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How to Cook Everything Singaporean

Cook up a storm this CNY #5: Abacus Seed (Suan Pan Zi)

Want your children to have better grades in Mathematics? Or just wishing for a more prosperous year? Try making Abacus Seeds, using this recipe from Denise Fletcher’s How to Cook Everything Singaporean.

Okay, these aren't real seeds at all. They're small yam-based "doughnuts" made to resemble the counters used in an abacus. The round shape of the “abacus seed” is said to symbolise wealth and prosperity, which is why Hakka families serve this during Chinese New Year.

"It is believed that this Hakka dish will not only impart to all who eat it with great mathematical skills, it will also—and perhaps more importantly—bring in loads of money to households that present it on the dinner table during Lunar New Year," says Denise. Huat, ah!


PREP 50 minutes, COOK 20 minutes, SERVES 6

What you need
Peeled yam, 600g
Tapioca flour, 300g (3 cups)
Salt, 1tsp, extra to taste
Garlic cloves (chopped), 4
Shallots (sliced), 4
Small dried shrimp (hay bee) (soaked), 2 tbsp
White pepper, ½ tsp
Minced chicken or pork, 300g
Dried shiitake mushrooms (soaked and sliced), 6
Small carrot (peeled and julienned), 1
Oyster sauce, 2 tbsp
Fish sauce, 1 tbsp
Sugar, ½ tsp
Sesame oil, 2 tsp

Spring onion stalk, thinly sliced, 1
Red chilli (julienned,) 1
Shallot crisps, 1 tbsp

How to make

Cut the peeled yam in thick slices and steam until soft. Combine the hot yam slices, flour and salt. Mash and mix thoroughly with two forks. If the mixture seems dry and resists forming a dough, add 50-70ml (¼ - ⅓ cup) of boiling water, a little at a time until a dough forms.

When the mixture cools, knead with your fingers until smooth and pliable. Form the dough into small balls, the size of shallots. Flatten the balls into thick discs and pinch the centres between the index finger and thumb until a deep depression forms on both sides of each disc.

Cook the abacus “seeds” in batches, in a large pot of boiling water until they float to the top. Drain thoroughly and coat the seeds in the 2 tablespoons of oil so they don’t stick together. Set aside.

Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a wok and when moderately hot, fry the garlic and shallots until golden and fragrant. Add the dried shrimp and pepper and stir for 2-3 minutes.

Add the minced meat and stir over high heat, breaking up any lumps and turning the meat over often, until the colour changes.

Add the mushrooms, carrot, and oyster and fish sauces, and stir for about 3 minutes. Add the abacus seeds, sugar, salt and sesame oil to the meat and vegetable mixture in the wok.

Stir well and taste. Adjust the seasoning, if necessary. If the mixture seems dry, add a little hot water and stir through.

Garnish with the spring onion, chilli and fried shallots. Serve immediately.


Buy Denise Fletcher's How to Cook Everything Singaporean or any cookbook by Epigram and get 20% OFF your purchase. Offer ends Feb 12, so get yours today. 

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