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Happy Chinese New Year! This week, I have something deliciously festive to recommend – suan pan zi (算盘子), or Abacus seeds, which get their name from the ancient calculating tool, the abacus (also called a counting frame). This traditional Hakka dish is a labour-intensive, time-consuming delicacy whose main ingredient is yam. It’s usually eaten during special occasions (like Chinese New Year) because its signature shape signifies wealth and prosperity.
Yam and tapioca flour are kneaded well together to form a dough which is then divided and rolled into little balls. Little indents in the middle of the dough balls are made from pressing them between thumb and forefinger, which give it its distinctive abacus bead shape.
Scrolling through instagram, I recently discovered a local home-based business whose specialty is handmade abacus seeds. Madam Yam is available for delivery or pickup and ordered via instagram or facebook. It looked so good, I just had to give it a try.
Madam Yam has regular-sized portions (500g), enough to feed 2-3, with a choice of cuttlefish ($18) or scallop ($20) flavours. There’s also an on-going Chinese New year special – the Prosperity Basket ($108) – which consists of a larger serving portion of abacus seeds, homemade butter cookies shaped like chrysanthemum flowers (signifying happiness, longevity and joy) and a pair of tangerines (signifying luck and wealth) in a beautiful lacquered two-tiered basket. This special abacus seed bundle has enough to feed 8 and comes in the same cuttlefish or scallop flavours. I have to say it looked really great and makes for a lovely gift.
But looking good isn’t enough, it has to taste good right? And indeed it delivered on the flavour front. I couldn’t stop helping myself to the large bowl, it was like getting a warm, comforting hug from the inside. Really fragrant from its sauce and seafood ingredients, Madam Yam’s abacus seeds had a bouncy yet tender texture, with a delightfully QQ bite and springy chew I can only compare vaguely to Japanese mochi or Italian gnocchi.
Boiled then stir fried with garlic and a combination of (I’m guessing) soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce & sesame oil, the abacus seeds were elevated by earthy shiitake mushrooms, umami dried shrimp, meaty minced pork, slivers of firm tofu and briny, yet naturally sweet dried cuttlefish or dried scallop. The dish was really tasty and a study in exciting textures. Crispy fried shallots (thoughtfully packed separately) added fragrance and flavour, along with the freshness of spring onions and cut red chilli.
Complimentary containers of their signature homemade Papa’s Chilli added another taste dimension of heat and tang. It reminded me a little of zesty & savoury chicken rice chilli, but complemented the abacus seeds perfectly with its deliciously fiery kick. You can order larger jars of the chilli for $8.
Everything was delivered promptly and arrived still hot, testament to its homemade freshness. Although best eaten immediately, Madam Yam provides little laminated cards with reheating instructions. The abacus seeds can be kept refrigerated for up to 3 days.
Largely sold out on selected dates, the good news is, thanks to popular demand, Madam Yam has added a new delivery/ pick-up date for Prosperity Basket orders, smack-dab on 14 Feb Valentine’s Day, or the 3rd day of Chinese New Year*. I reckon it’s versatile enough as a CNY gift or for a delicious Valentines picnic (why not? it already comes in a basket!). Other available dates are 18 (CNY Day 7) & 26 Feb (CNY Day 15)*.
As for their regular abacus seed portions, they are next available to order on 18 Feb (CNY Day 7) & 26 Feb (CNY Day 15)*.
*Information correct as of publishing date.
I was so pleased to have made this culinary discovery and thrilled to support a local home-based business that proved to be professional in service and most importantly, absolutely delicious! Limited dates for delivery or pickup are available, so do check their facebook or instagram often for updates. But be sure to order some for yourself this festive season!
MADAM YAM’S ABACUS SEEDS
on Instagram @madam.yam
on Facebook @madamyam.sg
Islandwide delivery at $8 per location (surcharge of $5 for Tuas and Sentosa).
Free Delivery to one location for orders $80 and above.
Pickup at Farrer Park (S211048)
Order here: tinyurl.com/madamyam
WhatsApp: +65 9190729