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‘Otai – Tongan Watermelon Drink

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‘Otai – Tongan Watermelon Drink. 

Today is National Drink Watermelon Day, or is it National watermelon drink day? Either way I am celebrating. I don’t make these things up, I just participate in these crazy national food holidays when some sound like they would be fun to participate in. I was on instagram the other day and saw that the Watermelon Board had posted about this upcoming food holiday.

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 watermelon drink.
‘Otai - Tongan Watermelon Drink. A refreshing watermelon coconut drink from Polynesia. Easy to make and delicious to drink. www.pineappleandcoconut.com

‘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.

So really, smack dab in the middle of the south pacific, south of Samoa, another gorgeous island nation I would love to visit one day. 
‘Otai - Tongan Watermelon Drink. A refreshing watermelon coconut drink from Polynesia. Easy to make and delicious to drink. www.pineappleandcoconut.com

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.

‘Otai - Tongan Watermelon Drink. A refreshing watermelon coconut drink from Polynesia. Easy to make and delicious to drink. www.pineappleandcoconut.com

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. Much shorter races than the 16-20 mile races I was used to when paddling in California, but so much fun.  

I have always been a water sports girl from being a competitive swimmer most my life growing up to surfing, snorkeling and paddling. I especially love the ocean in Hawaii so when she invited me to come do a couple races I was all for it. Paddling in Hawaii was amazing and I was named an honorary member of the team. It was so gorgeous getting to practice out of Lanikai beach and do a few races around Oahu.

‘Otai - Tongan Watermelon Drink. A refreshing watermelon coconut drink from Polynesia. Easy to make and delicious to drink. www.pineappleandcoconut.com

A few times after outrigger practice we would go back to my friend Olivia’s house and her mom would make us this amazing watermelon drink. She would grate or mash the watermelon in a big pot and add in whatever fresh fruit she had in the house. Sometimes mango, sometimes papaya, my favorite was pineapple and guava, the guavas came from a tree at their house.

She would also crack open a fresh coconut to add the water to the drink. It seriously hit the spot after a few hours of paddle practice. I learned how to make this drink plus some other fun island inspired recipes from my friends mom. She taught me how to make perfect sushi rice for hand rolls and how to make ahi poke. Poke is my favorite and I will soon be eating a ton of it during our family vacation to Hawaii.

‘Otai - Tongan Watermelon Drink. A refreshing watermelon coconut drink from Polynesia. Easy to make and delicious to drink. www.pineappleandcoconut.com

This is amazing as is or blended fully for a smoother textured drink. I made popsicles with the leftovers since the recipe makes a ton. ‘Otai is so delicious and I am sure it is amazing in popsicle form. I will find out later today when I unmold them for an afternoon treat!

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

'Otai - Tongan Watermelon Drink

‘Otai - Tongan Watermelon Drink. A refreshing watermelon coconut drink from Polynesia. Easy to make and delicious to drink. www.pineappleandcoconut.com Makes 2 liters 8-10 servings

Ingredients

  • 5-6 cups cold seedless watermelon, cubed
  • 1 cup cold crushed pineapple
  • 1 can (13.5 ounces approx.) cold full fat coconut milk
  • 1 c cold coconut water
  • 2 Tbsp lime juice
  • 2-3 Tsp simple syrup - optional

Instructions

    Traditional method:

    1. 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
    2. 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.

    Notes

    Chill everything well the night before you make the drink. I suggest chilling the whole watermelon then cutting and scooping out the flesh right before making the drink. You can use lighter coconut milk if desired instead of the full fat, it will have a lighter taste to it. Shake the can of coconut well before chilling so the cream layer doesn’t stick to the top and shake again well before opening.

    Simple syrup is a 1:1 sugar to water ratio. Place 1 cup sugar with 1 cup water in a saucepan and heat until sugar is dissolved. Chill completely in a glass container with a lid before using. I always keep a jar of this in my fridge to have on hand for recipes, cocktails etc.


    Any fruits that mash/chop well do great with this drink. You can use mango, papaya, melons, berries. Really the possibilities are endless. Watermelon and coconut are traditional.

    Did you make this recipe?

    Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Instagram

    ‘Otai - Tongan Watermelon Drink. A refreshing watermelon coconut drink from Polynesia. Easy to make and delicious to drink. www.pineappleandcoconut.com

     

     

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    11 Comments

  1. Reply
    ruth
    November 27, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    Hi i like this idea of Watermelon Otai it very interesting and good

  2. Reply
    Mark Ruiz
    August 4, 2018 at 5:35 pm

    Just seen your segment on “My Family Recipe Rocks.”

  3. Reply
    losaline
    March 8, 2020 at 6:26 pm

    honestly when i read this i see u have changed the polynesian tongan otai drink to be sutied to you when this is not how the otai is made go to tonga and see how its made we dont want a palagi otai we want the home roots of tonga recipe whatever ur putting in this is not how u make otai

    • Reply
      Shanna
      March 10, 2020 at 11:11 am

      There are many versions of ‘Otai. Yes this is my version, yes it is one of the many versions of it. My version is very close to the original. There is no need to be rude.

      • Reply
        Kata
        March 18, 2020 at 2:32 pm

        You are right Shanna, you prepared it according to what is available in your place. You are acknowledge that watermelon and coconut is tradition. Do not be surprised that coconut is substitute with cream in Tonga because coconut is fading and very expensive. Just saying to keep it up

        • Reply
          Shanna
          March 18, 2020 at 10:56 pm

          Thank you. I have an incredible amount of respect and admiration of Polynesian cultures and I never try to claim anything as my own. Its either my version or adaptation of a recipe or cited from the source. I love to share my versions of recipes and hope that people make mine, make their own versions of mine or seek out the most authentic version if they like. I do as much research into cultural recipes as I can before posting them and write about the history of the recipe as well.

    • Reply
      Fehi
      May 23, 2020 at 9:16 pm

      Dang losaline. Why don’t you share your recipe then

      • Reply
        Shanna
        May 23, 2020 at 10:42 pm

        I welcome any commenter to leave their version so I can add it to my notes with credit. I am all for learning all the variations of cultural recipes and sharing them.

  4. Reply
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    July 26, 2020 at 9:34 pm

    […] 5. Otai […]

  5. Reply
    PRAinAZ
    September 20, 2020 at 1:46 pm

    Thank you for this recipe! I was looking for a drink to use up some watermelon that was getting a mushy texture. I didn’t have very much, so I only did a fourth of the recipe. I didnt have the coconut items so I used 3 oz Coco Real cream of coconut. Since it’s sweet already, I didn’t add simple syrup. I added some ice and blended it up into one great slushy. Had just enough to share with my hubby, 16 oz. We love it. Can’t wait to make the real thing.

    • Reply
      Shanna
      September 20, 2020 at 3:22 pm

      Yay I am so glad you like it!

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