As you can probably tell, I’m utterly fascinated with Asian cooking, namely Chinese. There are so many different kinds of regional Chinese cooking, but one of my favorites is Sichuanese, or sometimes called Szechuan. A lot of Sichuanese food can be spicy, which is perhaps why I enjoy it so much! Fuchsia Dunlop has released several fantastic Chinese cookbooks, but her earliest books focus on food from the Sichuan province in Southwestern China. We’ll be exploring one of her Sichuanese recipes today…
I’m not gonna lie, a big reason I made this dish is similar to why I made Strange Flavor (Bang Bang) Chicken: because the name makes me laugh! This dish of bean thread noodles with minced meat is referred to as Ants Climbing a Tree because if you dangle strands of the noodles with your chopsticks, bites of meat cling to them “like ants climbing a tree.” Whatever it’s called, it’s incredibly delicious and easy to make!
Bean thread noodles, also known as cellophane noodles, glass noodles, or Chinese vermicelli, are made with pea or mung bean starch. They are simply softened in hot water, and then stir fried with the spicy ground meat (either pork or beef), chicken broth and seasonings.
I actually made a half portion of this recipe to yield one lunchtime serving for myself (the recipe below has the original quantities). I happened to have about 2 ounces of bean thread noodles in my pantry from making Nime Chow, and had 2 ounces leftover ground pork from making dumplings and wontons, leaving myself just enough to use for my Ants Climbing a Tree.
Even though I essentially made this with “leftovers,” it was so tasty that I would definitely plan on making it in the future without relying on using bits and pieces of ingredients from other creations. Even with it’s odd-sounding name, Ants Climbing a Tree has quickly become a favorite of mine, between the glassy noodles and spicy meat. You really can’t go wrong!
PS Can we all please take a moment to check out this beautiful bowl? This is my first time using it! I purchased it as part of a set of two (the other is bright orange with similar-looking flowers) from one of my favorite stores in the whole entire world, Pearl River Mart in New York City, unfortunately set to close later this year due to ridiculous rent hikes. Please visit if you get a chance. They have so many beautiful items. It’s impossible to leave empty-handed.
Ants Climbing a Tree (Bean Thread Noodles with Minced Meat / Ma Yi Shang Shu)
Serves 2 (or 4 if serving with two other main dishes)
(Adapted from Land of Plenty)
1/4 pound bean thread noodles
1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine or medium-dry sherry
1/4 pound ground pork or beef
Peanut, canola, or vegetable oil
3 teaspoons light (regular) soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons chili bean paste
1 2/3 cups chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon dark soy sauce
3 scallions, green parts only, finely sliced
Soak the noodles in hot water for at least 15 minutes before you begin (drain them just before cooking). Add the Shaoxing rice wine and a couple generous pinches of salt to the ground meat and mix well.
Add 1 to 2 tablespoons oil to a wok and heat over high heat. Add the ground meat and stir-fry until lightly browned and crispy, with a teaspoon or so of light soy sauce. Add the chili bean paste and stir-fry until the oil is red and fragrant, taking care not to burn it (remove the wok from the heat for a few moments if it becomes too hot). Add the stock and the drained noodles and stir well. Tip in the dark soy sauce for color, and season with light soy sauce and salt to taste.
When the stock has come to a boil, simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until the liquid has mostly evaporated and absorbed. Finally, add the scallions, mix well, and transfer to a serving dish.