Ants Climbing Trees – Recipe & Legend

Copyright © 06/25/2021    Yun Hua



More than 400 years ago in Chuzhou, China, there was a little girl named Dou E who had lost her mother at an early age. Her father was a poor scholar, and one day he had to go to the capital to attend an official exam. Since he did not have the necessary travel money he sold his seven-year-old daughter to the Cai family as a child bride. At the age of seventeen Dou E was married to Cai's son, but after only two years he fell ill and died, leaving Dou E and her mother-inlaw dependent on one another.


There was a local villain named Zhang Lüer. He was toying with Dou E and wanted to force her to marry him. Dou E’s mother-in-law disagreed which led Zhang Lüer to hold a grudge against her. A few days later the mother-in-law fell ill. Looking to get rid of the old women and to force Dou E to marry him, Zhang Lüer pretended to be concerned and came to visit alongside his father.


When the two arrived, Dou E was cooking a bowl of sheep soup in her mother-in-law's kitchen and Zhang Lüer took the opportunity to poison the soup. Unfortunately, Zhang Lüer's father, attracted by the fragrant soup, ate a few spoonfuls and was fatally poisoned. Zhang Lüer was so enraged by this that he charged the mother-in-law Cai with murder.


At the court, the corrupt governor of Chuzhou tried to force the old lady into a confession without conducting an investigation. As Granny Cai denied the charges, the governor decided to torture her in front of Dou E's eyes. Dou E considered her mother-in-law too old to endure torture, and so she confessed to the poisoning. The corrupt governor then sentenced Dou E to death and had her executed.


In time, Dou E's father became a high official in the capital and when he returned to his hometown, he was horrified to learn of the injustice done to his daughter. He had the case properly investigated and the real murderer Zhang Lüer sentenced to death and the corrupt governor punished.


The dish "Ants Climbing Trees" was invented by Dou E. At the time, she and her mother-in-law Cai had a hard life and had no money for meat. Nevertheless, Dou E tried to cook the food as tasty as possible because her mother-in-low was not doing so well.


One day Dou E went to the butcher Wang to buy a piece of meat on credit. But Wang refused because Dou E had bought meat on credit too many times without being able to pay for it. However, Butcher Wang was persuaded and he cut off a small piece of pork which he gave to her.


In the kitchen, Dou E was thinking about what she could cook with such a small piece of pork. Suddenly it occurred to her that there were still glass noodles left under the cutting table, which she could use. First, Dou E soaked the glass noodles in water, then she minced the small piece of pork and stir fried it in oil, adding scallion, ginger, garlic, chili and other spices. Finally, she added the glass noodles, and without much effort she had created a tasty dish – fried glass noodles with minced meat was ready to be served! Enjoying the fragrance of the dish, the mother-in-law asked Dou E what she had cooked. Instead of answering, Dou E asked her mother-in-law to taste the dish. After tasting it the motherin-law stared at the dish and asked strangely: "What are those things on the noodles that look like ants?"


Dou E told her the whole story which made her mother-inlaw laugh and reply, "These mince bits really do look like ants on tree branches, so we'll just call this dish 'Ants Climbing Trees!'"


That's how this tasty dish was born!

  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cooking Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes

  • Ingredients for 2 Persons:

    • Minced pork 50 g (2 oz)
    • Glass noodles 100 g (3.5 oz)
    • Chili pepper (alternatively paprika)
    • Scallion approx. 10 g (0.4 oz)
    • Sliced ginger approx. 5 g (0.2 oz)
    • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
    • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
    • ½ tbsp dark soy sauce – optional
    • 1 tbsp soybean paste
    • Vinegar
    • Ground white pepper
    • Neutral vegetable oil


    • Soak the glass noodles in warm water for 20 minutes, then cut them in halves
    • Ingwer, Knoblauchzehen und Frühlingszwiebel fein hacken. Frühlingszwiebel in weiße und grüne Teile trennen.
    • Finely chop ginger, garlic cloves and scallion. Separate the scallion into the white and the green parts.
    • Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a wok or pan, sauté the garlic cloves, ginger, chili pepper and white scallion together briefly until fragrant. Then add the minced meat, a few drops of vinegar and stir fry until the meat turns white. Add 1 tablespoon of soybean paste, stir fry briefly and pour in 100 ml (½ cup) water. Then add 1 tablespoon light soy sauce, ½ tablespoon dark soy sauce and bring it to a boil.
    • Drain the glass noodles, add them to the pan and simmer until the sauce thickens. Sprinkle with the green scallion, stir and serve.


    • Goes well with rice.
    • Insider tip: Better to leave a little more liquid in the wok because the glass noodles absorb the liquid very quickly.

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