One-dish Meals,  Stir-fry

Hakka Abacus Seeds for Noobs

hakka abacus seeds main

Does anybody else love Hakka Abacus Seeds? I’ve only eaten these 2-3 times as not many places sell them nowadays. And no wonder, it’s quite tedious to make! If you’re not familiar with them, I guess the closest I can compare them to is gnocchi, just no egg added.

The procedure is time-consuming but not difficult – steam and mash yam, add tapioca flour while the yam is still hot, adding some hot water as you go along. The mixture will be sticky and all over the place initially, but as you continue to add flour and knead, it will become a smooth dough ready for shaping. It smells really good even at this stage! And then it is time to pinch off a 20-cent coin size of dough and shape it into rounds with an indentation in the middle, waiting to be cooked in boiling water and then stir fried.

I love their soft and bouncy texture, which I didn’t know was the result of adding more compared to less tapioca flour. The ones I eat outside may be soft and stretchy (like QQ boing boing texture, you know?) but they don’t actually taste much of yam. So when deciding to embark on the adventure (it’s a real adventure for a Teochew girl who has never made these before or seen anyone make it!) of making my own, I used the ratio of less than 1:2 tapioca flour to yam. For 500g of yam, I added 200g tapioca flour for more yam fragrance and bite. See my hilarious abacus seeds after 3 hours of kneading and shaping!

hakka abacus seeds4

My forearm ached the next day – I’m not exaggerating… seriously noob LOL!

My consolation is that Jason loved the slightly harder texture (he’s my best supporter he ate four servings in two days!) but I’m not a fan. IF I go out of my mind and decide to make them again next time, I would increase the tapioca flour to 250g or even 300g. It’s up to you – I don’t think there’s a right or wrong but most recipes I’ve seen use 1:2 ratio. And as a newbie, I found it easier to have a bowl of hot water on the side and dab a little on the seeds as I shape.. it helps to reduce cracking. You can use chopsticks for the indentation but I simply used my fat fingers.

Hakka abacus seeds1

I stir fried them in a simple seasoning of light soy sauce, fish sauce, a little bit of oyster sauce and just a bit of water. I don’t know if that’s traditional but they taste pretty good, maybe a little dry for Jason’s liking. This guy gave it 7.5/10 for the first version and 9.5/10 when I made a little extra gravy to serve with leftovers the next day.

Hakka abacus seeds

Traditionally, folks use firm beancurd (tau kwa), cuttlefish strips, dried shrimps, mushrooms and black fungus in the stir fry. I forgot to buy tau kwa but had some fish cake in the fridge so that’s what I used. I’ve listed tau kwa as the ingredient in my recipe below. I also suggest you don’t go overzealous with the dried shrimp. I think I added a bit too much and the shrimps were almost overpowering the yam fragrance. My recipe has the reduced amount which I think would go better.

If you have any tips for making Hakka Abacus Seeds, please leave me a comment below… I will keep them in mind when (IF) I attempt them again!

Hakka abacus seeds2

Hakka Abacus Seeds for Noobs (

Serves: About 5
Cost per serving: $1.90

What you need:

For the abacus seeds
500g purple yam (taro, peeled from about 700g and cut into small blocks)
200g tapioca flour (you can increase the flour to 250g or 300g for more QQ texture)
150ml hot water (you may not need as much, or you might need more, depending on how dry your dough is)
Oil to prevent sticking

For the stir fry
2 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1.5 tablespoons dried shrimps, soaked and pounded
5-6 dried shitake mushrooms, soaked till soft and sliced into strips
1 tablespoon dried cuttlefish strips
1 piece palm-size black fungus (after soaking), sliced into strips
Half piece firm tau kwa, sliced into strips
1 big red chilli, sliced
1-2 springs coriander
1-2 stalks spring onions, chopped
Fried shallots for garnish

Seasoning ingredients
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
Half tablespoon oyster sauce
A dash of fish sauce
A dash of Chinese cooking wine
3 tablespoons water


Steam yam for about 15 minutes till soft enough to mash.

In a large mixing bowl, mash the yam (I simply used a fork + arm power!) till fine. You can retain some small pieces for bite. While the yam is still hot, add the tapioca flour and mix, adding some hot water as you go along. Continue to knead until you get a smooth dough. Shape the dough into little seeds and make an indentation in the middle.

Boil a big pot of water. Cook the abacus seeds till they float to the top. Drain in a colander and add 1 tablespoon of oil to prevent sticking.

In a wok, add the 2 tablespoons oil and fry the garlic, shallots and dried shrimps till fragrant. Add the mushrooms. Fry for a few minutes then add the cuttlefish strips, black fungus and tau kwa.

Add the abacus seeds, seasoning ingredients and water. Stir fry to mix well. If you prefer more gravy, you can add more water and seasoning to taste. Finally, add the red chilli, coriander and spring onions. Toss everything together. Top with fried shallots and serve hot.

How much I spent:

$3.90 for yam
$0.40 for tapioca flour
$0.20 for tau kwa
$3 for mushrooms
$2 for dried shrimps and dried cuttlefish
Everything else from my pantry