KiNO live Heritage Kitchen (KLHK) was planned to be launched simultaneously at the start of the magazine 3 years ago but that was easier said than done. At the launch, we did however have a "how tuak is made" station, fresh and unusual jungle produce displayed and explained, nyonya cakes served and a door gift made from handcrafted bamboo mugs filled with jungle herbs. So finally and at long last, KINO is especially pleased to begin a monthly event of workshops that brings the « Recipes from you » section of the magazine to a live hands- on experience.
This first KLHK was held at Little Hainan restaurant, thanks to owners Julian Lai and his wife Linda. The idea to use existing restaurants during their off days is a mutual desire to promote our culinary heritage. To encourage authenticity, ingredients come from local farmers as much as is possible. The focus of KLHK is to explore our less known and forgotten multicultural dishes and to bring back the importance of bygone methods and techniques of cooking only our grandmothers held knowledge of. These workshops are made more meaningful through hands-on experience, as typically, grandmothers' know-how was not through precise weights and measures or written materials – «agak-agak» as the local Malay expression goes. Cooking was a way of life and there was no such thing as «I-don’t- know-how-to-cook» when mother-in-law was waiting to show how!
Workshops are conducted in the language/dialect that the chef is most comfortable in. Here, Mui Lin's son Ethan translates into English what Mom teaches in Mandarin and Hakka.
From teenager to grandmother, gals and guys, the workshop had an excellent blend of participants.
"The Hakka Yam Abacus Seeds is a staple at our CNY Reunion dinner. Over the last 15 years that I've been in Kuching, my mother-in-law, Jane, is the one who makes this dish. Both Jane and I attended the workshop, and she has asked me to make the dish this year. Wish me luck!!!"
REBECCA D'CRuz, Environmental Consultant
Lim Mui Lin is a perfect example of someone who learned to cook by instinct. Her extensive knowledge of Hakka dishes and her eagerness to share her recipes are heart warming.
«My mother-in-law taught me how to make these Suan Pan Zi. She told me that it was necessary to make this dish during the full moon season and at the confinement period as 'counting beads' would assure prosperity for the new born child».
A homemaker, Mui Lin has always been depended upon to cook on festive seasons for friends and family. A year ago she went into the catering business, taking on orders while she continued to make authentic pineapple tarts and acar chilli at home.
«My children don’t cook and are not interested to learn so what I know will be lost. I appreciate this opportunity to participate in this KLHK because contrary to the sad tendency of keeping recipes a secret, I love to share to continue a tradition».
All gather around to see the chef at work.
A happy and proud participant takes home his newly acquired skill.
"Demands of our fast-paced lifestyle has meant losing part of our culinary heritage to convenience of processed and pre-packaged food, It is nice to get back to our roots with KLHK for a change!" - JOYCE KHO, Business woman
HISTORY OF THE SUAN PAN ZI by Andrea Tan
Hakka cuisine in general tends to look simple and hearty, with meats being the central feature in most dishes. Descendants of the Han Chinese who originated from Northern China, they were forced to migrate in the 17th Century to neighbouring provinces due to social unrests and upheavals at the time. Hence, they were labelled “guest people” in these provinces. However, the migration didn’t stop there. The Hakkas continued to spread out to Europe, North and South Americas, and the rest of Asia, bringing along with them their culture and traditional cuisine. Of course, there is more to Hakka food than just the typical braised pork belly with preserved mustard leaves, salt-baked chicken, and lui cha (savoury pounded tea rice). One unique traditional dish that is slowly losing its place on the dining table is the Hakka Abacus Seeds or Suan Pan Zi.
The origin of the Abacus Seeds dish comes from Hakka- speaking provinces like Guangdong and Fujian in China, although it can be traced back to the town of Dapu, the centre of Hakka culture, in the south province of Guangdong. Due to the nomadic history of the Hakkas, the recipe for this dish can vary slightly depending on how it has been adapted to local ingredients. These “seeds” (also called “beads”) are made of yam or taro and tapioca flour, mashed and rolled together to form dimpled discs that resemble the beads of that ancient Chinese counting board, the abacus. Consider Hakka Abacus Seeds as the Chinese version of the Italian gnocchi, if you will. When cooked, the Abacus Seeds have a sticky and chewy texture and are stir- fried with minced pork or chicken, chopped mushrooms and vegetables, and dried prawns or dried cuttlefish, seasoned with salt, sugar, and light soy sauce. Some recipes also include rice wine or vinegar, or have the yam replaced with pumpkin.
Hakka Abacus Seeds are usually made during festivities like Chinese New Year. The dish symbolises wealth, or more specifically to bring wealth in business. In the past, Hakka Abacus Seeds was a familiar dish often served during family meals. Today, it is a rare sight on the dining table, even on festive occasions, most likely because of its tedious preparation. It is also sad to note that this dish is hard to find on the menu in restaurants today. This is a big indication of the need to carry forward this culinary tradition for future generations as a reminder of where the Hakka roots came from.
"It is a pleasure to know that cooking Suan Pan Zi for KlHK will encourage the preservation of a traditional dish". -Lim Mui Lin Homemaker
Yam “Abacus Seeds” Suan Pan Zi makes its comeback...
1 kg or large yam
300gm of tapioca flour
100 gm minced meat
100 gm small dried shrimp (soaked in water beforehand)
1 cup of sliced mushrooms
5 sliced shallots
5 segments of chopped garlic
1 tbsp fish sauce
– Remove yam stem and skin. Cut lengthwise into 4 segments.
– Boil for 20 minutes or until yam is soft.
– With a spoon, scrape the yam to get a puree consistency.
– Mix with the tapioca flour to form a dough add salt. sparingly add cooking oil to bind
– Form mini balls by rolling between the palms. Press each ball with thumb and forefinger to make an indentation
– Drop "seeds" into boiling water for approx 10 minutes or until they float. remove and drain. set aside.
– Fry the mushrooms, add the meat and dried shrimp. fry until meat is cooked. remove from wok.
– Add and stir fry the boiled yam seeds until sligthly brown. add the meat and garlic mixtures and stir fry until all
ingredients are fully integrated.
– Salt and pepper to taste.sprinkle with chopped spring onions and serve.