Thursday, February 07, 2008

Abacus Seeds

We often read in the newspapers and the blogosphere about ‘neighbours from hell’. Thankfully, my family are quite blessed to have wonderful neighbours. For example, every festive season, one of our neighbours, Mrs Yong, who is an excellent cook, never fails to send over some of her special dishes. Thus, even though nobody in our family can cook, our children are not deprived of the traditional Chinese dishes that their parents used to enjoy in the kampong days.

CNY dishes (3) - abacus seeds

One of my favourites is a dish called Suan-pan-zi (算盘子) or Abacus Seeds (pictured above) which we got to enjoy last night at reunion dinner. This, if I am not mistaken is a Hakka dish. It is not easily available at the food centres in Singapore. I once bumped into an old friend at a food centre in Ang Mo Kio Ave 4. Apparently, she had made the trip all the way from Bedok to enjoy this dish. I know of another stall at the Shunfu food centre near my former working place in Jalan Pemimpin that sells this dish. Nevertheless, I assure you that those you find at the food centres are no match for my neighbour’s.

The Suan-pan-zi gets its name from the pieces of ring-like yam that look like the beads of an abacus. It is an auspicious dish because those who eat it will have a roaring business in the year ahead. Their abacus which is traditionally used to tally your earning will not stop ‘clacking’. Other ingredients in the dish are minced pork and dried prawns. Of course it is best eaten with freshly pound chilli.


The photos below show two other dishes that our neighbour sent over last night. I am afraid, I do not know about the significance of these dishes as far as Chinese New Year traditions are concerned.

CNY dishes (2)
CNY dishes (5)

I end with a note of advice to those readers who are good cooks; such as Aiyah Nonya. Cook a bit extra and pass them to your neighbours. This is the best way to promote good neighbourliness; something which seems to be sadly missing in modern-day, highly stressed Singapore society.

Here’s wishing all readers a blessed Chinese New Year.

Related post: Five things I do not miss about Chinese New Year


peter said...

That Hakka dish is called "U Ter Pan" in Hakka dialect. Best eatedn with blancha chilly and not garlic chilly. I hated the sight before I got married. Then I tried for the first time and now loved it. I will send you some photos soon to show how it looks like before being cooked.

Next time try #99 East Coast Road. This is authentic Hakka Yong Tau Foo from my inlaws folks.

peter said...

Another Hakka favorite dish for New Year = Chinese oysters or mushrooms stuffed with pork meat and held together by a "skin" from pig internal organs. There is also a veggie dish called "Mui Choy". Best to eat with blanchan chilly, squeezed lime and soya sauce.

Lam Chun See said...

Peter. Your "U Ter Pan" .. which dish are you refering to?

Victor said...

>Cook a bit extra and pass them to your neighbours.

Better still, invite them over for dinner. That way, your neighbours don't have to do the dishes. Haha.

You are truly lucky to have such good neighbours.

Happy New Year to you, your family and all your readers.

peter said...

U Ter Pan = abacus seed

peter said...

U Ter Pan I think should be pronounced as "Ooh Ter Pan"

check your mailbox for "before cooking" looks.

yg said...

kiong hee whatt chai, mr lam, your family and all your readers.

zen said...

My wife can't cook well although she has tried her best. Our lady neighbour next door seldom cook because her maid does all the cooking. There seems to be an absence in 'food exchange diplomacy' between both families. However whenever my wife goes oversea she would usually buy some eatable items for her friend and our neighbour would do likewise. This shows that a little friendly gesture or kind thought would go a long way in term of neighour relationship.

A sheep who wants a shepherd said...

Hi Mr Lam,

We are in search for someone who can make wonder 算盘子. As we used to recall our grandma making them while she was still alive. Now we wonder where we can find this dish.

Can I kindly ask for the contact details of your neighbour as we would like to know if we could order some "算盘子" from them for my brother's wedding in May 2009.

Please kindly respond by writing to email address at or

Thank you