Ants on a tree

Phil Ford

We had the annual musicology department hausmusik concert yesterday, which was great fun. Everyone played great, there was belly dancing, and a musical saw was involved at one point. I contributed my old standby spicy noodle dish, "ants on a tree", and was besieged with requests for the recipe. Now, I realize this is a musicology blog and everything and we're all very very serious, but it's also *my* musicology blog, so if I want to post a recipe, I'm gonna. Ever wonder what a musicologist eats?* Here you go: 


1. The better part of a head of garlic, chopped fine (like, 8 cloves or more)
2. An inch of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped fine (I'm usually lazy and do the ginger and garlic in the food processor)
3. A bunch of scallions (eight or something), both white and green parts, sliced into thin rounds
4. A pound of ground pork (preferred) or lean ground beef (which is what I used yesterday)
5. 8 oz or so of mung bean (bean thread) noodles
6. Soy sauce, sesame oil, and Sriracha chili-garlic paste
7. vegetable oil of the sort you'd use for stir-fry (neutral flavor, high smoke point)
8. salt and fresh milled black pepper


1. Mix the ground meat with two tablespoons of soy sauce and one tablespoon of sesame oil, along with half the chopped scallions.

2. Boil enough water to cover the noodles (about 1.5 – 2 liters). Put the dry noodles in a big bowl, cover with water, and let stand long enough for the noodles to soften (I dunno, five minutes? ten minutes? the noodles with be transparent and soft, though still with a bit of spring to the bite). Drain well when done and set aside.

3. In a wok or large dutch oven (I use the latter), heat 4-6 tablespoons of oil — enough that the considerable quantity of garlic and ginger will be well coated in the pan, but not so much you end up with oily gross noodles. When the oil is good and hot (hot enough that a piece of garlic will sizzle the moment you throw it in but won't instantly turn color), throw in the ginger and garlic, give it a few stirs, enjoy the smell, and then throw in a respectable gollollop of chili paste (at least a tablespoon). Stir-fry it all for another 20-30 seconds.

4. Add the ground meat mixture, stir-frying all the while and breaking up the lumps. When the meat has just finished turning color (nothing pink left in the pan), add a quarter-cup of soy sauce, give it a stir, and let cook for another couple of minutes — enough that the meat mixture is well-cooked, but not so much that the liquid has boiled off.

5. Add the noodles and stir into the meat mixture. You'll have to cut the noodles with your spatula a few times and keep turning the mass in the pan over to mix the meat into the noodles properly. After the noodles and meat are decently (though still imperfectly) mixed, add the reserved scallions, a few grindings of black pepper (set your mill to the coarsest setting) and a quarter-cup or so of water. Keep stirring. Believe it or not, after all that soy sauce you might still need to season with just a little salt. Taste and see what you think. You'll know the dish is done when the noodles are clear, shiny, uniformly colored, and well-mixed with all the "ants" (the little bits of meat and scallion). The added water should have been cooked off and absorbed by the noodles — this is the thing that gives the noodles their final sheen.

It's awesome!

*You all can post your favorite recipes, too.

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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4 Responses to Ants on a tree

  1. Jonathan says:

    I’ll need to try the beef version of this, after screwing my courage to the sticking-point, because I am not at ALL a natural cook. My family might well like this, though. I LOVE the idea of a musicology *Hausmusik* concert/event. Your report is incomplete, though, Phil: you need to provide us all–with no dissembling or blushing or any of that–a full program, and who played what. Not a review; we already know that “everyone played great.” But the program and participants will further open our eyes about faculty talent at IU. I can’t applaud enough the idea that all the musicologists do this. And, yeah, I’m going to work on filching the idea. But meanwhile post the program.

  2. Saw Lady says:

    Your event sounds like a lot of fun – I wish I could have been there…
    Do you know if the musical saw player you mentioned has an e-mail address, please? I would like to invite him/her to the NYC Musical Saw Festival ( ). I would very much appreciate your help in contacting the sawist.
    Thank you very much,
    all the best,
    Saw Lady

  3. winifred says:

    I have made a version of this dish (and of course had it as restaurants), and your version looks like a real keeper!

  4. Michael says:

    Reminds me of the Ethnomusicologists’ Cookbook, which is an interesting insight into that community and their travels. Includes recipes from all over, plus a bonus “recommended listening” for each region.

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