Fire Ants Climbing Up A Tree (Vegan)

Ma Yi Shang Shu. A Sichuanese noodle dish, where the traditional mince mimics the look of little ants climbing up a lil’ noodle tree. Here is my plant-based take on it!

Glass noodles are used for this dish, and I personally prefer the ones made of sweet potato starch (the same kind that is used for Korean japchae). They are naturally gluten-free, and perfect for people who are allergic or sensitive. They do need to soak for a while in cold water, so make sure you prepare both the noodles and the dried shiitake mushrooms beforehand. A tip is to read through the entire recipe before you start cooking, so you can avoid any unpleasant surprises. There is no time to lose once the hot wok is on!

Finely minced carrot. (Photo: Umami nom)

Finely mince carrot, ginger and garlic into roughly the same size. Squeeze out any excess liquid from the shiitake mushroom, snip off the stem, and mince it into an equal ant-size.

Blanched tomato, ready to be peeled. (Photo: Umami nom)

Score a cross on the tomato, and blanch it in hot water. Quickly blanch the edamame beans as well. Peel both.

Peeled edamame beans. (Photo: Umami nom)

If you have edamame beans which are still in their pods, you will need to peel them twice. It’s a little finicky, but it will make it a lot easier to mince the beans! Chop them into about the same size as the rest of the vegetable mince.

Finely minced ginger and garlic, sizzling in hot oil. (Photo: Umami nom)

Heat up some neutral cooking oil in a hot wok pan, and sear the ginger and garlic. Let the shiitake join, and allow for the party of three to become aromatic! Add in the carrot and edamame, and flavor with sugar, a pinch of salt, and a dash of rice wine. Add the Chinese chili paste, doubanjiang. If you are a little sensitive when it comes to spicy food, I would advice you to start with half the amount of chili paste, at the most – because you can always add more later.

Vegetable ants. (Photo: Umami nom)

Add peeled and chopped tomato, and mash around in the wok pan! Allow for the tomato to soften slightly, before pouring in the shiitake soaking liquid. Pour it in carefully, leaving behind and bottom debris.

Sweet potato noodles in a spicy, vegetable mince sauce. (Photo: Umami nom)

Drain the sweet potato noodles, and add them to the sauce. Adjust the amount of liquid by adding some water, if needed. But make sure not to pour in too much at once, as this could result in either overcooked noodles, or a sauce that is too watery. When most of the liquid has evaporated, you can mix in some toasted sesame oil, and chopped spring onion. All done!


Fire Ants Climbing Up A Tree (Vegan)

Serves: 2 people (or 1 hungry person)

  • 150 g dried glass noodles (sweet potato starch noodles suggested)
  • 3 dried shiitake mushrooms + 200 ml cold water
  • 2 tsp fresh ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 small carrot
  • 2/3 cups edamame beans (peeled from pods)
  • 1 tomato
  • 1/2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp msg (can be omitted)
  • 2 tsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp Chinese rice wine (Shaoxing suggested)
  • 2 tbsp doubanjiang, Chinese chili paste
  • 2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • Scallion or leek
  • 1-2 tbsp neutral cooking oil for the wok (rapeseed, corn, or sunflower)


  1. Start by preparing the shiitake mushrooms, by quickly rinsing them, and putting them in cold water to soak. Feel free to let them soak overnight. Prepare the glass noodles as well, by putting them in cold water. If you are using sweet potato starch noodles, you can leave them to soak for a couple of hours without having to worry. I let mine soak for about 4-5 hours in cold water.
  2. Time to prep the ants. Peel and finely mince carrot, ginger, and garlic. Blanch the edamame beans, and peel them to make it easier to chop (the peel makes it really difficult to achieve a fine mince). If you are using edamame beans still in their pods, it means you will have to peel them twice.
  3. Squeeze excess liquid out of the shiitake mushrooms, but save the soaking liquid. Rinse off any possible dirt (check under the mushroom cap), snip of the stem, and chop into roughly the same size as the rest of the vegetable mince.
  4. Score a cross on the tomato, and blanch it in hot water. Take it out and allow to cool slightly before peeling it, by pulling the corners from the cross you scored. Chop into smaller pieces (it’s a good thing if it all turns into a mush – encouraged, even!).
  5. When all the ingredients have been prepared you can heat up some neutral cooking oil in a hot wok pan. Add in ginger and garlic, and let it sizzle until aromatic, then add in the shiitake mushroom. Fry until it has some color, before adding in the carrot mince, and lastly the edamame mince.
  6. Add in sugar, salt, rice wine, and chili paste. When the ingredients have fried for a bit, you can add in the tomato. Mash any possible larger pieces, and let the tomato cook until softened.
  7. Pour in the shiitake soaking liquid, but be careful not to let any bottom debris join! Add light soy sauce, and optional MSG. Drain the noodles before adding them to the wok. Depending on how hot your wok is, you may have to adjust the amount of liquid by adding some more water. Only add a little bit a time, if necessary.
  8. Let the noodles cook until soft and transparent, and most of the liquid has evaporated. Mix in some toasted sesame oil, and chopped scallions. Serve immediately, and enjoy!


Note! Traditionally, tomato is not included in the sauce, but I find it rounds off the flavor and adds some natural sweetness and acidity to the dish! Besides, who doesn’t like a little bit of extra umami?

Note regarding MSG: MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is made up of sodium (salt) and glutamate (a compound which naturally occurs in lots of food, and our own bodies). It is used as a flavor enhancer in countries like Japan and China. Kind of like how bouillon is used in the West (which often contains msg, but written as “flavor enhancer” or “yeast extract”).

Ants climbing up a tiny tree. (Photo: Umami nom)

I do hope you try out this recipe! It can be cooked using soy mince, if you prefer a more meat-like dish, but the shiitake and edamame already add a nice, quite “meat-y” bite to it. So, please try it! Tag me on Instagram, using #umaminom if you try the dish, I would love to see it! You are welcome to follow Umami nom on Instagram for more recipes and cook alongs!



Eat well!


Umami nom

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