Sunday, November 7, 2010

Hakka Abacus

Also known as yam coins, abacus is typically a Hakka dish (a dialect in Singapore for those foreign friends reading this blog). It is a dish of yam fried with minced pork, Chinese mushrooms and dried shrimps. The yam is boiled till soft and mashed before rolled into small round shapes that look like coins. The Hakkas believe that eating abacus siginifies more wealth and prosperity.

A plate of delicious Abacus

My mom is a Hakka and she grew up with this dish since young. As I like the abacus she cooks at home, I want to try to master this cuisine so it doesn't get lost in my next generation.
After much nudging and chasing, I finally managed to get hands on with it today. My domestic helper has mastered this dish so well that I'm now learning from her, not my mom! I stood by her in the kitchen for an hour or so and finally managed to get my hands on it. As recipes at home are mostly trial and errors, the quantity and weight of items are purely based on guestimations. But I try to be accurate as far as possible. However, individual taste buds and preferences vary so feel free to add or alter any portions.

Abacus is a dish that is savoury and rich in flavour due to the dried shrimps and mushrooms. It takes time and much dedication to get the texture, taste and colours right. And the proportion of yam to tapioca starch is important so it doesn't taste like it has too much flour. That's the difference of home made abacus.

Total time of preparation: about 45min
Total cooking time: about 30-45min in total

(A) Yam

150g yam (cut into small cubes)
Tapioca starch 50g
Water approx 1 1/2 cup
Dash of salt
1 pot of water
1 bowl of tap water

1. Pour water (1 1/2 cup) and yam into a pot and bring it to boil till all water is dried (water must be enough to just cover all the cubes but not too much water that it gets too soggy)
2. Stir yam while boiling to ensure water is thoroughly absorbed.
3. When all the water is absorbed, mash the yam and add some salt and dash of pepper.
4. Add in tapioca starch to bind the yam together.
5. Using hands, knead the dough finely to ensure all mixture is incorporated together nicely.
6. Prepare dough in long thin strips then pinch off the end to roll into a small ball.
7. Roll each ball then indent the centre with your thumb to resemble an abacus.
8. Bring the pot of water to boil. When boiling, put all the yam inside and cover.
9. When the yam balls are cooked, they float. Transfer the yam balls to the bowl of tap water so they do not stick.
10. After couple of minutes, sieve them out to prepare for next stage.

Top: Mashed yam
Below: Well kneaded yam with tapioca starch

Neatly rolled yam balls

(B) Minced Pork
Dried shrimps approx 1 tbsp (washed and soaked in water)
Small onions (chopped)
Chinese mushrooms about 10-15 pcs, approx 15g (washed and soaked in water till soft. Cut into strips and keep the water aside)
Some carrots also cut into strips
Minced pork 50g

Top: Soaking dried shrimps in water
Below: Soaking Chinese mushrooms in water

Top: Carrots and mushrooms in strips
Below: Chopped onions


Corn starch 1/2 tbsp
Oyster sauce 1/2 tbsp
Sesame oil 1/2 tbsp
Some oil for frying

1. Mix minced pork with the above seasoning.
2. Fry onions till brown and fragrant.
3. Add in shrimps and continue frying for few minutes.
4. Add in minced pork and stir followed by carrots and mushrooms.
5. Add in the water used to soak the mushrooms to give extra flavour.
6. Add in another 1/2 tbsp of oyster sauce.
7. Cover pan and let it simmer.

8. Finally add in the cooled and drained abacus and continue frying for another few minutes till well mixed. Add pepper if desired.

Serve and garnish with some coriander.

caution: you can't stop at one


Anonymous said...


I love to eat this dish. But juz wondering is this considered a 1 dish meal or snack ?

If its for meal, 1 yam for how many person.


Missy said...

HI Anonymous.. actually it's one dish.. but it can be quite filling.

i use about 1/3 yam. can serve 1-2 pax.. that should give you a good estimation. hope it helps

zhu ling said...

Im starving! Mushrooms are really healthy and good for fighting cancer.Among the healthy ones is Zhu ling. A recent study conducted in 2008 showed Zhu Ling extract exhibiting potent anti-inflammatory properties.

Missy said...

wow thats very useful info. thanks for sharing..

Aimei said...

Thanks for the detailed recipe. I hope to have time to tru this recipe some day as I love this dish. yes I will!

Anonymous said...

Hi Missy,

I'm a writer with Simply Her magazine and I'm looking for someone who's willing to share the recipe for hakka abacus for a story I'm doing. I came across your blog and am wondering if you're keen to contribute. Let me know? You can email me at

I'm working on a tight deadline and we arranged a photoshoot on next Tuesday, so hopefully you can revert to me soonest. Best if you could leave me your mobile number when you reply so I can contact you directly. It'll be faster this way. Appreciate you reading this far. Thanks!

Azlinda Said
Senior Writer, Simply Her
SPH Magazines