Recipe: Hakka Yam Abacus Seed (客家算盘子 – Suan Pan Zi)

After more than 30 years of tasting a deliciously cooked dish of Yam Abacus Seed by one of my friends’ mother (who is a Hakka), I am amazed that the taste still lingers on… This shows how well this dish was being cooked!!!

Yam Abacus Seed (算盘子) or yam gnocchi is a dish that is popularly served during the Chinese New Year, especially amongst the Hakka people. This dish has an auspicious meaning as they resemble the beads on an abacus, hence Abacus Seeds signify abundance of wealth and prosperity.

This is a savoury dish that can be served as a main meal or as a snack. It has a soft texture on the outside, chewy on the inside and the taste of yam which is mixed with the aroma of other ingredients and condiments made this dish simply irresistible!!  Remember that you need some hard work and patience here to make this dish but the end result is you will have a delectable dish to serve this Chinese New Year!!

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Serves 4 to 5 Persons


For Yam Abacus –

550g mashed yam

250g tapioca flour

150ml hot water

A pot of iced water


Other ingredients:

5 cloves of garlic, minced

250g of minced pork

50g Dried mushrooms (soaked, drained and cut into thin slices)

80g Dried shrimp (soaked, drained and chopped)

30g Dried cuttlefish (soaked, drained and cut into thin strips)

30g black fungus (soaked, drained and cut into strips)


2 pieces of firm tofu (pan fried and cut into small pieces)

3 tablespoons cooking oil

Seasoning – (Adjust according to your taste)

1 tablespoon light soya sauce

1 tablespoon fish sauce

2 tablespoon oyster sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

2 tablespoons Chinese wine

Pinch of sugar (optional)

Some white pepper

Spring onions

Chinese celery

Garnishing –

Red Chilli


Preparation for the Abacus Seeds:


  1. Skin, wash and cut the yam into cubes/slices.
  2. Steam the yam pieces for 15 to 20 minutes or until they are soft.
  3. Once the yam is cooked, transfer them into a large mixing bowl
  4. Mash the yam with a potato masher or sturdy fork.
  5. Add in 250g of tapioca flour and mix with a spatula or spoon.
  6. Gradually add in the water and stir until crumbs are formed.
  7. Knead till a smooth dough is formed and they do not stick to your hands.

Note:  the amount of water should be gradually added as some yam is drier and some can be very wet. You may or may not need to use all the water. If it becomes too wet, add tapioca flour one tablespoon at a time. If too dry, add water one teaspoon at a time (as advised by Sifu Kenneth)

  1. Divide dough into 5g portion.
  2. Roll each portion into a ball.
  3. Flatten each ball slightly (Optional)
  4. Either use a chopstick or your tiniest finger to make a dimple in the centre of each ball to resemble abacus beads.
  5. Boil a large wok/pot of water. Slowly and gently, add some abacus beads into the boiling water
  6. Stir to prevent them from sticking together.
  7. The seeds are cooked when they float to the surface of the water.
  8. Remove the cooked abacus seeds from the boiling water with a strainer and put them into the pot of iced water for 1–2minutes.
  9. Drain the abacus seeds with a colander.
  10. Drizzle some oil to coat the abacus seeds and prevent them from sticking to each other.
  11. Repeat Steps 12 to 17 till all the abacus seeds are cooked.

Preparation for Frying the Abacus Seeds

  1. Heat cooking oil in a wok on medium high heat.
  2. Add the garlic and mushrooms and stir fry till fragrant.
  3. Add dried shrimps and dried cuttlefish. Stir fry for 1 to 2 minutes until fragrant.
  4. Next, add in the minced pork and mix well.
  5. Before the pork is fully cooked through, add in the tofu, the black fungus and the yam abacus. Stir fry for another 2 to 3 minutes.
  6. Add Chinese cooking wine and seasoning to taste.
  7. Finally add the chopped Chinese celery and spring onion and give it a quick stir.
  8. Dish up and garnish with red chilli. Serve immediately.

Mummy's Kitchen

Hi! My name is Josephine Go. I blog at in a segment called Mummy’s Kitchen. I love to use fresh and natural ingredients in my cooking to promote healthy eating. Some of my recipes may not be in line with the traditional methods of cooking to the extent that some of the ingredients are different, but hopefully new recipes are being created in my style. I certainly hope that what I do will help guide kitchen first-timers on how to cook their first meal as well as further equip kitchen veterans with new recipes. My loving husband and two wonderful children are my best guinea pigs and critics. They have enjoyed (or endured) the food that has been served to them for all these years. Mind you, I did not know how to cook or ever knew that I could cook till I got married. So there is hope for everyone. If I can cook, you can cook. You will not know how good or talented you are until you put your hand in the plough.

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