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Recipe – Hakka Abacus Seeds (Suan Pan Zi)

Recipe – Hakka Abacus Seeds (Suan Pan Zi)

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1kg Thai Yam without skin
500g Tapioca starch
3 cloves Garlic minced
3 cloves Shallots minced
200g Minced Pork
8 Shiitake mushrooms soak in water
80g Dried Shimp soak in water
2 Dried cuttlefish cut into small slices
1 Spring Onion sliced
2 Red Chillies sliced
Vegetable Oil
Pork Marinade
1 tbsp Sesame Oil
1 tsp Light Soy Sauce
1 tsp Corn flour
Some pepper
2 tbsp Dark soya sauce
1 tbsp Oyster Sauce mix with 1 tbsp water
1 tbsp Fish Sauce
1 tbsp Light Soy Sauce
1 tsp Sesame Oil
Some pepper

Abacus seed is a traditional Hakka dish made with yam that is usually eaten during festivals because signifies wealth. Here's a step-by-step recipe.

  • Serves 8
  • Medium

Recipe - Hakka Abacus Seeds (Suan Pan Zi)

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

Shred yam and steam over high heat till soft, 15 minutes. Add tapioca flour and salt. Mash immediately.



Knead until the yam is completely combined with the starch. The dough is ready when it no longer feels sticky to the touch.



Dust your working surface with tapioca starch. Roll to a long dough and cut into 2cm-thick slices. Roll each slice into a ball. Hold the ball between your forefinger and thumb, gently press the ball to make a depression in the centre to look like an abacus seed. Do the same for remaining dough.


Fill the wok with water and bring to a boil. Place the dough pieces in the boiling water and stir to ensure they don't stick to the bottom of the wok.


Meanwhile, fill a basin with tap water. The dough pieces are cooked once they float to the surface. Use a metal sieve to scoop them up and transfer to the basin of water. Once the abacus seeds are cooled, remove from water and place in a plate. Drizzle some oil.


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.


Born into a family of enthusiastic foodies, Maureen has always loved all things culinary, especially the local cuisine here in Singapore. With a life-long fascination with the rapidly evolving food scene in Singapore, she started this website in 2007 to explore and celebrate all types of local Singapore dishes and to share her love of travel and food with the world. With 4 years of experience as a journalist and producer, she has a wealth of experience in food writing, photography and styling.

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