This much-loved island drink is a perfect summer thirst-quencher. Here’s how you can track it down in Auckland.
Imagine drinking a Tank tropical smoothie crossed with bubble tea. That’s what you can expect when you’re offered a cup of otai.
Otai is a traditional Polynesian beverage that originated in Tonga and is made with sliced and grated watermelon, chopped pieces of pineapple, grated coconut and coconut milk. Some choose to add cow’s milk to bulk out the quantity.
It’s mostly enjoyed during the summer, which is when these fruits are in season in Tonga. Over Christmas and New Year’s, you can expect every village to add otai to the family feast menu.
When I would ask my mother, “how hot does it get in Tonga during the summer?”, she would instead change the topic to talk about how she would wake up and walk outside to grab mangoes off a tree to make otai for breakfast. That’s how popular otai is in the Kingdom. That’s how easily accessible the fruits are.
Nowadays, many Pacific families in Aotearoa have started small businesses experimenting with the much-loved island drink with flavours such as strawberry, tropical, green apple and mango.
Craving otai? Here’s a rundown of who is offering the summer drink in Tāmaki Makaurau.
Taking the classic mango flavour and adding green pear, a fruit not commonly found in otai, Malia and Ana Siua are the mother-and-daughter duo behind Malia’s Otai. Their tropical fusion otai has all the other usual ingredients such as mango, pineapple and coconut, but the green pears add a mildly sweet taste with subtle fragrant citrus notes and it tastes divine.
Ana Siua says the idea for starting their small business came from years of her mother making otai for family gatherings, and relatives suggesting turning it into a business so she could be recognised for her talent.
You can place an order by sending a direct message to their Instagram account, with an option to pick up in Mt Roskill or have your order delivered (deliveries are currently only available at the weekend).
“Not too sweet, not too creamy, just perfect for a sunny day,” wrote one fan of Kolo Otai’s green apple flavour on its Instagram page.
Established in November 2021, Kolo Otai is a central Auckland-based small business (Kolo meaning city in Tongan) that offers two flavours of otai: watermelon and green apple. Laukau Penitani Moala is the face behind Kolo Otai and is assisted by her daughter Elizabeth Fidow, son Paea Penitani and granddaughter Maopa Tupouhia.
Fidow says her favourite part of running this small business is working as a family. “Since launching we have had over 100 orders – and you can imagine how many hands were required to complete them all.”
You have to be following their Instagram to catch their updates on when to pre-order, which takes place Sunday to Thursday for Saturday pick-up, between 11am-3pm. There are delivery options available, with a fee.
Calling all strawberry lovers… this is the ultimate blend of Aotearoa and Tonga in a one litre bottle. Fresh strawberries picked from the local strawberry farm plus fresh pineapple equals complete summer goodness.
Mele Kava from Otai Time says the recipe reminds her of when she was growing up in Auckland and her family struggled to make ends meet, sometimes eating just otai and crackers for dinner. “My family has always lived near a strawberry farm and we worked every school holiday to make sure we had money for Christmas,” she says.
It was Kava’s eight-year-old son who suggested she start her small business, having heard her otai receive many compliments over the years. In December 2021 Kava made the move to share her love for the drink with a wider audience. She still proudly picks the fruit at a strawberry farm.
I am a traditionalist (watermelon otai was my childhood) and I love freshly picked strawberries, so I highly rate Otai Time. Fun fact: strawberries don’t grow in Tonga, so this is a unique take on otai.
Kava is based in Onehunga, but her pick up locations for orders are in Mt Roskill and Ōtara. She runs her small business via Instagram and that’s where you can place an order.
Red Taste Otai
If you’re afraid the pulpy fruits will be a choking hazard, but love the idea of a summer drink, get yourself a bottle of Red Taste Otai. The pineapple pieces are so finely grated that you barely even notice they’re there, but you can definitely taste the ‘ofa, or love, this Tongan family pours into their product.
According to the owner, Sharmayne Vika Siolaa, her mum and dad’s tropical otai has always been popular with family and friends. “They all wanted more, to the point where people would fight and argue for it,” Siolaa laughs.
After a family discussion, they decided to make it available to everyone. They ordered labels and bottles and started a Facebook and Instagram page, first selling online and delivering their beverages to customers. Now they can be found in 26 stores across Auckland, with more to come.
Facebook: Red Taste Otai
Blended Family Otai
Mangoes and pineapples get a lot of love, but what about the coconut? Blended Family Otai is loaded generously with grated coconut pieces, with every sip taking you to Ha’atafu beach in Tonga.
2021 was a challenging year for Andrew Vaka’uta, Leone Lokeni and their five children. The family struggled financially, mentally and physically and so they brainstormed ways they could make money doing something they love in the comfort of their own home. “We wanted to also spend quality time together (our children’s eyes are rolling with agreement) and what better way to welcome summer than to create a tasty, refreshing otai that everyone can enjoy,” Lokeni says.
They started advertising their otai on Facebook Marketplace and on the roadside outside their home. Today you can find them in 10 stores around Auckland.
Kalisi Fifita and her family in Māngere East offer four dairy-free otai flavours: watermelon, mango, pineapple and green apple.
Fifita has been running her side hustle since December 2020, inspired by a vibrant Tongan business in the United States that sells otai in large containers and jugs.
Juicy Tai’s Instagram shares updates on when to pre-order and it’s a first-in, first-served basis with a limited amount available each week. If you need to place a bulk order for a special occasion, Fifita will be able to assist.
If you’re wanting a taste of traditional Tongan mango otai, look no further than Samoan owner Mane Leiatauā, who uses her Tongan mother-in-law’s recipe with pride. Warning: the smooth, creamy texture may lead you to consume the one litre bottle in a single sitting.
Leiatauā explains that the 2021 lockdown hit her and her family badly. “I work in retail and during lockdown I either had to look for new work or start my own hustle,” she says.
Leiatauā had sold otai occasionally in 2020 via her personal Instagram account, so it made sense to make it official and set up a small business. “We’ve been operating for four months now, and I’m so overwhelmed with the love and support I have received so far,” she says.
Dates for pre-orders are posted weekly on their Instagram.
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