A Christmas Memory- ‘Hittin’ the ‘Otai’ Drink

Radio New Zealand Pacific journalist, Koro Vaka’uta, shared his favorite Christmas memory about a Tongan traditional drink that I thought worth sharing here…

Let’s be real – it never gets that tropical in Wellington but when it gets mildly warm during the two weeks of summer we get, (oh shush you know I’m telling the truth), my fāmili likes to draw upon my tamai or father’s Tongan roots and hit the ‘Otai.

No ‘Otai is not some island home-brew, (although it definitely takes me places on a hot day). ‘Otai is a favorite refreshing drink of the islands, predominately made with watermelon and coconut.

There are other variations including with Vi (June Plums), ‘Apele (Apple), Fainā (Pineapple) or Mango.

It’s a regular feature on our Christmas table, but in an effort to bring a bit of early Christmas cheer we thought we’d pre-empt the sun but found watermelons in short supply at our local supermarket. (If you’ve been keeping track of the Tongan meleni export saga you will understand why). Anyway this meant ‘Otai Mango was the way to go.

Full disclosure – because the Wellington suburb of Crofton Downs is a far cry from Nuku’alofa there is a major substitute in our Aotearoa version.

The Niu, or fresh coconut, is missing but never fear, by the wonders and development of preservatives we grab kapa Niu or canned coconut cream and desiccated coconut.

Now this is blasphemy for dad – and through the whole process of making our latest batch he states countless times how we should have searched for the real mcoy and grate it ourselves. But I’m nothing if not adaptable aka “lazy” and it’s a can and bag I bring to the kitchen bench.

The coconut is soaked in a couple of cups of water to revitalise it, the mangoes and apples are grated into a jug, coconut added (including with the water it soaked in), mix in the sugar, chuck in the can of coconut cream, mix some more, add the ice and voila – or should I say ‘osi – the ‘Otai Mango is done…well almost.

Another must for dad, and many other Tongans, is the addition of Mapakupaku or cabin bread.

Break it up and you have the Christmas cherry on top.

Ke mou ma’u ha Kilisimasi fiefia. Merry Christmas everyone!

4 mangoes

3 apples

Can of coconut cream

100gm (ish) of desiccated coconut.

1/2 cup of sugar

Half a dozen ice cubes

Packet of cabin bread

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