Abacus beads

Abacus beads

The Real Food of China
Leanne Kitchen

From the Hakka culinary lexicon, which is marked by earthy, simple dishes, this dish is best described as ‘Chinese gnocchi’. Taro is a starchy tuber very popular in Fujian and Guangdong Provinces, where it is used in everything from fillings in street snacks to an ingredient in desserts. Here its elastic texture makes for a delightfully chewy ‘bead’ and its gentle flavour provides a perfect foil for the strong, salty sauce.


Quantity Ingredient
550g taro, peeled
25g dried shrimp
110g tapioca flour
40g glutinous rice flour
60ml vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
250g minced pork
340ml Chicken stock
1 tablespoon soy paste
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon cornflour
1 large red chilli, finely sliced
2 spring onions, finely sliced on the diagonal
1 handful coriander leaves, chopped


  1. Cut the taro into pieces, place in a steamer over a wok or saucepan of boiling water, then cover and steam for 25 minutes, or until very tender. Set aside to cool. Meanwhile, put the dried shrimp in a heatproof bowl, cover with boiling water and soak for 30 minutes, or until softened, then drain.
  2. Push the cooled taro through a mouli or a potato ricer into a large bowl. Add the tapioca and glutinous rice flours and 125 ml water, stirring to combine, then slowly add another 2 or 3 tablespoons water, or enough to form a soft, pliable dough. Knead the mixture in the bowl with your hands until smooth. Take a heaped teaspoon of the mixture and roll it into a small ball, squashing the ball between your thumb and index finger to make a deep indentation. Repeat with the remaining dough. As you form each abacus bead, place it on a tray lined with baking paper.
  3. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat, then add the garlic and pork and cook, breaking the meat up with a wooden spoon, for 8 minutes, or until browned and cooked through. Add the shrimp, stock, soy paste, oyster sauce and sugar and stir to combine well. Combine the cornflour with just enough water in a small bowl to form a thin paste, then, stirring constantly, add to the simmering mixture in the pan; cook for about 30 seconds, or until the sauce thickens a little.
  4. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, then add the abacus beads in two batches, stirring gently to keep them separated. Cook for 2–3 minutes, or until they float to the surface, then continue cooking for another 3 minutes, or until cooked through. Transfer to a colander and drain well, then add to the sauce in the frying pan, tossing to coat. Divide the abacus beads among four bowls, or place on a large platter, and spoon over the sauce. Scatter over the chilli, spring onions and coriander and serve immediately.
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