Ants Climb a Tree

Mayi Shang Shu

Preparation info

    Appears in

    Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook

    By Ellen Schrecker

    Published 1976

    • About

    Flavor: Reddish-Brown: OtherMeal: One-Dish

    Chinese haute cuisine abounds in phoenix and dragon tails; earthier peasant food uses more mundane images, like pock-marked women or, in this case, tree-climbing ants. Even Mrs. Chiang is unsure of the origin of the name for this famous Szechwanese combination of cellophane noodles (fensi) and chopped meat; perhaps the noodles represent the tree and the tiny pieces of meat the ants. It is a brightly spiced and easily prepared noodle dish with a sharp, clear taste. As the main course in an informal meal, this recipe will serve four or five people, depending on the size of their appetites.



    4 packages (2 ounces each) dried cellophane noodles

    4 cups boiling water, approximately

    Put the cellophane noodles in a large bowl and cover them with boiling water. Set them aside to soak for at least 20 minutes.

    1 pound ground pork or beef

    2 tablespoons soy sauce

    1 tablespoon sesame oil

    Put the ground pork in a bowl and add the soy sauce and sesame oil to it.
    6 scallions Clean the scallions, then slice them, both white part and green, crosswise as fine as you can. Add half of the chopped scallions to the pork and mix well; set the rest of the scallions aside.
    6 cloves garlic Peel the garlic cloves, then chop them into tiny pieces, roughly the size of a match head.
    ½ inch piece fresh ginger Peel the ginger, then mince it very fine, until it reaches the consistency of coarse bread crumbs.
    (cellophane noodles) When the cellophane noodles have become nice and soft, rinse them several times under cold water and then drain well.


    5 tablespoons peanut oil Heat your wok or pan over a high flame for 15 seconds, then pour in the oil. It will be hot enough to cook with when the first tiny bubbles form and a few small wisps of smoke appear.

    (ginger and garlic)

    2 tablespoons hot pepper paste

    When the oil is ready, toss in the chopped ginger and garlic and the hot pepper paste. Stir-fry these ingredients together for 30 seconds, using your cooking shovel or spoon to keep everything moving around in the hot oil.
    (ground meat) Add the meat and continue to stir-fry for about 1 minute, taking particular care to break up any large chunks of meat.
    ½ cup soy sauce Now pour in the additional soy sauce and stir-fry everything for 30 seconds longer.
    (cellophane noodles) Add the cellophane noodles to the pan and cook for about 1 minute, turning them over occasionally and taking several cuts at them with your shovel or spoon while they cook so that they won’t be too long to eat.

    cup water

    (remaining scallions)

    1-¼ teaspoons salt, or to taste

    After you have fried the noodles for about 1 minute, add the water and the rest of the scallions. Taste for salt and add as much as you need to give a rich, clear taste to the noodles, then cover the pan and let simmer over a moderate flame for 3 or 4 minutes.
    Freshly ground black pepper Just before you are ready to serve the noodles, sprinkle some regular black pepper over them. This adds a pleasantly sharp flavor to the dish.