Hakka Abacus Seeds

Contributed by: Chan Wai Lin

Abacus Seeds is a traditional Hakka dish. Most often prepared during the Chinese New Year season as the yam dumplings resemble abacus seeds – a reminder to count our blessings.

No one makes this dish better than our father. My sister and I would join our father and compete to see who could make the dumplings faster and more beautiful. As little girls, making the dish with our own hands and spending time with our father made the dish even more delicious.

It has since been 39 years since our father has passed on. But we continue to make these Hakka abacus seeds to reminisce about all the precious times we have spent with him.

Portion: 4 - 6 pax
Prep Time: 150 mins
Cook Time: 60 mins
Total Time: 3 hrs 30 mins


• 1.5kg yam, cut into rounds and quarter them

• 250g tapioca flour

• 200g minced pork, marinate with seasoning (can substitute with minced chicken)

• 8 dried mushrooms, soak till soft and cut into 2cm dice

• 100g dried shrimp, soak, drain and chop

• 2 dried cuttlefish, soak and julienne cut to 3cm long

• 1 big piece of firm tofu cut into 1 cm dice

• 5 shallots, sliced

• 5 cloves garlic, minced

• 50g coriander, chopped

• 20g spring onion, chopped

• 2 red chillies, julienne cut

• 75g cooking oil

Marinade for pork (or chicken):

• 15g light soya sauce

• 15g sesame oil

• Dash of pepper


• 15g light soya sauce

• 15g oyster sauce

• 15g sesame oil

(Mix all seasoning well before adding to the cooking)


1. Marinate pork (or chicken) before preparing the dough.

2. Peel and slice the yam into rounds, then quarter each piece.

3. Steam pieces of yam for 30 to 45 mins until they are soft and use a chopstick to check if can easily poke through.

4. Mash the yam while hot in a big mixing bowl.

5. Allow the yam to cool slightly then add the tapioca flour gradually into the mashed yam and knead.

6. Knead until the yam and tapioca flour blend well with no sticky touch.

7. Sprinkle some tapioca flour on the clean working table. Shape dough into a roll about 2cm thick. Cut with a knife into 2cm-thick slices.

8. Roll each slice into a small yam ball. Hold the yam ball with forefinger and thumb, press the yam ball gently to make a depression on either side of the yam ball, making it look like abacus. Continue to make abacus with the rest of the dough. Place abacus onto a big tray, spacing out each abacus to ensure they do not stick to one another.

9. Boil a big pot of water.

10. Meanwhile prepare a basin of tap water.

11. Once the water starts to boil, place the abacus gently into the pot. Stir slowly to ensure that they do not stick to the bottom of the pot.

12. The abacus are cooked once they float onto the surface of the boiling water.

13. Use a sieve to scoop them up and transfer them to the basin of water.

14. Change the basin of water after soaking the abacus for a while and continue soaking to ensure that the abacus are cooled down and then drain.

15. Heat 45g of oil in wok and pan fry the firm tofu over medium heat on both sides for 1 min or until lightly brown.

16. Remove the firm tofu and add another tbsp of oil.

17. When the oil is heated, fry garlic and shallots over low heat till lightly brown.

18. Add the shrimp and cuttlefish. Fry for about 2 mins.

19. Add mushrooms and fry for 1 min.

20. Add minced pork (or minced chicken) and fry for 2 – 3 mins until it is cooked.

21. Add abacus and firm tofu, stir-fry for 2 mins.

22. Add seasoning and continue to fry till all is mixed well.

23. Add the chilli, coriander and spring onions for garnishing.

24. Serve hot.

Helpful Tips

Flour hands before kneading the dough.