Today is National Drink Watermelon Day, or is it National watermelon drink day? Either way I am celebrating.
I happened to have two watermelons in my kitchen and I knew exactly what I wanted to make. 'Otai. It's a delicious and really EASY to make Tongan watermelon drink.
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'Otai recipe history:
'Otai originates from Tonga. A small Polynesian island chain in the south pacific. The kingdom of Tonga has over 170 islands but most are too small to inhabit, approximately 36-52 are inhabited (depending on which source is reporting this status) and 70% of Tongans live on the main island of Tongatapu. It is two thirds of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand.
The cuisine in Tonga is lots of tropical fruits and vegetables like taro, bananas, yams, coconut and lots of fish and seafood. Western culture introduced citrus such as limes and lemons and watermelon soon became a favorite amongst Tongans. And I can see why.
A hot day on a tropical island, watermelon is most definitely a welcome refreshing treat especially when made into a watermelon drink.
What is 'Otai?
I first tried 'Otai in Hawaii about 15 years ago. I used to race Hawaiian outrigger canoes in California and a friend on my team was from Oahu and she invited me to come over one summer and race with her team, Lanikai outrigger. I got to go over and practice and race a couple of the sprint races for a small part of their regatta season. Her Hawaiian mom made us 'Otai after practices, a recipe she had learned from a Tongan friend.
'Otai is a watermelmon based drink, almost like a smoothie often made with other tropical fruit such as pineapple, mango, coconut etc. It is thick and creamy and super refreshing. It can be blended until very smooth and strained or blended with chunks of fruit left in it.
- Watermelon - preferably seedless
- coconut milk
- coconut water
- lime juice
- simple syrup
- pineapple chunks or crushed pineapple ( can also use mango)
How to make 'Otai:
- Prepare the watermelon by cutting off the rinds
- Make sure all ingredients are super cold
- You can either make as described in the recipe which is the traditional method or make in a blender
This is amazing as is or blended fully for a smoother textured drink. I made popsicles with the leftovers since the recipe makes a lot. 'Otai is so delicious in both beverage and popsicle form.
There are many versions of Tongan 'Otai. This is the version we made in Hawaii all those years ago. Traditional 'Otai is much thicker, the chunks of fruit eaten with a spoon. Some recipes are made with evaporated milk, some with coconut milk. There are many ways to make it, and many people have their own adaptation or version of it. This is mine. Enjoy.
'Otai - Tongan Watermelon Drink
- 5-6 cups cold seedless watermelon cubed
- 1 cup cold crushed pineapple
- 1 can cold full fat coconut milk (approx 13.5 ounces)
- 1 cup cold coconut water
- 2 Tablespoons lime juice
- 2-3 teaspoons simple syrup - optional - see notes* or to taste if a sweeter drink is desired
- Place watermelon in a large bowl and mash or grate until mostly liquid but still some small chunks remain. Add in the rest of the ingredients except simple syrup and mash a little more, stir well. Taste and add simple syrup if a more sweet drink is desired then chill 30 min then serve over ice
- My way. The lazy way. Add all the ingredients except simple syrup to a blender ad pulse until blended but still chunky - you don’t want a thin puree. This drink has texture to it. Taste and add in some simple syrup and pulse for a few more seconds taste again and add more sweetener if desired. Chill for about 30 min then serve over ice.