Abacus seed is a traditional Hakka dish made with yam that is usually eaten during festivals because signifies wealth. If you have eaten them before, you will know that it requires ALOT of manual labour and patience.
Finally, I got the chance to learn how to make suan pan zi from my gu ma who prepares them every Chinese New Year. Her ratio is simple 2 portion of yam always go with 1 portion of tapioca flour. If you want your abacus seeds to be more QQ, you can probably increase the tapioca flour by a bit. TBut bear in mind not to add too much because you may not be able to taste the yam anymore. Likewise, if you want more yam flavour, decrease the amount of tapioca flour.
In the past, I have always cut the yam into pieces before putting it into steamer. This may lead to uneven steaming and we had a hard time trying to mash it after steaming. So she gave an amazing tip – that is to shred the yam before steaming so that moisture gets into the yam equally. Once it is steamed, it becomes so soft that you can immediately add it into the tapioca flour without having to mash.
And of course the trick to make the abacus seeds is: DO IT WHILE IT’S HOT. Kneading the abacus dough while it’s hot was really challenging for me then. But now, I think my hands are somehow immune of heat already so I do it pretty fast. Don’t try to do shortcut by putting it into a blender please, this dish must be made by hand.
Shred and Steam
Heat 3 tbsp vegetable oil. Fry the garlic and shallots. Add the cuttlefish, dried shrimps, black fungus and mushrooms and fry for a minute. Add minced pork and fry for two minutes until it is nearly opaque. Add the yam abacus seeds and stir-fry for a minute or two. Add the seasoning and mix well. Add the sliced chillies and spring onions. Serve hot.