‘Otai (pronounced OH – tie) is a refreshing summer drink that doubles as the perfect end to a summer barbecue or any summer gathering. It has its roots in Polynesia where Tongans, Samoans, Hawaiians and Fijians, to name a few, would enjoy this yummy concoction. A Samoan recipe recorded by early European visitors lists a mix of shredded vi (a Polynesian fruit), young coconut meat (which is soft and sweet), coconut water and coconut milk. This mixture was corked in empty coconuts and set to chill in cold streams or behind waterfalls since ‘otai is best when it is ice cold. Today we simply add lots of ice!

Modern ‘otai has been considered a Tongan beverage since they perfected the version we know and love. It is interesting that the most common ingredients found in current recipes are imports to Polynesia with the exception of the coconut components.


photo courtesty of http://cyclonespuds.weebly.com  

There are a couple of things to keep in mind as you create your own perfect ‘otai. First, this is a refreshing drink with the fruit as the star and the other ingredients playing supporting roles. Second, the fruit should be shredded, not blended. If you “drink the first half of the ‘otai in your glass and eat the second half with a spoon” you’ve made it correctly. And finally, ‘otai is often either served towards the end or after the main meal, as an appetizer or just because we’re all craving ‘otai!

There are as many different recipes for ‘otai as there are people who make it so we put together a base recipe with suggestions for variations. Your ‘otai recipe will become your own as you tweak it to your own taste.

Watermelon Otai

1/2 large watermelon
1  can crushed pineapple
3 cups of cold water
1 can coconut milk 
Sugar (optional, to taste)
Crushed Ice


1. Use a fork to scrape the inside of the watermelon into shreds or cut the watermelon into large chunks and use the large side of your grater to grate the fruit. Do not grate the rind. (We suggest using a seedless watermelon otherwise scrape out the black watermelon seeds before adding to your bowl)

2. Add the rest of the ingredients. Do not drain the pineapple juice — add it all together.

3. The sugar truly is optional so taste it before you add any and use a light hand if you feel it needs a little sweetening.

4. Chill

5. Add enough crushed ice to equal at least 1/3 of the ‘otai mixture.  

6. Serve immediately after adding the ice and don’t forget to include a spoon with every glass!

This is enough for a large punchbowl. Remember to adjust the amount of the ingredients up or down based on the amount of watermelon you use and to your taste. This is a very forgiving recipe so don’t worry just mix and enjoy!


Many recipes call for the addition of fresh or frozen shredded coconut to the drink. One 6 oz package would be enough for the recipe above. You can also use shredded coconut as a garnish.

Another favorite is a splash of citrus to taste – usually lime.

Possible substitutions for the watermelon:

Apple (We suggest Fuji or Granny Smith but your favorite apple will work)


Apple and Mango are fast becoming classic ‘otai mainstays along with the watermelon but your favorite refreshing fruit can also be used.

Possible substitutions for the pineapple:

Any complimentary fruit – fresh or canned

Some local favorites are canned mixed fruit, fresh passion fruit or mango.

Possible substitutions for the water:

Pineapple juice 

Coconut water

Half and half with enough water added to keep the drink a drink.

Your choice – remember the rule of thumb. Be able to “drink the first half of the ‘otai in your glass and eat the second half with a spoon”.