A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from January 15, 2019
Ants Climbing a Tree (Ma Yi Shang Shu or Mayishangshu)

"Ants climbing/creeping (on/up) a tree” is a popular English name for China’s Sichuan province dish of ma yi shang shu (or mayishangshu). The “ants” are tiny pieces of ground meat (usually pork) and the “tree” is noodles. “Ma ye soun sou which means ‘ants climbing on a tree.’ The meat is not really ants, but is cut into just such tiny pieces and is served with vegetables and noodles which resemble your macaroni” was printed in The Sunday News Tribune and Sunday Ledger (Tacoma, WA) on September 11, 1960.

“Ants climb trees” was printed in the Greensboro (NC) Daily News on November 1, 1961. “Another Chinese culinary landscape of considerable originality is the Szechuen noodle dish called Ants Climbing a Tree. When chopsticksful of translucent noodles are lifted quickly from the bowl or platter, bits of finely minced pork and chopped green scallion slide gently along the surface, suggesting the inhabited bark of the tree” was printed in Wine and Food magazine in 1966. “I liked the vegetable dish, ‘Ants Climbing Tree, special,’ which turned out to be cellophane noodles with bits of chives and diced pork in a brown sauce” was printed in Newsday (Long Island, NY) on February 3, 1973.


Wikipedia: Ants climbing a tree
Ants climbing a tree (simplified Chinese: 蚂蚁上树; traditional Chinese: 螞蟻上樹; pinyin: Mǎyǐshàngshù) is a classic Sichuan dish in Chinese cuisine. The name of the dish in Chinese, Mayishangshu, have been translated as “ants climbing a tree”, “ants on the tree”, “ants creeping up a tree”, and “ants climbing a hill” and “ants climbing a log”. It is so called because the dish has bits of ground meat clinging to noodles, evoking an image of ants walking on twigs. The dish consists of ground meat, such as pork, cooked in a sauce and poured over bean thread noodles. Other ingredients in the dish may include rice vinegar, soy sauce, vegetable oil, sesame oil, scallions, garlic, ginger,[and chili paste.

To make the “ants”, meat is marinated for a short time at room temperature while the noodles are soaked to soften. In a wok, oil is heated until almost smoking. The scallions, garlic, and ginger are cooked slightly in the wok before the marinated meat is added. The softened noodles are added to the wok to soak up the flavor and juices.

11 September 1960, The Sunday News Tribune and Sunday Ledger (Tacoma, WA), “WSFWC Brings Lovely Taipei Chinese Girl to Study Art at UPS,” pg. D-2, col. 1:
“A favorite dish in my country,” said Vickie, “is ma ye soun sou which means ‘ants climbing on a tree.’ The meat is not really ants, but is cut into just such tiny pieces and is served with vegetables and noodles which resemble your macaroni.”

1 November 1961, Greensboro (NC) Daily News, “Travel Broadens In Many Ways” by Madeline Travis, pg. A17, col. 5:
Where the menus are in Chinese symbols, an interpreter helps in choosing some of the more descriptive items, such as “ants climb trees” and “pork that tastes like fish.”

Google Books
Wine and Food
Issues 129-132
1966
Pg. 39:
Another Chinese culinary landscape of considerable originality is the Szechuen noodle dish called Ants Climbing a Tree. When chopsticksful of translucent noodles are lifted quickly from the bowl or platter, bits of finely minced pork and chopped green scallion slide gently along the surface, suggesting the inhabited bark of the tree. The ants always climb down.

Word of Mouth:
A Completely New Kind of Guide to New York City Restaurants

By Jim Quinn
Philadelphia, PA: Mixed Media; distributed by Lippincott
1972
Pg. 68:
(At Lotus Eater, a Chinese restaurant chain.—ed.)
Ants on the Tree ($3) is a combination of translucent noodles, stewed brown and soft in beef broth, and little little flecks of well done roast beef; it’s interesting but small.

3 February 1973, Newsday (Long Island, NY), “Different varieties of Chinese fare” by Barbara Rader, pg. 2A, col. 2:
(Szechuan Gardens, 272 Plandome Road, Manhasset.—ed.)
I liked the vegetable dish, “Ants Climbing Tree, special,” which turned out to be cellophane noodles with bits of chives and diced pork in a brown sauce.

19 August 1973, San Francisco (CA) Examiner, “Chih Chang: An Experience In the Food of North China” by Jonathan Eddy, Datebook sec., pg. 11, col. 1:
(Chih Chiang, 5500 College Avenue, Oakland.—ed.)
Two of my favorite dishes here are “ants climbing up the tree” ($3.25) and kuo teh (also called pot stickers—$1.25). The “ants” actually consist of nothing more than chopped beef and mushrooms that have been steamed and seasoned—sometimes more highly seasoned than others—and served on large fresh leaves of iceberg lettuce. You eat this with your fingers, just like a sandwich.

