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Our five favourite places for Hakka abacus seeds in KL, Cheras and PJ

Picture by Choo Choy May
Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 8 — Let’s count our Hakka abacus seeds or suen poon chee! Made from taro and tapioca flour, these buttons with a dimple in the middle are shaped like abacus seeds.

The abacus is a calculating tool favoured by older Chinese traders.

The round shape is said to signify reunion, health and good fortune. The symbolism for this auspicious dish makes it perfect for the upcoming Chinese New Year celebrations. Like all traditional dishes, it takes a lot of work to prepare since the abacus seeds must be handmade.

In The Hakka Cookbook: Chinese Soul Food from Around the World by Linda Lau Anusasananan, they are described as Hakka gnocchi where taro replaces potato and tapioca flour is used instead of flour used to make the Italian gnocchi.

The texture of the buttons depends on the ratio of the steamed mashed taro to the flour; a little less taro means a slightly springy texture while more taro will yield a softer bite.

Once the taro is steamed, it is mixed immediately with the flour to form the dough. The dough is cut and rolled into balls that are flattened with a depression in the centre to resemble an abacus seed.

Once the buttons are cooked in boiling water and drained, they are stir fried with a variety of ingredients that gives it flavour and a contrast of textures. The ingredients depend on various cooks but usually you have crunchy wood ear fungus, firm bean curd or tau kua, shiitake mushrooms, dried shrimps and toasted dried cuttlefish.

In the old days, it was a simple meatless dish but nowadays, cooks prefer to add minced pork into the dish. Greens like spring onions or Chinese celery are also added to the dish.

Hor Poh Cuisine Restaurant
No. 36, Jalan 6/38D
Taman Sri Sinar, KL
Open: 11.30am to 3pm, 5.30pm to 9pm.
Closed on Tuesday

Famous for their Hakka lui cha, this restaurant also offers an assortment of Hakka dishes that include the abacus seeds. The tiny buttons have a soft texture and a distinct taro aroma. It’s stir fried with dark soy sauce that gives it a slight sweet taste while sliced wood ear fungus and shiitake mushrooms give it texture. Fried shallot crisps and chopped spring onions complete the dish that is as equally satisfying as their comforting lui cha.

Seong Kee Hack Ka Young
Tau Foo
Stall No. 35,
Taman Selera PJ Old Town
Jalan Othman, PJ
Open: 12pm to 9pm.
Closed on Mondays

Popular for their Hakka yong tau foo that is prepared only upon order, this stall in the food court also serves a variety of Hakka classics like vinegar pork trotters and stewed pork belly or char yoke. Their version of Hakka abacus seeds are stir fried with chopped Chinese celery, tau kua, minced pork, shiitake mushrooms, dried prawns, toasted dried cuttlefish and wood ear fungus.

Hakka Rang Restaurant
47-1, Jalan PJU 5/11
Dataran Sunway
Kota Damansara, PJ
Open: 12pm to 3pm, 6pm to 10pm.
Closed on Mondays

This corner restaurant in the heart of busy Kota Damansara serves up a delicious plate of Hakka abacus seeds. The buttons are stir fried with an abundance of spring onions cut into one inch lengths, tiny diced tau kua, minced pork, sliced wood ear fungus, shiitake mushrooms and toasted dried cuttlefish. Other Hakka eats are also served here but reserve some space for their homemade ais krim potong that come in flavours like red bean and durian.

Hakka Marble Restaurant
10, Jalan 34/154
Taman Bukit Anggerik
Cheras, KL
Open: 2.30pm to 12am (Tuesday to Saturday)
2.30pm to 11.30pm (Sunday)
Closed on Mondays

This place serves a small menu of fried items that range from Hokkien mee, Cantonese noodles, fresh water prawn noodles or sang har meen, fried rice cakes, fried rice and an unusual fried laksa. They also serve loh mee. A signature here is their Hakka suen poon chee with a distinct chewiness. Here each button has a deep indentation and it is stir fried with minced pork, chopped wood ear fungus and shiitake mushrooms. It’s garnished with fresh coriander sprigs and chopped spring onions. They also serve an unconventional pumpkin version of these seeds that is slightly sweeter tasting.

Hakka Moii
5, Jalan SS2/66, PJ
Open: 9.30am to 3pm, 4pm to 7.30pm.
Closed on Mondays

Located in a double storey house right opposite the busy SS2 commercial area, this place serves a compact menu of healthy eats. As the owner is of Hakka descent, there’s lui cha, stewed yam and pork belly, Hakka noodles and of course, Hakka abacus seeds. You will find that their abacus seeds are incredibly soft signalling the abundant use of steamed taro and just a little tapioca flour to bind it together. Each button is liberally covered with chopped shiitake mushrooms, wood ear fungus, pork mince and dried shrimp. Unlike other places, it is not stir fried with oil making it a healthy choice. For access into the house, ring the doorbell and parking is also available at the porch for customers.

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