Coconut Sticky Rice Cake

There are many ways to think about what type of immigrant one might be:

  • Where are you from? (I am a Chinese immigrant)

  • Where did you immigrate to? (I am a Chinese immigrant to Canada)

  • What "generation" are you? (My parents were "the ones who moved" to Canada, but I was born in China and moved with them when I was 5 so I am a 1.5-gen Chinese immigrant to Canada)

  • How did you (il)legally get here? (My parents entered Canada as "skilled workers")

  • How did you physically get here? (I was "BOBA" - brought over by airplane)

All these categorizations help provide context to each immigrant's story. As I have been exposed to a wider variety of immigrants, and also spent more time considering and reflecting given the current events in America, I was struck by another dimension to the immigrant story. That is, who did you know when you arrived?

I have met immigrants who had extended family in the same city (or at least in the same country), when they first arrived. While no one in my parents' extended families lived in Canada (my dad had a distant cousin in Texas), they were fortunate in that they had a few friends from back home who also moved to Vancouver shortly before or shortly after they did. With these few friends, who then introduced my parents to other friends, my parents were able to start forming their first social circles in Vancouver. (Funny, one of the families my parents' best friends introduced them to had sat across the aisle from us on our flight over to Vancouver.)

However, there are many people who arrive knowing no one. Amongst Chinese immigrants, there soon developed all sorts of social groups as people attempted to form networks and support systems. In each city, there were 同乡会 (tong xiang hui), gatherings of people who shared the same hometown or home-province (there often weren't enough people if you limited yourself to one city or town). There were also 同学会 (tong xue hui), connecting people who went to the same schools (often universities), similar to our Facebook alum groups.

These organic and/or inorganic social circles were formed so that immigrants can ask for and give advice, can talk to someone in their mother tongue, can build a network, and, ultimately, can develop a sense of belonging. One of the key ways to achieve this amongst social circles is potluck-ing. Everyone was to contribute and bring something, often a "taste of home". During my ten years living in Vancouver before college, I went to countless of these potlucks with my family. Sometimes I was eager to hang out with my family friends, sometimes I was dragged kicking, unenthused to sit with a bunch of "uncles and aunties".

Now, I inherited my love for food from my parents and the rest of my family. My parents were what one called 会吃 (hui chi) in Chinese. "Knows how to eat", the OG foodies, before the term foodie, 吃货 (chi huo), even came along in Chinese. However, my parents were not what one would call skilled in the kitchen. Thus, I present to you our go-to potluck recipe for 年糕 (nian gao).

(As an aside, luckily for me, my maternal grandparents joined us soon after in Vancouver and I got to grow up eating the fantabulous cooking of my grandpa, the ultimate inspiration of this blog. Without my grandpa's amazing home-cooking and insistence to feed us something different every day, I would not have grown into the food-worshipping piggie I am today)

This recipe is super easy (if my mom can make it without burning down the kitchen, anyone can - sorry, mom) and requires only one mixing bowl (yay, fewer dishes to wash). This dessert is chewy, fragrant, and fantastic finger food.

年糕 literally translates to "year" and "cake" and, yep, you guessed it, is often eaten during new year's celebrations. However, 年 is also a pun for 黏, which means sticky. So, really, this is a chewy cake made from sticky rice flour. Sticky rice flour is made from glutinous short-grained rice (which is gluten-free, by the way), the same as Japanese mochi flour (mochiko もち粉). We make this recipe with canned coconut milk for the amazing coconut flavor and fragrance. Plus, you can always have a can on hand and it won't go bad.

Chinese Learning Time!

  • 同 (tong) - as an adjective means mutual

  • 会 (hui) - as a noun means gathering or meeting

  • 乡 (xiang) - as a noun means hometown

  • 学 (xue) - as a noun means school or learning

  • 同乡会 (tong xiang hui) - noun, hometown group

  • 同学会 (tong xue hui) - noun, alum group

  • 会 (hui) as a verb means "knows how" or can

  • 吃 (chi) as a verb means to eat

  • 会吃 (hui chi) - adjective to describe someone who is "good at eating" and knows how to eat well

  • 年 (nian) means year

  • 糕 (gao) means cake

  • 年糕 (nian gao) - noun, sticky rice cake

The Recipe


  • 400 grams glutinous “sticky” rice flour

  • 1 can (~13.5 oz) coconut milk

  • 1/2 cup whole milk

  • 1/2 cup sugar

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil (and some more for oiling pan)

  • 3 eggs

  • 2 tsp baking powder

  • shredded coconut (optional)

  • sliced almonds (optional)


  • Baking pan, rectangular or square shaped preferred


  • Oil a baking pan or line with parchment paper

  • Preheat oven to 350F / 175C

  • Mix all ingredients save for the optional toppings in a bowl

  • Pour batter into pan and smooth the top with a spatula or the back of a spoon

  • Scatter shredded coconut and sliced almonds evenly over the top, if using

  • Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown

  • Let cool slightly, trim the edges, and cut into 1 inch x 1 inch squares

Serve warm. Reheat in microwave or oven if necessary. The best parts are the crunchy edges, so eat those yourself (when no one’s looking).