Ants on Trees


When I was growing up in Malawi, we used to go to a Chinese restaurant and this was one of the items we used to always have. I don’t know why it has this name but I guess that is part of the novelty of having this fun snack / starter / side dish. After many years, I made it last summer when my older sister and nieces came for the summer from Hong Kong. We just went by memory and recreated it but later I found a recipe from an old recipe file, which had cabbage and carrots in it also. It is a messy but fun dish to eat, kind of like Mexican tacos. All the same it is a good recipe to share with friends and family. Perhaps you can serve this dish as a self service meal, that way the lettuce leaves will not become soggy and people can have the amount of filling and garnish they want.

Ants on Trees

Like I mentioned above you don’t have to follow what I have done, you can put any vegetables into the lettuce leaves, or you can also perhaps add some soya mince.  Try and use lettuce which is going to remain crispy i.e. iceberg, little gems or Romanian.

Preparation time: 10 mins          Cooking time: 10 mins          Serves: 4


1 large onion sliced

1 cup sliced mixed capsicums (red, green and yellow)

1/2 cup sliced mushrooms

2 little gem lettuce

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp Chinese five spice

1 tbsp chilli garlic sauce

a handful of rice noodles

1 tbsp roasted sesame oil

oil for frying


1) Slice all the vegetables, heat a wok or sauce pan for a few minutes and add the sesame oil and all the vegetables, stirring constantly, add the soy sauce, spice mix and the chilli and garlic sauce.

2) Cook for about 5 minutes, so as the vegetables are a little tender and there is not much liquid, remove from heat and let it cool slightly.

3) Heat the oil for frying on a medium heat, place small amounts of the rice noodles in the oil and fry, it will take about 1 or 2 minutes, drain on kitchen paper and continue until all the required noodles have been fried.

4) On washed and dried lettuce leaves, place some of the vegetable mixture and a small amount of the fried rice noodles and you are ready to enjoy, have fun 😉

7 thoughts on “Ants on Trees

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  1. I also used to live in Lilongwe and used to go to the Chinese restaurant. This was our favorite dish. Do you remember the bananas in caramel desert?
    I was googling this recipe and read yours.
    I will try your recipe this Sunday.
    Best regards Carla

    Kiran ~ Hi Carla, I do remember the bananas, I have never had any that taste the same since. I hope you enjoy the ‘Ants on Trees’ this weekend. It brings back a lot of lovely childhood memories for me when ever I make them.


  2. I lived in both Blantyre (Limbe) and Lilongwe, ants in the tree was a Malawi thing, never found it anywhere else in the world, including China. In Lilongwe I remember was No. 101 on the Menu hahaha. If I remember correctly there was a beef mince version of the ants in the tree though, I think this was from Lilongwe.


  3. I take my wife on our first date to the Chinese Restaurant in Blantyre and we had this Ants in a tree. Now living in United States have been searching for it but cant find it .

    So these recipe will help me to try recreate that first date out.




  4. Hi,

    I lived in Blantyre and used to love ants on trees at the Honk Kong Chinese restaurant. I make a lovely one with chicken and prawn. I’ve eaten it in London at a restaurant in bays water but they don’t call it ants on trees. They call it filled lettuce cups. I’m cooking an entire Chinese meal tomoro with lots of dishes!thanks for this recipe.


  5. as a child we lived in Lilongwe too, this was out favorite meal at the Chinese restaurant! i have searched the net for this recipe but have never found it until today. i have now book marked the page and will try it out this week, thank so much

    Kiran ~ I hope you tried it and enjoyed them.


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