Ants Climbing Tree

If you saw Ants Climbing Tree listed on a Chinese restaurant menu, would you order the dish?

Yes? Why?

Out of curiosity? To see if there really are “ants” in the dish?

No, there is no “ants” in the dish.

The title of this dish is for real, but you will have to use your imagination to find the “ants”.

In traditional everyday Chinese dishes, especially for the masses, meat is used as a flavoring for the dish rather than the main component. This particular dish is made with bean thread, right photo (see NOTE 1) and a bit of ground meat. The bean thread, after cooking with the soy sauce marinated ground pork, takes on a brown color reminiscent of tree branches (twigs) and the ground meat clinging to the “branches” looks like “ants” thus the name for the dish was established.

I said you will need to use your imagination, didn’t I?

Years ago, I was asked to present a program on Chinese noodles to a group of young adults (teenagers). I made the familiar noodles dishes. But my enquiring mind needed to know what if I also included something out-of-the-box? You guessed it, I also made “Ants Climbing Tree”. To my surprise, the dish went over extremely well and I have included it in my YA noodles program since.

Not the prettiest dish but very tasty.

Ants Climbing Tree

From “My Students’ Favorite Chinese Recipes updated edition” by Norma Chang

6 – 8 ounces lean ground pork or ground meat of choice
1 tablespoon ginger wine
1 – 3 teaspoons Chinese bean sauce or aka (red) miso
1 – 3 teaspoons soy sauce, regular or gluten free
1 – 3 teaspoons dark or mushroom dark soy sauce (see NOTE 2)
1 teaspoon sugar
Combine all the above in a small mixing bowl. Can be done ahead of time and kept refrigerated.

1 3.5-ounce package bean threads, soak in warm water for 15 minutes to soften. Cut into about 4-inch lengths. (see NOTE 3)
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ – 2 teaspoons Asian chili sauce or to taste
1 – 2 tablespoons oil
3 – 4 scallions, thinly sliced (from my windowsill garden)
2 cups chicken or pork broth

1. Add oil to preheated wok or frying pan. Add garlic, stir-fry for a few seconds. Add ground meat and chili sauce. Stir-fry until meat changes color.
2. Add bean thread, stir to mix well. Add broth and bring to a boil. Coveer and simmer until most of the broth is absorbed.
3. Stir in scallions, adjust taste and serve with rice.
Serve in steamed pita halves (see NOTE 4).

NOTE 1: Bean thread also known as green bean thread, vermicelli, fun sze, cellophane noodles and glass noodles is made from mung beans (the same mung beans used to grow bean sprouts). Because it is made from beans it is presented as a protein dish (instead of carbohydrate like wheat or rice noodles) and served with rice. Comes in various size packages: 50 grams (1.76 ounces), 100 grams (3.52 ounces) …..
DO NOT confuse bean thread with rice sticks (rice noodles). At first glance they look the same, but upon closer inspection, bean thread has a transparent appearance, rice stick is more white. Dry bean thread has a wiry texture (difficult to break) where as rice stick has a brittle texture and crumbles easily.
NOTE 2: If dark or mushroom dark soy sauce is unavailble substitute regular or gluten free soy sauce. The difference is the finished dish will have a lighter color.
NOTE 3: If you must cut the bean thread in its dry form, hold it inside a large plastic or paper bag and use a pair of scissors. This will prevent it from flying all over the kitchen.
NOTE 4: Steaming the pita changes the consistency and gives it a texture almost like homemade Chinese pancake.
To steam: Cover steamer rack with a damp steamer cloth, place pita halves on top, cover and steam for 2 – 3 minutes.

VARIATION  Vegetarian Ants Climbing Tree
4 – 8 ounces frozen tofu for the ground meat.
vegetarian broth or water for the chicken or pork broth
All other ingredients remain the same.
Thaw and crumble frozen tofu
All other preparations steps remain the same.

Copyright © by Norma Chang

Robin, The Gardener of Eden, is the host for Thursdays Kitchen Cupboard. Head on over to Thursday’s Kitchen Cupboard to see what others are cooking.

About Norma Chang

I am the author/publisher of 2 user-friendly Chinese cookbooks: "My Students' Favorite Chinese Recipes (updated edition)" and "Wokking Your Way to Low Fat Cooking" A gardener who enjoys cooking and eating and loves to think outside the box A garden volunteer at Locust Grove Heritage Vegetable Garden Conduct hands-on cooking workshops for teenagers Conduct cultural programs for children and family Conduct healthy cooking classes for adults
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47 Responses to Ants Climbing Tree

  1. Robin says:

    What a great recipe! “The Italian” just loves cellophane noodles. I’m going to give this a try. I am sure it will just as wonderful as your other recipes!

