Desserts & Drinks / Recipes

Coconut Sago / Tapioca (西米露) recipe

Coconut sago is a soup dessert popular within my parent’s Hong Kong cultural background. The concept of a soup dessert might be alien to many, but there is so many in Cantonese cuisine and the coconut sago is easily one of my favourites as a child. The dish is also popular in Myanmar and Thailand, where some say it originated.

Not heard of sago? It’s basically a starch that’s harvested from the pith of palm stems. You can alternatively use tapioca pearls instead of sago. These are made from cassava starch instead of palm starch. You can buy packets of these in Asian supermarkets. They appear as small white balls which soften and become clear when cooked through. Once cooked, the texture is smooth and chewy, also known as QQ in East and South East Asia. The terminology QQ has origins in Taiwan where the letter “Q” sounds like the word for chewy. It is perfect for describing something that is al-dente.

Traditional coconut sago recipes call for palm sugar, but I’ve just used granulated sugar as it’s easier to get. Parsnip is also not traditional, but since other root veg such as taro can be added, I see no reason why parsnip can’t also be if it’s local to your area and in season.

Coconut sago / tapioca 西米露

Servings 6 servings


  • 90 g sago / tapioca pearls
  • 400 ml coconut milk (1 can)
  • 500 ml water
  • 150 g granulated sugar
  • 1 small parsnip, sweet potato, ube or taro, 1cm cubes cooked (optional)


  • Put sago in a pot of boiling water, lid off for 10 minutes
  • Turn off the heat and cover with the lid for an additional 5 minutes
  • Drain the sago and cool with cold water. Drain and repeat with cold water again, then drain and set aside.
  • In another pot, add the coconut milk, water and sugar. Bring to a boil.
  • Add the sago back to the pot and stir.
  • Add cooked root veg if using. You can also add tanguan (湯圓 / 汤圆)
  • Eat hot or cool and put it into the fridge and consume when cold.


If using the optional root veg, you can cook the cubed veg at the same time as step 4. Make sure your veg is cooked before adding the sago back in for step 5.

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