Mayi Shangshu (Ants Climbing A Tree 蚂蚁上树)
What is it?
Mayi shangshu (ants climbing a tree) is made of ground pork that is cooked in a spicy sauce before being poured over a bed of vermicelli. The sauce is usually made of chilli and Sichuan spicy bean paste, with some soy sauce added.
Despite the less-than-appetising name, ants climbing a tree is one of the most popular dishes in Sichuan cuisine. It got its name because the bits of ground meat clinging to the vermicelli evoke an image of ants walking on twigs. The green onion, which is used for decoration, is reckoned to represent the green leaves of the tree.
Why is it famous?
Legend has it that the dish was invented by a woman called Dou E during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). After her husband died of illness, Dou had to take care of the family as well as her mother-in-law, who was so grief-stricken that she became very sick. Dou cooked all sorts of tasty food to cheer her up but money was tight so she couldn’t afford to spend much. Thinking of what to do with just a little meat, Dou chopped up the pork into very tiny pieces before frying it with ginger and green onion. To add bulk to the dish she also incorporated soaked vermicelli. Her mother-in-law liked it. Dou’s neighbours loved it too. The recipe spread and evolved into the classic Sichuan dish of today.
Where to eat it?
The Chuanban restaurant, which means “operated by Sichuan”, has been a long-time favourite for Beijingers. As it is run by Sichuan’s local government, all of its ingredients are flown in direct from the province. Be forewarned: the waiting time for a table is long. Address: 5 Gongyuan Toutiao, Jianguomennei Dajie Dongcheng District, Beijing; Tel: 86-10-6512-2277 ext 6101).
In Hong Kong, Sijie is a popular private kitchen that serves authentic Sichuanese cuisine. Address: 10/F, Bartlock Centre, 3 Yiu Wa Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong (Tel: 852-2802-2250). The restaurant also offers free corkage.
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