  2. Maureen says:

    I love the name of this. You’re a clever cook!

  3. I would order this dish now when I know what it is! Although, I haven’t been to a good restaurant in a long time.

  4. Ha! The ants climbing tree dish sounds and looks tasty!

  5. kitsapfg says:

    That looks like it is very tasty and I would never think to serve a noddle dish like this in pocket bread – but when i saw the picture I immediately saw what a tasty and interesting idea that was!

  6. Wilderness says:

    Norma love the name and that does look good.

  7. Ohh i always thought this was an Indonesian dish, because my sister’s maid always makes it hehe I always have a bit of a laugh at the name when I go to Chinese restaurants and not many of my Caucasian friends are willing to order it ~ but then when they see it they’re surprised that it’s a plate of normal looking noodles 🙂

  8. Purely.. Kay says:

    I don’t think I would order this if I saw the name of it on a menu Ms. Norma lol. I would be nervous, it was actually ants lol. But seeing this dish now, I am totally in love with it. Delicious.

  9. EcoCatLady says:

    Wow… I totally LOVE the idea of the meat being used as a flavoring rather than the main component. I was vegetarian for 20 years, and finally went back to eating meat for some health reasons (long story… suffice it to say I’m the world’s most allergic human.) Anyhow, since I started eating some meat again I’m totally shocked at how little I need to feel satisfied, and to add some flavor to the dish. Seriously, as a vegetarian I used to feel the need to smother everything with cheese just to make it taste like something, but I find that I eat very little cheese now, and get plenty of flavor by adding a few ounces of chicken to a dish or even just using chicken broth instead of water.

    I’d love to hear more about how this concept is put into practice in traditional Chinese cuisine.

    • Norma Chang says:

      Hello Cat,
      How can you have cats if you are “the world’s most allergic human”?
      Traditional Chinese cuisine is more a plant based diet, besides the “normal” vegetables, we eat a lot of beans and vegetables in the form of sprouts and tofu (in many different forms).

      • EcoCatLady says:

        Ha! Perhaps I’m the world’s most strangely allergic human! I’m fine with cats and peanuts, but celery will send me to the emergency room!

  10. I want to make this! I love the addition of miso – sounds delicious!

  11. Liz says:

    Fascinating as always, I do appreciate the reminder about checking that you are buying bean thread – I don’t know how many times I’ve come home from an Asian grocer only to look again at what I’ve bought to realise I’ve got the wrong thing.

  12. Charles says:

    Haha, the title of the dish sounds very curious Norma, but the ingredients together sound like they would make a delicious dish. I’ve actually never seen it on a menu here – perhaps it’s known by a different name here?

    • Norma Chang says:

      Hello Charles,
      I did not name the dish (not that clever). Bean thread is known as glass noodles in France. It really is delicious especially in steamed pita pocket.

  13. ping says:

    Eek, ants! But that’s certainly a unique name 🙂
    I love glass noodles … I don’t feel so stuffed after eating them since they have less starch and a healthier substitute to regular noodles too. What a great idea stuffing them in a pita!

  14. leduesorelle says:

    I’ve never seen this served in chinese pancake bread, is this traditional? Steaming the pita seems a great idea though!

  15. mac says:

    Very creative, never thought of steaming pita bread and stuff it with bean thread.

  16. Mike says:

    Looks and sounds delicious, I must admit to haveing never tried these type of noodles before but certainly will if the opportunity presents. I had to look it up and see that the noodles are actually made out of the starch from mung beans, yams, or potatoes…fascinating.

  17. I’ll admit that I’ve heard of this dish and not tried it…not because I thought it had ants in it, though! It sounds great and again, am loving the repurposing into pita pockets…at least I’m assuming that was not the original way to serve this dish!

  18. I do love glass noodles and the flavours of this dish sound like something I would really like, Norma. It would be fun to make it for my niece and nephew BECAUSE of the name!

  19. Lrong says:

    I think the dish looks very pretty and am sure it taste superb… anyway, this is the first time I hear of the name… ignorant me… 😉

    • Norma Chang says:

      Hello Lrong,
      Nothing to do with ignorant, many people have not heard of the name either. It is tasty and I like the red miso in this dish better than the white mise.

  20. Sophie33 says:

    I am glad that there aren’t any ant’s in this sublime dish! The dish sounds so good to me! I love the lovely presentation too! Can’t wait to make it! 🙂 Yummy! Delicious!

  21. Angie says:

    Ooh this is definitely a MUST TRY!!

  22. Asmita says:

    Love this, looks wonderful!

  23. Sandra says:

    What a clever title to a delicious looking dish! I need to stock up on bean threads!

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