way too much food for one person, but it would make a great side dish for a group of diners.