Google Books
Florence Lin’s Chinese Regional Cookbook:
A guide to the origins, ingredients, and cooking methods of over 200 regional specialties and national favorites, with special sections on Chinese eating and cooking utensils, planning and preparation of menus, Chinese teas, wines, and spirits

By Florence Lin
New York, NY: Hawthorn Books
1975
Pg. 133:
Ma Yi Shang Shu ANTS ON THE TREE

Google Books
Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook
By Ellen Schrecker with John E. Schrecker
New York, NY: Harper & Row
1976
Pg. 290:
ANTS CLIMB A TREE (mayi shang shu) 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 and chopped meat; perhaps the noodles represent the tree and the tiny pieces of meat the ants.

4 June 1976, Chicago (IL) Tribune, “Mandarin restaurants: Rating the Far East feasts in Chicago and suburbs” by Mary Knoblauch and Charles Leroux, sec. 3, pg. 5, col. 2:
(Chinese Golden Oven, 5343 West Devon Avenue.—ed.)
Chow foon see [$3.45] was a dish with possibilities—a semi-Cantonese version of the Mandarin dish, ants climbing a tree. Bean thread vermicelli, Chinese cabbage, peapods, dried and canned mushrooms, green onion, regular onion, water chestnuts, egg, and bamboo shoots, stir-fried and braised in a soy-chicken stock. But the ingredients were too close to the moo shu, and the sauce too similar.

Google Books
New York’s Chinese Restaurants
By Stan Miller
New York, NY: Atheneum
1977
Pg. 71:
Ants Climbing a Tree. This classic dish is not presented in a way that gives the proper visual affect of sauce climbing up the noodles! Cellophane noodles, cooked too long, are covered with a sauce of ground pork and cut green beans.

18 October 1978, The Courier News (Bridgewater, NJ), “Chinese cooking secrets: simple tools, oil, heat, practice” by Patricia Turner, pg. C1, col. 2 photo caption:
FINISHED PRODUCT
... Marian Yeh holds up Mah Yee Pah Shu, translated “Ants Climb a Tree”

Google Books
Go Gently Through Peking:
A Westerners̕ Life in China

By Lois Fisher
London, UK: Souvenir Press
1979
Pg. 124:
Some of the names, such as ‘ants climb the tree’ and ‘lions’ head’ were more mysterious than informative. I was a little sceptical about the poetic names when i recalled that one restaurant menu had included ‘fragrant meat’, which guests later discovered was dog meat. When the ‘ants’ dish arrived I was relieved to see that it was ground beef with glass noodles.

31 January 1979, Toronto (ON) Star, “A wok delivers the taste of Sechwan” by Anne Lindsay, pg. C1, col. 3:
Ma-Yi-Shang-Shu
(Stir-fried mung bean noodles with pork)

5 September 1980, The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, OK), “Full Part Season Has Hot Start,” pg. 26N, col. 4:
A wide array of entrees was served, including Ma-yi shang shu, which translated means “ants climbing a tree;” bean curd casserole and eggplant with yu-xiang sauce.

5 February 1984, Chicago (IL) Tribune, “Restaurants: Chinese Tea House: No longer a pioneer, but still a delight” by Mark Knoblauch, sec. 13, pg. K10, col. 2:
(Chinese Tea House, 6248 West North Avenue.—ed.)
So long as you’re not put off by the weird name, you may find a lot of pleasure from ants on a tree ($5.95). This bizarrely titled dish derives from some ancient’s imaginative belief that the tiny bits of pork dotting ropy strands of boiled cellophane noodles look like bugs crawling on bark. Soy based sauce spiked with hot pepper soaks quickly into the thin, transparent noodles. Although predominantly pasta, this dish appears among the pork offerings of the menu rather than in the noodle listing.

Slate
What’s Up With Chinese Menus?
The stories behind “chicken without sexual life” and “bean curd made by a pockmarked woman.’

By BRIAN PALMER
JUNE 23, 2008 3:04 PM
(...)
“Ants climbing a tree” describes the classic Sichuan dish’s appearance—the bits of minced pork clinging to bean thread noodles recall insects moving through a tree’s branches.

Gastrolust
July 21, 2008
“Ant On The Tree” at Sichuanese Cuisine
(...)
Ant On The Tree is usually called “Ants climbing a tree”—a classic Sichuanese dish typically made with (mung) bean thread noodles and ground pork. Lift some strands of noodles, and the bits of pork cling to them like, well, ants climbing a tree. It’s a refreshing and economical dish; I love the transparent noodles and the bite of the chili bean paste.

What To Cook Today
ANTS CLIMBING A TREE – GLASS NOODLE STIR-FRY (MA YI SHANG SHU)
January 10, 2018
Ants Climbing a Tree – Chinese glass noodle stir fried with seasoning and ground meat is one of the classic Sezchuan dishes that get its unique name because of its appearance. Can be made on stove-top or instant pot

Chinese sure does like to name their dishes in a very unique way. Most of the time it’s a “literal” translation of what it visually looks like. This ants climbing a tree dish is one of the example. Fret not, there is no ants involved. This classic Szechuan dish is named as such because of how the little pieces of ground meat clings to the noodles. It resembles ants climbing a tree. Why not other bugs you would ask, why ants? well, I honestly not sure about that part.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • Tuesday, January 15, 2019 • Permalink