Ants climbing a tree: spicy vermicelli stir-fry (蚂蚁上树)

Don’t be put off by its weird name! “Ants climbing a tree” is a super tasty Sichuan dish containing vermicelli noodles, minced meat and various pungent seasonings.

Don’t be put off by its weird name! “Ants climbing a tree” is a super tasty Sichuan dish containing vermicelli noodles, minced meat and various pungent seasonings.

Sometimes it’s not easy to understand the menu of a foreign cuisine when the name of a dish says something extremely strange. Take “Ants climbing a tree (蚂蚁上树)” for example. If you’ve never heard of this classic Chinese dish, I guess you are put off by its confusing, uninviting name. Hold on a minute! Let me introduce this super tasty dish and show you how to make it in your own kitchen.

Whoever came up with the name “Ants climbing a tree” has a pretty unusual imagination. In fact, what you get on the plate is mung bean vermicelli noodles (tree branches) stir fried with minced meat (ants) and sprinkled with spring onion (tree leaves). Salty, spicy and aromatic, it’s one of the signature dishes of the famous Sichuan cuisine (You can find more about vermicelli noodles in the post on steamed garlic prawns with vermicelli).

Don’t be put off by its weird name! “Ants climbing a tree” is a super tasty Sichuan dish containing vermicelli noodles, minced meat and various pungent seasonings.

Over the years I’ve tasted “Ants climbing a tree” many times in restaurants. I enjoyed some of them but not others. To me, a great plate of “Ants climbing a tree” should have:

  1. Balanced flavour: it’s not overly salty but highly fragrant. It’s spicy with a hint of sweetness.
  2. Perfect texture: the vermicelli is soft to chew but not mushy.
  3. Right amount of sauce: most of the liquid should be absorbed by the noodles. Yet it still tastes very moist.
  4. An extra zing: add garlic and spring onion at the very end to retain their fresh flavour.

Don’t be put off by its weird name! “Ants climbing a tree” is a super tasty Sichuan dish containing vermicelli noodles, minced meat and various pungent seasonings.

Through experimenting in my kitchen, I’ve come up with a simple, straightforward recipe that produces a very satisfying dish of “Ants climbing a tree”. It’s quite addictive! Although on a Chinese dining table this dish is usually served with plain rice (along with other savoury dishes), sometimes I enjoy having it as a quick lunch on its own. If you wish to do so, remember to slightly reduce the usage of Sichuan chilli bean paste. Otherwise you might find it a bit too salty to have on its own.

Ants climbing a tree: spicy vermicelli stir-fry (蚂蚁上树)
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Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 5 minutes

Serving Size: 2 servings

Ants climbing a tree: spicy vermicelli stir-fry (蚂蚁上树)

Don’t be put off by its weird name! “Ants climbing a tree” is a super tasty Sichuan dish containing vermicelli noodles, minced meat and various pungent seasonings.

Ingredients

  • 100g (3.5oz) dry mung bean vermicelli noodles
  • 1.5 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1 tablespoon Sichuan chilli bean paste (see note 1)
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 150g (5.3oz) minced pork / beef
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  • 1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon light soy sauce
  • 250ml (1 cup + 1 tablespoon) hot water
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 stalk spring onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 fresh chilli (for garnishing, optional)

Instructions

  1. Soak noodles in warm water for 5 minutes (or in cold water for 10 minutes) until they are soft and pliable. Rinse under cold water and drain. Set aside.
  2. Heat up oil in a wok (or a frying pan) over a medium high heat. Briefly fry chilli bean paste and chilli powder, then stir in minced pork, ginger, rice wine and soy sauce. Fry until well combined.
  3. Pour in hot water. Then add sugar, white pepper and the noodles.
  4. Cook until most of the water is absorbed by the noodles. Stir in spring onion and garlic. Serve warm (see note 2).

Notes

1. Different brands of Sichuan chilli bean paste (aka spicy Doubanjiang) may vary in saltiness, hotness and texture. Adjust the volume accordingly. Best to use Pixian Douban, a well-known variety, which needs to be coarsely chopped prior to cooking.

2. This dish is usually served with other savoury dishes and plain rice. However, it also makes a meal on its own.

https://redhousespice.com/ants-climbing-a-tree/

If you are interested in making this dish, don’t forget to check out other spicy recipes below which use similar ingredients.

Keep in touch and happy cooking!

An enthusiastic cook with a Chinese palate and a global mindset.

Another Sichuan dish using chilli bean paste:

Mapo tofu, the authentic way (麻婆豆腐)

Vermicelli noodles can be cooked this way too:

Steamed garlic prawns with vermicelli (蒜蓉粉丝蒸虾)

Don’t be put off by its weird name! “Ants climbing a tree” is a super tasty Sichuan dish containing vermicelli noodles, minced meat and various pungent seasonings.

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