'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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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 tablespoon lime juice
- 2-3 teaspoon simple syrup - optional
- 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.
Hi i like this idea of Watermelon Otai it very interesting and good
Mark Ruiz says
Just seen your segment on "My Family Recipe Rocks."
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
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.
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
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.
What the rudeness. Hoi. I have my own version and I’m scared to post it.
Right? If you don't have anything nice to say.... I guess yell at food bloggers online anyway? LOL.. Post yours! I don't think there is an issue with making one's own version of any recipe. Adaptations are what make recipes more interesting.
Dang losaline. Why don’t you share your recipe then
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.
June Sione says
losaline PLEASE!! if you were in Shanna's shoes you will feel the same... GOSH!!!
I’m going to add vanilla ice cream to my version and she if I get criticized?
I know I definitely wouldn't criticize, that sounds awesome!
She said there are many versions and this was her take/sound in it. How about you try it first, that’s the beauty of recipes you can keep the main idea yet recreate.could you imagine that there was only 1 recipe for any food, boring. Try it before making such a comment, rude.
Thank you for your kind comment. Adaptations to recipes is what makes for many more amazing recipes. I think she skipped the part where I gave credit to Tonga first, respecting the culture who originated the recipe.
Just be happy that people of other races want to make our Tongan 'otai. Times have changed and recipes have changed too. Think outside the box you dinosaur! Thank you Shanna, l feel humbled and honored that you featured this dessert drink into your recipe book. Please don't mind this lady, her husband probably left her and now she's turned into a Karen. "Let me speak to your manager, l don't like this version of 'otai".....lol. Blessings to you Shanna ?
Thank you for your kind words.
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.
Yay I am so glad you like it!
I see the recipe is changed from how the way it is originally is but I think that's really cool you tried it out, this is an amazing recipe for those who like it this way or the other too, you are awesome!!
Thank you so much!
Malo e Lelei Shanna,
I just made ‘otai this evening for friends visiting from Santa Cruz, California. It is summer and the perfect time for refreshing drinks.
I would love to try your recipe with lime juice. It sounds delicious. I enjoyed reading your post and educating readers about Tonga. Thank you for sharing our culture with others. How unfortunate that our “Friendly Islander” sister, Losaline, was not appreciative of your post. Perhaps your recipe may have best hers. Nonetheless, “I die, you die, we all die, for ‘otai”
Thank you so much. I really try my best to honor the cultures who's recipes I make or adapt, always give context and credit and my own personal experience with them. I really appreciate your comment! I think the recipe with lime juice sounds so good, I will have to try that soon too. Let me know how it comes out!
June Sione says
Hi! My name is June Sione and as I was looking for a mocktail drink for my tourism practical and I found this doing my research on online and I did tried your recipes and I got a full mark for my practical and I am thankful that I have found an easy recipes...I would love to see some of your delicious mocktail drink again.
Ah this is awesome!! So glad to hear and congrats on your full marks!